Lip-smacking culinary !


As the fresh slices of fish crack in the puddle of coconut oil, absorbing the racy taste of spices, the acidic taste of tamarind and citrus element of curry leaves, the aroma maps the place. The distinctive smell of a platter served at a Syrian christian family is an irresistible invitation, given the assorted dishes in their menu.

“There is not a single day when we don’t have non-vegetarian food,” says Sumita Verghese, 58, a malayali christian from Kottayam who came to Chennai in 1973. “Except for the Lentin season, of course,” she adds, while fervently mixing the ingredients for fish curry in an earthen pot. Sumita’s aunt, Aleyamma, is quick to add the significance of these clay pots– “The earthern pots apart from being a healthier option also helps retain the taste of the fish, unlike the metallic vessels which may undergo some reaction with the ingredients.”

The kitchen is alive and functioning right in the morning. It is surprising how, even today, despite the tight schedule, the conventional appams with either mutton or chicken stew is served for breakfast. An alternative would be eggs in their myriad forms – scrambled, poached or roasted. The lunch is another grand event. Kodampulli itta Fish curry (Fish curry using gambooge, a tamarind variety), Fish Molee (Fried fish cooked in coconut milk), Karimeen (Black Pearl spot that is kippered and fried) or Meen Peera (Crispy Nethili/Kozhuva or Anchovies fried in coconut oil) and Beef olathiyathu (Dry Beef)find their way to the dining table almost everyday. Along with this are the flavoursome accompaniments – Moru Kari, which has vegetables mixed in curd and Moru Kachiyathu, yellow seasoned buttermilk that doesn’t include vegetables. The only few dishes in the menu that are palatable by the vegetarian folks are thoran, a mix of vegetables with coconut and Mezhukupuratti wherein the vegetables are blanched in salt, turmeric and chilli powder and topped with oil. Must be easier to remember this way – Mezhuku refers to oil and puratti is smear in English.

“One of the striking features among Malayali christians is the style they cook the pork,” Sumita says, halting to taste her fish curry which now has now taken a deep brown viscous form. “It is only cooked as a dry dish, called Pork olathiyathu, unlike among the Goan christians who make gravies out of it,” she continues. The intake of pork among the families has reduced considering the health issues. Also, it is generally not preferred during marriage functions as people in a few regions, towards the South of Kerala consider it against their religion to consume it. “It is believed that when the Satan was being pushed away by the God, he landed on pork,” says Aleyamma animatedly, recounting an incident from the past when a group of guests walked away from the marriage dining hall on being served pork.

Taste a morsel of fish from the freshly made Meen pattichadu, and you would bow to the oceans for providing you with these little aquatic creatures. A signature dish among the Syrian christians, this dish teases the taste buds with its hot and tangy taste. Gambooge is added along with water and the soft pieces of fish are added slowly into it towards the end. The dish is then left to simmer to get the desired consistency. The result is a plate of fiery red moist piece of fish, which adds a whole new taste to rice or tapioca.

What about spices? “Oh it is to be taken by default,” says Aleyamma. Their dishes are mostly spicy and ‘ginger, turmeric, garlic, chilli and  curry leaves are a must in most.’ Meanwhile, Sumathi brings a small green chilli, kanthari mulagu, which she says, is used extensively. The bird’s eye chilli, as it is known in English, shouldn’t be taken for its stunted growth. The piquant taste can almost make the hair stand up!

While it is gooseberry wine now, it was toddy then. Paani and Pazham, banana slices immersed in a sugary syrup of toddy, they say, is the standard conclusive dish in any Syrian Christian wedding. The absence of cakes, which have only gained popularity recently, was then filled by achappam, kozhalappam, Avalos unda and churuttu, all made using rice flour.

“In comparison to others, we have westernized our style of cooking,” Sumita says. “All the traditional ones are time consuming dishes. No one takes pains to make them now,” she adds. According to her, it is just a matter of few years before dishes like pidi become extinct. It is prepared by soaking the rice, powdering it and subsequently making small balls out of it. “It is famously called as dumplings,” she says, parallel setting the table for lunch.

The green leafs are spread. Before the steam wears off and the oil bubbles on the beef roast cease rattling, take a bite – a taste of mystique reveling in the rich tradition of malayali Christians.

The article was preciously published in The New Indian Express. Check out – http://epaper.newindianexpress.com/c/1335949

 

A Gift to daddy’s liking


 

‘There was a cake, a candle and burnt curtains,’ recalls Nikithaa, 19-year-old student. Last year, on father’s day, she had tiptoed to her parent’s room at the stroke of twelve carrying a baked cheese cake topped with a candle. “I only remember saying ‘Happy’, before my dad sprang out of bed and started waving the curtains frantically, thinking the house was on fire,” she laughs.  Though her cake lay in a puddle alongside burnt curtains, the mere effort, she says, had her dad beaming.

Failed surprises, quickie plans and nearest showrooms have somehow become synonymous to father’s day blast. One gets to know the day’s arrival only when the top five super dads of the year list is out and the Facebook statuses get revised to exhibit ones love for dad. Then comes the rush to the nearest shop to pick from the restricted options – perfumes, wallets, ties and more ties. Finally, a tweet about how you can’t wait for the day.

While the hypocrite in us might have a ball, the pinch is felt when you see the gift left forlorn in a day or two. “My daughter was angry that I did not use her perfume. But, how can I use Tommy Girl?” says Kaushik, 54, embarrassed.

For Rohit George, IT employee, who plans to gift his dad a personalized version of ‘The Man’ with write ups and pictures of friends and family in the inside pages, ‘dads are like popsicles. They might be in different flavours, but have a heart which melts easily.’ Studying the flavor is the next tough job.

While moms can nag you to get that Kanchipuram silk with a palm sized border, dads are implicit in their wants. Look out for cues, candid statements and those casual references to know his flavour. ‘My dad always wanted me to be adventurous. So I planned out a treasure hunt leading to his watch’ says Amritha Ajithkumar. “It went on for an hour and then I realized, probably, I took his advice too literally,” she sighs.

Nostalgic dads, however, leave no room for doubts. They are the ones who have their kids’ greeting cards neatly stacked up in the cupboard and who would set their alarm an hour early just to be able to skype more. Buy them those mushy worded cards, the personalized mugs and shirts, because they understand sweetness. So when O S Nair, 93, says he still has the bag which his son gifted him with his first salary, you can guess the daddy in him.

Talk about taking the trend to a global level. Adithya Jayakumar, Phd student, donated money to Syrian refugees through World food program in his dad’s name for father’s day. “My dad was shocked. It’s not everyday that you get a Thank you note for a charity you haven’t made,” smiles Adithya.

If you still haven’t decided your dad’s flavour, read on – the ones with the George Clooney look deserve a nice massage package, cuff links or the men grooming products; If you have seen your dad doing the jumping jhapak anytime, know that he is the best company for a stand up comedy show in the city; If he critiques home made food, take him to the best cuisine; If he accompanies you for walks, a new pair of sneakers would make his day; and if you can’t stand his bathroom singing – you know what to do.  

P.S. Keep these away from the idads. Break that piggy, go stand in queue and get that fancy ipad. If that is tough, just go stand anyway.

 

The article was previously published in The New Indian Express – Check out http://epaper.newindianexpress.com/c/1212083

An innocent kill


668..670..672, she muttered to herself , now safe in the darkness of her room. 674..676..678..the sweat drops glistening on her forehead flowed down to her neck and were now forming dark patches on her cotton shirt. 680..682..684..the voices grew closer. There was a thud on the door and then a sharp turn of the handle – Amina shrieked, shivered and swooned.

 

Amina had woken up that morning to the sight of four strange men in suits, looking at her.  Her parents stood in a corner like the curators of a museum where she was the only showpiece.

She scorned at the men while they smiled. She collected her bed cover closer to her body and reclined to the farthest corner possible.

One of the men moved closer, “Hey Kiddo, isn’t it a fine morning?” She inserted her tiny fingers into her ears, deep enough to touch her ear drums.

While the temperature outside dipped, Amina’s body gave in to perspiration. She started counting numbers – multiples of two. This usually calmed her down. “It’s like being back in the womb,” she would say.

The men had now receded. It was the turn of the ‘curators’.

“Relax Ami. They have just come to visit you,” her mom said. Amina hardly paid attention and kept looking at the mosquito which sat on her mother’s wrist. Snap…It now lay smashed in a tiny patch of blood. For a second, she imagined herself in the insect’s place – limbs twisted at odd angles, broken teeth and hair smudged with blood. She quivered.

Amina was just nine – a fact that would appear as a joke to someone who saw her personal library. Stacked on the shelves were works of Srinivasa Ramanujam, Wu Wenjun, Andrew Wiles, Fibonacci and others – a collection that could boil the brains of any ordinary human.

But she was far from ordinary. A child prodigy, she had cracked the code to the most perplexing math and physics paradoxes and was now a research specimen for the biologists. Doctors say she has “savant syndrome” – something which her family read as “being utterly genius” syndrome ignoring the deficiency.

Picture source : tvtropes.org

Picture source : tvtropes.org

Amina was staged before people like a gorilla in chains, while her parents in their prettiest dresses, bowed, gleamed and flaunted their property. The audience sighed with admiration and later sniffed with sympathy.

That morning the cage appeared again – the cage that would take Amina to one of the wretched exposing lawns, where a million eyes would tear through her body to find an answer to why she is unique. She could already feel the bright neon lights blinding her. The applause at the end of it, which would remind her of axes trying to fell a tree.

The mosquito’s blood was now turning into a dark shade of maroon. Wiping it off, her mom said,” Now you should get cleaned too.”

“For what?”

“We have to go, another glorious moment for you.” said her mom, and left to get herself dressed.

Amina followed her. She stared while her mom chose the best of clothes, tried different accessories and rehearsed her laugh, walk and handshake in the mirror.

Surges of hatred consumed her. She took to counting. 2,4,6,8 ….

660, 662, 664, 666… Amina stopped.  Her eyes went to the pesticide near the bedroom window.

“Oh honey…..”

Unable to finish the sentence, her mom fell – unconscious and lifeless.

668..670..672, she muttered to herself , now safe in the darkness of her room. 674..676..678..the sweat drops glistening on her forehead flowed down to her neck and were now forming dark patches on her cotton shirt. 680..682..684..the voices grew closer. There was a thud on the door and then a sharp turn of the handle – Amina shrieked, shivered and swooned.