Monthly Archives: December 2010

Sweet Endings

Update for Year ended 31 December 2010

I know! I know! 2 weeks is a long time, and moving 1000 paces ahead is possible within the fortnight, but this was no ordinary fortnight! It was the one leading to the year’s close; a momentary and symbolic end. But like all sweet endings, this one was sweet too. It was one drenched in sugar syrup that looked like honey and tasted divine. The syrup was not gooey, nor had it hardened into a caramelized, bitter, browny crust. It was obedient and stayed where it was supposed to – around the flaky puff pastry that had been cut into dense squares. And the layers revealed the glory of what was inside them – as one peered through the golden syrupy veil – the crushed green of pistachios. Theer must have been almonds and pine-nuts within, but the green of the pistas overpowered every other dry fruit. The slivers of almonds on top of the pastry did not distract anyones attention from the green within. The pastry chef was eager that I try one before buying some for taking home. That was sweet of him and being a sweet tooth, I could resist the charms of the pastry (not the chef, please!). It was delicate, yet stayed in shape as I lifted the block gingerly and took it to my lips. As I opened my mouth to bite into the crispy layers, it surprised me with the tender “melt in the mouth” experience. The syrup was sweet and had permeated into every layer of the pastry and even the pistachios had been sweetened lightly, and yielded to an easy melt in the mouth. Yumm. This was a sweetmeat that will be in my top 10 food experiences and clearly a contender for top position. The sweetness, the nutty, yet meltingly crushed green pistachios, teasing not only my lips and tongue, but my eyes as well. Next time you travel to the land once ruled by the Ottomans, don’t forget to browse through the pasty stores and insist on getting tempted by the Puff Pastry drenched in syrup.

The ultimate fortnight of this year was also sweet for the D Boyz. SENSEX tingled their senses as they were tempted to end their year on a sweet note. So they did all in their might to raise the SENSEX into greener territory – up 1001 points – to 20509.

There would be lots of parties happening around now – in fact some of my readers in Australia would have already edged close to their New Year… So have fun, party hard, but safely. And look forward to 2011!



Meal on a Leaf – Non-Southerner Style

Update for week ended 10 December 2010

About fifteen months back, I mentioned of sumptuous meals on a banana leaf (Maaveli), and followed it with a piece on Meals on a plate. This week, I combine both and present to you a typical TamBrahm meal on a banana leaf. So when you go to a wedding, or an initiation ceremony (thread ceremony or Poonal), or a birthday celebration (Sashtiabdapoorthy – 60th birthday or Shathabhishekam – 80th birthday or Kanakaabhishekam – fourth generation birth), you will in all probability be treated to a lunch on a banana leaf, the Saddhi. The food service is almost a ritual in its own right. Traditionally, this is served to guests who are seated in a row, but modern day habits of eating at a table, and at times poor exercise habits of eaters resulting in stiff joints forces the host to arrange for tables. But the sit-down lunch is not to be missed. The banana leaf is laid out horizontally with the tapering end to the right, always! The first touch to it is from water sprinkles – guests must use it to moisten the leaf and clean it. And then the food service begins. The first position is led by the auspicious sweet pudding, payasam, not much, just a drop off a teaspoon, sort of a ritual to indicate sweet beginnings. Then start the light service of vegetables, first a sour curd appetizer with cucumber or tomato, pachadi, then a light cooked pumpkin, olan, to get off to a light start. And then come the others – the cooked curd with root vegetable, kaalan, and as the complexity increases, the vegetable pulse combo, kootu joins in followed by the lightly finely chopped and sautéed vegetable of the day , the curry or poduthval or poriyal. All of these are laid out – spoonfuls or small ladlefuls on the top end of the leaf. These are followed by the hint of steam-cooked split pigeon pea, parippu, placed in the off-centre position, to be flanked by the crispy fried savouries and sweets of the day, sometimes the black gram salty doughnut – medhuvadai or the Bengal gram flatter fritter – parippuvadai, and the sweets are either the drippingly sweet flowery swirls of orange creamy split blackgram, jaangari, or the washing-soap shaped and golden hued famed sweet from Mysore, mysorepa. (some cheapjacks conveniently replace the savoury/sweets with the popular but so out of place banana crisps, varitha upperi; and its sweet cousin, the chakravarti and at times, globules of fried and sweetened gram batter, boondi. No meal is considered fit to eat unless the fiery pickles are served – so the omnipresent tamarind gingelly chilli concoction, pulikaachal, is served with the lemon or mango chilli pickle. And then the grand entry of the moundful of white steaming rice is eagerly awaited. It is followed by the poured-from-a-metre-high-position, clarified butter, nai. The spicy tamarind, vegetable in coconut gravy mellowed by the split pigeon-pea, sambar, is the highlight. And this is where novices, at times, lose their way – at times they find it difficult to handle the scalding rice gravy mix and don’t know what to do, and when they finally get the mix right, they find a different type of scalding on their lips – as the dizzying combination of chilli, spices, tamarind and not commonly found vegetable outside of Southern India, can be quite difficult to handle. The deft Southerner would have almost polished off the entire leaf, all the veggies on the outer edge as well as the rice and gravy and waiting for the next course, while the newbies would look shocked and not know what to do. Some helpful aunties, mamis or uncles, mamas, seeing their predicament, would advise them that more rice and the universal tangy, spicy broth soup would arrive, and should not be missed, and would at times ask them to heap the sambar and rice aside to make place for the palate appetizer, the spiced tamarind broth, rasam. Now if the first course had already filled a stomach, imagine having to deal with that and the jugglery of rice being served with piping hot rasam – ensuring at all times that the broth does not spill off the flat leaf onto the lap. More scalding of fingers and lips and tongue follow, if one has to avoid a scalding of one’s thighs.. And even before a novice gets through three mouthfuls, the regulars are done and waiting for the piece de resistance – the sweet pudding – payasam. Some wedding planners now provide these in cups or bowls for convenience – both for eating as well as timing. This is the sweet part of the day, followed by the palate soother, the curd rice. By this time the novice is looking for the crane that would help him or her get up from her chair and get him or her to wherever they want to go next! After the handwash – everyone heads to the betel leaf and nut “chair” – it is a chair on which is the hoisted a plate or tray laden with betel leaves, some crushed betel nuts, or betel nut wafers – seeval, and some scented calcium carbonate for that added zing on the leaf. For those used to fast food, there are pre-prepared ones, but with half the fun…

The D Boyz seemed to be enjoying a TamBrahm feast on D Street this week – all week long. They behaved appropriately to every dish that was served. So a little excitement on Monday (14 points up on SENSEX) was followed by surprise in small doses as the veggies were laid out (Tuesday – SENSEX down 47 points). And when the steamed rice and sambar was served, they scalded their fingers, screamed and frightened the poor SENSEX down 238 points on Wednesday; and then the rasam spilled onto them and scalded them more that they screamed again to push the SENSEX down further 454 points on Thursday. The soother of the week was the curd rice and the sweet pudding – which helped the SENSEX regain some of its lost composure on Friday by 267 points. Overall a difficult week for them novice D Boyz who could not get up after that meal – and need help to get their SENSEX up on its feet (already 458 points from past week – currently waiting at 19508). Will someone at least get them the green betel leaf, please. It is good for digestion!

And the parting after the meals is also a ritual, as you bid goodbye to the hosts, their uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces, grand uncles, grand aunts, sisters in law, brothers in law, “co sisters” and “co brothers”… and so many more that you are confused if not rattled. But a Southerner will never let you go home empty handed. There is always a “return gift” or for those north America inclined folks, “favors” – Taamboolam. It is usually, some betel leaves, a sachet of betel nuts and the sweet of the day – either the jaangarai or mysorepa or the all time favourite, sweetball of gramflour globules, laadoo. Sometimes, the hand-twisted savoury, fried blackgram flour spiral pasta, murukku, is also added to the gift bag. Don’t forget to note the print on the bags – it can be kept as a keepsake so that you remember who wed whom, or who was initiated as a twice born, or who celebrated a birthday. Sweet memories.

Have a nice weekend and see if you can handle such a meal. Share your experiences…


The Lake – visited by a Sage

Update for week ended 3 December 2010

The air was rare – heady to say the least. Krish Pingle was already feely woozy in the zig-zag bus ride and at times felt his head swimming. He was not sure whether it was because he skipped breakfast and was heading into hypo-glycaemia, or was it the sharp turns in the jeep that made his head spin, or was it the deep valleys that cut along the roadside that made him feel like a famous Alfred Hitchcock character who was scared of even a barstool’s height. Perhaps it was the rare air, with only about 70% oxygen when compared to levels he was used to in his hometown, Mumbai or even his workplace city of Delhi. But as the altitude rose, the winds blew harder, it was difficult to even hear the rattling drone of the diesel jeep engine, of-course the thick faux-fur monkey cap added to the muffles; and the temperatures were bitingly cold; and the sky was more azure than even the electric blue gown that the People’s Princess wore for her engagement. Breath-takingly beautiful was all Krish could contemplate. The clear mountain air also made the sun glisten brighter than Krish was used to. But he did not have to fish out his sunglasses, they were already on. Krish never got out of his house, office, shopping mall, or any place without putting on his glasses – even if it was a dash from his cab to the office. Sensitive eyes was all he gave as an excuse (I for one bought it, reluctantly). But the mountain was not only about rugged rocky slopes towering into the blue heavens. It was also of the glaciers covering it graciously; white, pristine and patient. There were wisps of clouds above, perhaps rebels from their cloudy brethren a few thousand feet below. As Krish stepped out of the jeep, his feet crushing the stones on the ground, limestone-white, and although he longed to stretch, he instinctively held his jacket closely and looked around. Wow, what a feeling to be at a place close to heaven – even higher than the Everest Base Camp. The lake that had formed from the melting glacier in the past summer had already frozen a few feet deep. The light ripples that got caught in time were still visible. If this had been a still photograph, Krish would have been mistaken that the lake was lightly rippling, but since he was here in person hardly able to stand straight because of the windy and cold conditions, he knew that the ice was real. However, he was really shocked to see the edge of the pool, not very far from where he stood, where the water actually rippled and lapped up lightly onto the shore. Sub-zero degrees Celsius and yet liquid H2O – this was a miracle! He went closer to the water and bent down to take a closer look. The jeep driver had caught up with him, who explained that this was a revered spot. One where a sage from the past who was locally referred to as Rinpoche, had taken a dip and the water never froze here, ever. Krish was stunned as he dipped his fingers into the water and reverently splashed a few drops on his head, with his eyes closed. He then folded his hands in prayer at this out-of-the-world experience.

The week was made of heady moves. The D Street Boyz did not know what made them feel the way it did – but when they almost felt vertigo hitting them on Monday (when they fell with their SENSEX in tow), they recovered thereafter and could not stop the SENSEX climbing peaks that they wanted to explore. Its moves were like a mountain range – with ups and downs and ups – but the bias in one direction – upwards. Some people say that the cold wave in Europe that put out fires in far off Ireland cooled fiery tempers and thoughts, while cold wars returning to an East Asian peninsula (near Japan) just helped freeze it further, giving the sempblance of cold but majestic mountain peaks. Whatever the reason, the Indian D Boyz enjoyed the mountainous peaks on D Street until they reached the mountain lake – frozen all along (today). They put on their skates and were busy skimming or skating the surface until at the end of the shore, one of them fell through thin ice into the 25 degree farenheit frigid waters… and the SENSEX dropped 25 points today to end at 19967. Overall a 3% rise since last week.

Krish’s shivering fingers felt numb as he pulled out the camera in his pocket. He fumbled with it, but still managed to capture some of the most spectacular sights for posterity and sharing. He knew that he could not capture what his eyes saw – despite the expensive dark glasses he wore, but he still wanted to bring back memories of this wonderful trip and out-of-the-world experience. He had been to the Eastern Himalayas a couple of times, and had even travelled through India’s highest mountain pass, higher than the oft visited and full of honeymooners Rohtang, but this lake was ethereal or was it surreal? His next trip will perhaps be to the rivers that flow out of these majestic peaks – who knows, maybe he will head to Haridwar or Rishikesh… going by his reverent bent of mind.

Have a nice weekend, as winter sets in into many part of the northern hemisphere – Mumbai is still warm, but the mornings and nights are comfortable.