21 May 2010

Of sulky teens and sambar

My absence over 6 weeks when I was in India, actually made our solo teenager stalk the kitchen. Not just to rummage through the pantry to devour anything edible that didn’t need further processing, but to actually do the processing herself – ie, cooking.

Just thought I’d mention that, because her proud dad S actually told his mom (ie, my MIL) that N made sambar that was as good as what her mom (ie, moi) makes. S being S, won’t ever say that to my face:-)

*sob* My sulky teenager is finally qualified enough to be called a SIndianBrahm…in NZ! All my 18 years of nurturing her (including the time she spent in my then gigantic tummy) hasn’t been wasted after all. What more could a mom want?

7 May 2010


Every time I go to India, I go with an avowed aim of eating certain types of foods at certain places. At home, of course and in some specific restaurants such as Saravana Bhavan in Chennai, Utsav in Hyd etc.

This time, though, I had not planned on any such thing. There wasn’t any time to plan any of it. So off I went with little N.

And turns out that I’ve never eaten out as much as I have on this trip. Nor have I eaten so many different dishes in any of my other Indian trips. Thanks to all the travel I did within the country in the nearly 6 weeks I was there. The travel is also probably the reason why my NZ weighing scales tell me I haven't put on any weight in spite of so much intake. Needless to add, have not lost even a gram either:-)

In Tamil Nadu: I was heading down south, Tiruchi, Rameshwaram, Karaikudi, Srivilliputhur, Madurai and finally Thiruvannamalai. So, beautiful idlis for breakfast, massive traditional rice spreads for lunches and lovely palakaram varieties for dinner. All served on vaazhai ilais.

And a couple of Mexican dishes I had in Tex Mex and also at Veg Nation. And of course, no Chennai visit is complete without a meal at the ubiquitous Saravana Bhavan.

Only grouse: It was almost impossible to find filter kaapi for love or money in Madurai after 6 pm.

And even when I was not travelling, got to eat palaa pazham (jack fruit), maam pazham, sapotta (chiku), maangai (raw mango). Not bad at all.

In Andhra: Stayed only two days here. So did not manage to find any traditional Andhra food. But did some traditional shopping here with P:-)

In Maharashtra: Travelled almost every day – Kolhapur, Pandarpur and Shirdi. This meant a lot of different dishes. Kanda poha (owl uppuma), sabudhana kichidi, sabudhana vadas, ganna ras (sugarcane juice), alphonso mangoes, missal, and Chitale Bandhu mithaiwala treats like Bakarwadi, shankar pali, ambe burfi and chivda. And dhoklas at an auntie’s house.

In Uttarakhand: The best and hottest alu paranthas straight from the tawa at various roadside dhabas, eaten with pickle and dahi for breakfast. A first for me. Then pannier dishes, dum aloo, rotis, pulaus, phulkas, samosas, jilebis etc throughout the day when we were in Joshimath. Meetha paan too.

In DDN, Indian cooked breakfasts like pongal, puri, idlis, etc at home. Rossogollas and petha from the shops.

In Delhi: Spent just half a day at a relative’s place. But got Punjabi chole and gobhi curry as well as kantola-potato curry – the first time I’ve eaten that – all served with piping hot puris, that were being made fresh.

Not to forget the vethal kozhambu, rasam, koottu and usual homely varieties of TamBrahm S.Indian food that I ate throughout my trip………and the endless cups of coffee in S.India and chai in N.India.

And the gallons of Mazaas, Nimbooz, Slice, etc that we consumed during our stay there, just to keep cool. As well as elaneers (tender coconut water) and iced teas.

I admit I am nostalgic…I am trying not to think of the couple of unpleasant days I had with a Delhi-like belly. But even then, it was so worth it. And best of all, I had to cook/make none of these – I only had to eat.

But that was then (last week).

This is now (today): day-before’s leftover pulau and yesterday’s leftover dhal for dinner tonight.

How much life can change in a week!

Happy Mother’s Day everyone (Sunday, May 9)!

6 May 2010

Depressing Delhi

For real! Normally I don’t do this, as I love the uniqueness of each city. And I have personally seen too many friends/relatives badmouth Chennai, and still think that is such a hateful attitude to take towards any place.

But this time, I too make an exception. Delhi was dirty, dreary, depressing and almost appallingly impersonal and terrifying. The people I knew there and met were lovely. But the city itself?

From the searing 43.6C heat that greeted us when we landed there, to the security person routinely going through the airport rubbish bins for bombs, it was all a bit too grim and grey for me.

The security thing really gave me the heebie jeebies. Metal detector doorways everywhere I went: at the impressively modern metro rail stations, Pahlika Bazaar, Connaught Place…

And Chandini Chowk! What a misnomer. And the Red Fort standing in the middle of all the decay and dust like an anachronism. Looking dirty, but still imposing.

I am not sure if it was because of the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar. But every time I’ve gone to Delhi, there have always been thousands of people stretched out at all the main train stations there: New Delhi, Old Delhi and Hazrat Nizammudin. This time was no exception, with my Hazrat experience taking the cake!

We were 5 of us, and the driver, bundled into one Maruti Esteem, and being driven from out hotel rooms near Old Delhi train station. In a car whose boot was mostly filled by the LPG cylinder that provided the ‘green’ fuel for it.

So, 6 of us, plus our 9 bags squeezed in anyhow. The taxi, though filled to the brim, was proceeding fairly rapidly towards Hazrat, thanks to the 11pm light traffic on the roads. The train to Dehradun was due to depart at 12 midnight from Hazrat.

Then we ran into the IPL crowds dispersing after the match (Apr 18). The Feroz Shah Kotla stadium lights were all still blazing brightly.

After a fraught few minutes when the car barely moved a few inches every few minutes in the traffic snarl, we finally crossed the busy stretch and then reached Hazrat, with a few minutes to spare. The usual haggle with the porters ensued there and SK finally struck the deal with 2 of them (thanks to our numerous bags, we needed 2 porters). A wheelchair for MIL, who can’t walk up steps, was also arranged.

And then suddenly, the lights went off. All of them!

A power cut at a main train station! I couldn’t believe it – I’d never seen such a sight in all my life, and I’ve travelled extensively by trains all over India.

So, I waited confidently for all the lights to come back on again immediately. Surely, there would be a generator or inverter or something. But no such thing happened.

Time was ticking by, we had to get to the train. So, we split into two groups, SK pushing MIL along, having to go to our train via a different route due to wheelchair access restrictions. Me, following both porters and Amma following me, holding little N’s hand. All in complete darkness in this unknown place.

As soon as we reached the shelter of the station building from the car park outside, the whole thing took on a nightmarish, unreal quality. All the available flat floor space in the station was completely filled by sleeping people. The porters, and all of us, walking oddly so that we could carefully step between each sleeping person and not stamp any of them.

The porters, however, being men carrying weights, wanted to go as quickly as possible. Amma, being old and not having good night vision, could not. So the gap between me and Amma & N widened. There was no time to stop and even scramble around to see if I could locate my cell phone for a bit of light.

Till finally, they could not see me in the dark and I resorted to screaming instructions.

“Amma, keep coming straight.

Steps ahead, careful. There are still more people on the floor, paathu vaa”.

Amma, turn left when you are at the top of the steps and go straight till you see the next set of steps on the left, leading down to the platform

Vandhachu, the train is here, just a few hundred yards more, I am waiting here….”

And to check our seat numbers on the train reservation chart, one of the porters had to use the backlight from his cell phone.

Made it, finally. And mercifully, the power is on in the train. But SK still hasn’t reached here with MIL. Where is he? With 5 minutes to spare, they too reach. We are all set to leave for DDN.

But there is still no power in the station.

Back there at Feroz Shah Kotla, the lights must still be blazing bright….

5 May 2010


After 11 years, I got to eat Indian maam pazhams (aaaaaaaam) this time around. The last one I ate was in 1999. I was told that as it was still end-March/April, this ones I ate still weren’t as tasty as the ones that would be out in May.

Were they joking? Tastier than this? Till I actually bit into that Banganapalle that I got from Pazhamudir Solai in Chennai, I had forgotten what an Indian maampazham could/would taste like.

After years and years of South American/Mexican/Aussie imitations, bought at exorbitant prices in NZ supermarkets, my palate had completely forgotten this succulent and completely Indian taste. Year after year, I would buy these pale imitations, hoping (against hope) that they would taste something similar to the Indian King. During the last few years, I’d completely forgotten the true taste of the fruit and instead settled for the substitute taste that came from fruits that you had to cut before they ripened fully, if you didn’t want them to go bad. From fruits that would darken like apples, if you cut them and left them in the open for a while. From fruits that would be full of fibre and hardly any flesh.

I then tried tinned mangoes, but those Thai versions were pretty bad. We bought up tinned Indian mango puree by the ton. But while nice in lassis or milk shakes, it still didn’t capture the original flavour and taste.

Nothing did. Till I actually bit into that Banganapalle that I got from Pazhamudir Solai in Chennai….

Banganapalle, Alphonso, Safedi….I love you all.

3 May 2010

Missing you

The thing I missed the most about India today morning was the steaming cup of filter kaapi that Amma/Priya/Selvi/Geetha/Radha/many, many others, lovingly gave me every day.

Is it just the coffee I am missing?