Food and its traditions

Growing up in a mixed Maharashtrian-Kannadiga household, I experienced two very distinct culinary traditions in my childhood.

Aai mostly cooked Maharashtrian dishes in the traditional Koknastha style – mild stir-fried vegetables or pulses with a hint of jaggery and coconut and a simple tadka or phodni, kakdi or tomato-kandyachi koshimbir and super-soft polis or phulkas. Sabudana thalipeeth was a special treat, as was batatyachi poli, better known as aloo paratha!

There were many other Koknastha dishes that I suspect were either too cumbersome to make or that Aai herself did not particularly enjoy and hence were not frequently prepared at our place. Those, I got to enjoy at Aaji’s – aamti, kothimbirchi vadi, puran poli and the like. Yummy!

Attya’s preparations, on the other hand, were typical of North Karnataka, the region she and my father hail from. Simple but delicious saaru-anna, her comfort food, was the dish I took for granted whenever she cooked for us. Bisi bele huli anna, muddi, kadbu and hittud dosa were eagerly anticipated too.

Pav Bhaji, the quintessential Bombay party dish, was reserved as a treat or for when my nagging got too loud and insistent for Aai to handle. As for pizzas, Punjabi or Indo-Chinese dishes, a younger me would have probably told you they are to be found only in restaurants and that too only on special occasions or something!

Lest somebody think I am complaining about what I ate growing up, let me clarify.

I am not! On the contrary, I think of those times with nostalgia nowadays. For one, the food was handed to me, hot and delicious, literally on a platter! Beats slaving over an exotic dish any day, don’t you think?

But jokes aside, Aai’s and Attya’s recipes are probably hand-me-downs from my grandmothers and their grandmothers, the result of decades of experiments and improvements. The secret of Attya’s cooking, I later realized, was in the masalas, painstakingly prepared at home and taught to her by her aunts and cousins.

So there was a strong sense of identification with the distinct taste of each dish and a peculiar sort of comfort in eating the food that my uncles and grandmoms and great granddads had enjoyed before me.

But alas, I did not learn to cook when I was home!

And as a result, my cooking now is a mismash of bits and pieces I pick up from here and there. A pav bhaji recipe from a cookbook, a poha recipe my mausi wrote down for me once, thalipeeth taught to me by my mother-in-law and a spicy Andhra sambar recipe from a family friend. Attya would be shocked to know my favorite bisi bele rice recipe actually comes from Sanjeev Kapoor’s cookbook! And when all else fails, there are the food blogs, my saviors and best friends in the kitchen.

In the last one month alone, I’ve made pithla-bhakri, masale bhaath, solkadhi, manchurian and fried rice, baingan bhartha, dum aloo, bruschetta and tomato-sev-shak, all from recipes so generously shared by my fellow bloggers. The wonderful part, of course, is that the husband and I are able to cook and enjoy such a wide variety of cuisines from India and elsewhere.

But on the other hand, there’s no pattern to our cooking at all! One never knows what to expect. My pithla may be of Kolhapuri origin and very spicy one day, and of Koknastha style and boringly mild the next. The husband has given up trying to analyze my cooking and asking me to make a particular dish ‘like last time’ by now!

Plus there’s no sense of the familiar in my food at all! I struggle to recreate the taste of Attya’s saaru each time I make some, but in vain. My concoction is delicious too, no doubt, but it’s not the taste I associate with the saaru of my childhood, you see!

A simple solution, a practical person like my father or my husband would say, is to set aside some time and learn to cook my favorite dishes from Aai or Attya one day. But if only it were as simple as that! If I had the patience to sit down and learn to cook, I would have done it a long time back, wouldn’t I?

The fun of cooking is in experimenting with different recipes and ingredients I think. I’m sure I would die of boredom if I had to cook the same sort of food day after day! So I’ll continue to hunt everywhere for recipes and play around with the poor husband’s taste buds instead. Maybe a pattern will emerge over the years.

If not, my kids might feel inspired to write a post on their mother’s wonderfully erratic and vibrant style of cooking someday!

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21 responses to “Food and its traditions

  1. “….In the last one month alone, I’ve made pithla-bhakri, masale bhaath, solkadhi, manchurian and fried rice, baingan bhartha, dum aloo, bruschetta and tomato-sev-shak,….”

    So when do I come for a meal ?

    πŸ™‚

    (I have 2 theories. You learn the basic things like phodnis from family folks. The rest of it is enjoyed more if innovated and learned on ones own. It takes a bit of time, but is more fun, provided, people dont mind eating your mistakes.

    The second is that you automatically learn to cook when you are hungry. I did .)

    • Well said! About your question, anytime! As long as you promise to put up with my experiments of course. πŸ˜€

  2. Hmmm..so much of food..I am hungry ;-)..
    seriously though we do not have any patterns identified..maybe cos we belong to a mishmash generation..but then its fun too..as a kid even we NEVER had pizzas, pav bhaji, noodles etc cooked at home..it was all sp food served in restuarants..When I see the food we prepare now..it ranges from dal chawal to thai curry,pasta,burgers,dosafried rice….fast food for the fast generation!!

  3. Aah! Nostalgia. I get an attack of it mostly during festivals and once a week :).

    You seem to be a pretty good cook yourself. I am sure to your child what you prepare will remain the best.

  4. Oh my gosh, it cant be more erratic than mine!! When Mom taught me to cook, it led to tears and tantrums – learnt some from my MIL and the rest from internet.

    I miss some typically Punjabi dishes Mom used to make

  5. That’s my situation too. Never learnt to cook at home, so I don’t cook the way my mom or grand mothers did either- at all.
    I have blogged about it too, I have made rajma with tamarind and sambhar with cauliflower, I heat raita in micrwave and add plenty of green to bhaji in pav bhaji, made pizza toppings with leftover veggies and chutneys and added coconut milk from our own trees in Kochi to every dish possible!

    Our eating habits are cosmopolitan or global just like us πŸ™‚ Only one thing I (try to)keep in mind – keep it low fat, low salt, low on spices and high on nutrition,

  6. Fundoo JnM, when do you call us for dinner. My mouth has been watering. I don’t think my situation was any different when i was in US. Would try all varied dishes from random food sites, Blogs and friends tested recipes. It used to run out well though i could never associate it to mom’s cooking. Now that i am here, i enjoy it every weekend i visit her. I can see the nostalgia behind this post.Very ncely written.

  7. Maybe your lack of a routine *is* your routine πŸ™‚

    But taste of dishes like sambhar and saaru depend so heavily on the powder used that I’d say all you have to do is get the appropriate recipe from your aunt or mom πŸ™‚

    and IHM, I didn’t think sambar with cauliflower was strange in any way – my very traditional MIL makes it that-a-way πŸ™‚

    M

  8. The unpredictability of the outcome of a dish, is our hallmark I guess! Even for a single dish I google several recipes and mix all of them to make my own! So yeah, even I don’t know what to expect when I try something! The second time is never the same as the first!
    I don’t cook in detail everyday and that is the problem. Things I make regularly with a recipe from my head taste kind of similar everytime. But even then I have to add something or the other to make it a little different.

  9. devaki, food that’s cooked by us is *never* as tasty as our moms (at least in our own minds). Its not the taste of their food we crave you see, its the whole experience of being young and naive and worry free. Thats why we imagine their food tasted wonderful too.

    I’m sure your food is just as tasty and anyway, we all need to create our own traditions.

    happy New Year to you,
    Priya.

  10. You know what Arti, I felt hungry while writing the post too!!! πŸ˜€

    Hi there, Solilo! I hope he/she will, when I get around to having him/her that is! πŸ˜‰

    But at least you tried to learn na Ritu? I have no patience at all! In fact, when mom’s around, I hate to enter the kitchen at all!!

    Talk about erratic! I thought you were describing me in the kitchen IHM! πŸ™‚

    Great to see you here Monika!

    Anytime Sumana, anytime. Just don’t ask me what you are supposed to be eating okay? πŸ˜€

    Ha! That’s a nice way of putting it M. I get the sambar masala from my aunt you know, but still the taste is not the same. 😦

    Please do come, I’d love to meet you Mampi!

    Hmmm.. you are right Jira. I make poha from my own recipe and it usually tastes the same. Interesting observation!

    Ah yes, those carefree days!!! Happy New Year back to you Priya! πŸ™‚

  11. All the items you mentioned sound really really YUMMYLICIOUS! πŸ˜€

    Growing up in a small town in southern karnataka, part of a small community called havyaka..never learning to cook while at home..and then marrying a tambram – All of this has made a ‘masala’ of my cuilinary skills.

    Sometimes this, sometimes that – never some recipe etched on the stone. Just like you there.

    My bro was recently telling me – “Akka, I suppose all the delicious amma’s recipes will end with her generation. Because, you don’t know most of it na?”

    * Sigh * I wish I had ammas level of patience and enthu!

    And hey, you made that many in one week?? Are you kidding!!

    Girl..where are your charan-kamal? Let me touch them πŸ˜‰

  12. πŸ™‚

    LOVED this post! my cooking is mostly my mom’s though not as good! and then some recipes learnt from MILs to satisfy Hubby’s and eventually my tastebuds!

    i am the one for patterns! but M hates eating subzi the same way second time. he is the one scanning Sanjeev kapoor books and saying, how can i make bhindi differently today! :p my part is making dal and its pretty much standard! πŸ˜€

    just made sabudanyaachi khichadi today afta intense begging by hubby with sabudana from bombay. blr sabudana is terrible!

    it turned out quite nice! but thalipeeth still looks distant! and puran poli never! 😦

    cheers!

    cheers!

  13. My fear is somewhat like your bro’s I think, AHK. And it was a month not a week, so you can let go of the charan kamal now!!! I’d never be able to do all that in a week either. πŸ™‚

    πŸ˜€ Hey, thalipeeth is one of the simplest things to make I think, if you have the right bhajani. Maybe I can show you sometime… wow, that made me feel so nice and big and important!!! Lots of people make puranpoli the aloo paratha way, that looks doable but the real flaky sort – never!

  14. My mom married young and she never learnt to cook typical desi food. Like I only ate aloo parathas, never knew that you could have palak or methi or mooli ones as well..
    But she makes the most awesome Singaporean/ Malaysian curries and vegees and no matter how much I try I cannot replicate.

    NK doesnt like me experimenting. Like I made sabhudana khicdi and I added, aloo and corainder and to him, it was abig noo because its a fasting meal and I altered it to become non-fasting.
    Or I throw in hotdogs when I make pulao. Pisses him off.:)

  15. Oh! A partner who prefers to stick to the standard way can be a problem na? Especially when he knows a little about cooking himself… But hotdogs in pulao??? Aap dhanya hain! πŸ˜€

  16. Both my parents and my aunt are great cooks. I used to assist them once in a while so had an idea about the ingredients and the measure that go into the dishes (typically anna saaru, huli, gojju, palya etc). So when time came to do it all myself, I had the recipes written down from my parents and of course I still refer to that book every single time I cook. We didnt do much of the North Indian cuisine at home so I dont have real flare to prepare them.

  17. Pingback: Foodie Memories « uniquely priya

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