Tuesday, September 25, 2007
A Matter of Taste
It all started, with my association with Vishwanathan Balasubramanian. The comely tambrahm who was exiled to snowy peaks of Switzerland. Much like any Indian boy, both of us hardly knew how to cook. I was experimental and made daal on the first day, right away. With some effort and luck it was, it was, it was "A Victory". It was OK, digestible. The tambrahm however if I understand correctly was a little skeptical in taking initiative and was trying to postpone his agni pareeksha (in kitchen) by exhausting his Chennai packed puliodarai (have I spelled it correctly?). Yeah we had a girl colleague who was our “Mother of all sorts”, but both of us resisted to take cooking lessons from her. And, after all, we are, MEN of HONOUR! I, Cuba Gooding was I think trusting my failed experiments and Vishwanathan (Robert de Niro) Fate.
After a few months of independent experiments we realized that we can divide and rule this hunger- nutrition need. I cooked dal and vegetable, mostly and Vishwa rice(notice). It was easy. The Agastyar from Himalayas was already invading the Dravidian stomach. I took strange liberties, with my interest in nutrition and taste, I was dishing out Nutrela (soya nuggets), pakodas, mutter paneer etc. Things went well, my client ate with the kind of gratitude and satisfaction, South Indians show when they make a trip to Thirumala, their wishes granted. Some things which I remember found special favor with the “thayir sadam” boy were chole, rajma, palak and baingan sabzi.
I understand how much the boy must have craved for sambhar vattal kozumbu and other things that I don’t know (but want to know!) but what could I do. Anyhow, one fine day I made bhindi sabzi to which the boy responded with some visible disagreement. I said kya hua, is it not okay ? He quipped, "how does your mother make it" ? Oh, I was never Mama’s boy u see and paid little attention to “Mothers Recipes”. I said don’t know may be she cooks it the same way.
Finally the Chennai roots of the boy sprung forth, he blurted out his disapproval, how can u make bhindi daaaaa (yaar) sans coconut? This came to me as a shock, Coconut? What is this man talking about? Why would some one put coconut in bhindi ? May be he realized its bad manners to speak thus about food, he lightly said its okay, but politely added "your mother surely must be putting coconut in vegetables". Okay, I was ignorant, but not that much, I had never seen my mother using coconut anywhere except to make mithais or sweet rice.
Finally the enlightenment dawned on me, in his part of the world coconut is to vegetable what chai patti is to tea. I realized, how some things can change but some things could remain same. Daal makhani could be tolerated but it needed to admit kari patta(generously). Tandori roti could be relished, but curd rice should follow. Lassi and Jal Jeera might be "cool" but filter kaapi is also "haaat". The true national integration happens in our stomachs(mouths?) before it happens in our hearts.
Do u know now Sangeetha restaurant in Chennai serves Chettinad Paneer Kurma!
The proof of pudding, will well, still be, in the eating but to some it should be served on plantain leaf.
To Vishwanathan, and to all those memories where tongue rolled as “a matter of taste”.
PS: No offense is meant to any culture state or region. These are private emotions on private net-space.