Food Matters

There is a gorgeous, gorgeous slice of sunshine on my window as I write this. Bright pink blossoms greeted me this morning as I stepped out for work. Spring has finally sprung. To add to the joie de vivre  that is this warmth, I am happily eying a cup of magical black brew sits atop my desk (no, not that other black brew, it is still daytime here).

This brings me to a much-loved topic of mine. Food is a very strong evocation for me – memories, warm kitchens, stainless steel plates, the clatter of spoons, the sizzle of seasoning, the grinding of spices, the steam from a mound of white rice, the stupor from one bowl of dessert too many. You get the picture, we like our kitchen and our food around these parts. Some of my best memories revolve around memorable meals. There was a tag going around the blogosphere a while ago about the most memorable meals ever tasted.

Five meals, then, that are the stuff that memories are made of – five meals that stopped time, tickled your palates,  rendered you wordless, rendered you a sloth and took you to a happier place. Here is my list. And I hope to see yours. As always, leave me a comment (I love comments, did you pick up on that subtle clue there? Yes?) or do the tag and let me know 🙂

1) Idli Chutney Breakfasts on Sunday mornings – My mother, the amazing, fantabulous cook, makes wonderful idlis. To date, I have not eaten better idlis anywhere in the world (yes, that includes you, Vidyarthi Bhavan Bangalore).  She serves them with an utterly, finger-licking, droolicious chutney. And a very moreish sambhar that takes you to a better place. For many, many years, this was traditional Sunday breakfast while growing up.  Sunday morning meant Disney, oil baths and endless idlis. With the aforementioned divine chutney and sambhar.

After the sixth or seventh serving (long after her parents had moved on other tasks after finishing breakfast), a funny little kid who had missed the memo on finite servings served herself some idlis, a dollop of chutney, heaps of sambar and a few spoonfuls of yogurt. The funny little kid would then mash up this mixture till it looked like a thick paste. She would then sit back and watch Sunday Disney spooning the mixture into her mouth, oohing in delight, utterly happy with her world. It was heaven in a plate. Two decades and more later, every time I go back home, I still have the last serving of idlis mashed up in a paste. Don’t ask. Heaven does not have reasons.

2) Jackfruit Curry, Sol Kadhi – Growing up, our daily food had strong coastal influences, thanks to the geography of the little town I grew up in. Every house around the neighbourhood had a mini orchard of coconut, jackfruit and breadfruit trees. Ordinarily I detest ripe jackfruit – the overly sweet smell does nothing to quell an instant headache. Green jackfruits now, that is a different matter. The mater aka the chef extraordinaire, cooks a heavenly jackfruit curry, piquant with ground green chillies and flavoured with nutty black peas. Lots of fresh grated coconut. Tender jackfruit seeds. A lashing of coriander. Served with sol kadhi or coconut milk seasoned with citrusy kokum and cumin and slightly burnt red chillies.

There is only way to eat jackfruit curry – you do not share. You do not wait to be served. You do not get a plate. You eat it straight out of pan, washing down the chillies with generous swigs of the mild sol kadhi. You do not talk when partaking this feast. When you are done, you walk over to the kind neighbours who sent you the green, tart, tender jackfruits and thank them profusely. On the way back, you eye their laden jackfruit tree with unabashed longing. And hope that you will be remembered when this bounty is to be shared again.

3) Panipuri and vada pav – There is this eatery tucked away behind the busy markets where my mother does her daily shopping. A spartan room with formica tables, rusty cabinets and handwritten menus. Mama, as an entire generation of college kids calls him, reigns supreme in this chaos. He is a permanent fixture behind mounds of shev, sliced onions, fresh coriander, plump tomatoes and angry chillies. The menu never changes, the prices don’t either. You wait on the pavement till someone vacates a seat. When you do get a seat, be warned that you may need to share it with perfect strangers.

The panipuri will explode in your mouth – a heady profusion of tamarind, mint, cumin, rock salt and jaggery will convince you that the recipe of nirvana cannot be much different to this melange.While devouring this do remember that 4  plates of panipuri is not too much. Eat the vada pav next – the vada will burn your mouth – either with the heat or with the deep fried chillies served on the side.  The hot batter coating will melt giving way to bite sized potatoes cooked with the fiery garlic, fresh coriander and ground chillies. Either way, it is a glad suffering. You will feel alive and rejuvenated and strangely optimistic about all things food. So much so, that you will gladly queue up on the pavement again.

4) Ravioli, Red, Raging Snow – A business trip found me in Minneapolis right at the peak of a very harsh winter. Dinner was arranged at the Nicollette Island Inn – and if you are ever in Minn Minn, you must,must eat here. Not just for the food but for the ambience. As we ordered, the snowfall came in fast and thick, speckling the large french windows with transient polka dots. A good glass of red wine and a heavenly creamy ravioli followed. Outside the Missisippi flowed silently in the dark evening – stoic and ageless. A short walk was had while we waited for desserts. There was a sense of homecoming as I watched the swirling waters from the bridge over the Missisippi – here was the river that Mark Twain immortalized in his books, here was the river that Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer based their lives around. Fiction edges into life sometimes – they are not all that disparate, these two worlds. The snowfall around the lamp posts, the roaring fire at the Inn, the warm pudding and the genteel old fashioned old worlde service added to a memorable evening. Memories are made on dark, snowy nights. Around a fire. With a slice of past adventures for company.

5) Mexican delights –  I love Mexican food. Like, love it enough to eat it endlessly when on a trip to the US because Adelaide sorely lacks good Mex cantinas! Which is why, when self stumbled across ‘Dos Caminos’ while in Vegas I was drawn to it like gamblers to slot machines. The urge was too strong, the cuisine too inviting. I ate there the first day. And the second. And the third. And then again on the fifth day. What’s that? What did I do on the fourth day? I ate somewhere else and rued the fact that I had wasted a meal on food that wasn’t from Dos Caminos. Bring on the salsa, the guacamole, the empanadas and the mexican churros. And the margaritas, oh the margaritas. At the end of each meal, I remember being happily ill. Clearly not ill enough to stop me from rushing back in the next day and make myself sick again. But a good kind of ill. Of all the illnesses in the world, the illness that comes from having too much of a good thing is the most memorable.

I could go on with this list. Lebanese patatas in a souk in Dubai. Dal Fry by the Avon river in Christchurch (yes, I am aware that the Mauris didn’t invent the dal fry).  Warm Sangria in Minneapolis. Heavenly masala dosas at Vidyarthi Bhavan (yes, they are the best). Midnight Bhel with the dear Aunt every summer. Samosas and tea at a roadside eatery during a storm where we lost our shoes (the samosas were totally worth it). Delish spinach pakodas at a little eatery atop Pratapgad after a day of trekking. Wedding feasts with jalebis and spiced buttermilk and the jovial bustling of cousins and aunties even as one more round of jalebis is served. And of course, the simple dal and rice and pickle that my mother serves when I get home jetlagged, tired and cranky.

So tell me your memories. And your food stories. Tell me if you stop after a finite number of serves. Tell me if food takes you down memory lane, tell me if you are transported back to a simpler place and time. Go on, I am listening.  With a good meal, a memory is only a bite away. You believe me, don’t you?

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11 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Captain Nemo
    Aug 23, 2010 @ 17:12:28

    This is a bad blog to read when in office. I mean, imagine – to have your shirt front and collar all wet with drool and you are asked to meet a customer. It is not a nice thing, right?
    Totally loved this.

    PS: Best Idlis in Bangalore are not from Vidyarthi Bhavan, it is at Veena Stores, SLVs and Brahmin’s Coffee Bar. So, next time you are here try them out.

    Reply

  2. Gauri
    Aug 23, 2010 @ 19:06:02

    This is SO the wrong day to have read this post. Reading food related posts on Mondays and Sankashti days is something I totally should avoid – cos those are the days I fast :)))).

    But then again, when a post from Scarlett beckons, Yours Truly will not refuse the “verbal feast”.

    Another tag that I must try and do. 🙂

    Reply

  3. bilbo
    Aug 23, 2010 @ 19:12:18

    not doing this tag
    for the simple reason that food memories cannot be limited to a number, just like the servings. 😛

    Reply

  4. scarlettletters
    Aug 23, 2010 @ 20:41:33

    Captain – hah, you made me laugh out aloud there 🙂 Will add your reccos to my list.

    Gauri, it will be Tuesday sooooon (enough). Please do the tag, I love hearing people’s food memories. Bet yours will be fun 🙂

    Billy, aw, come on. Pick 5 meals to start off with. That is the minimum, not the maximum.

    Reply

  5. Rajavel
    Aug 24, 2010 @ 00:09:11

    ah, one more for me to write about. This really has triggered me Scarry.

    Reply

  6. scarlettletters
    Aug 24, 2010 @ 08:58:40

    *Laughs evilly* My plan has succeeded Rajavel – I want to trigger people’s food memories 🙂 Do write.

    Reply

  7. Trackback: Baked Beans on Toast « The Heart Monologues
  8. Shruthi
    Aug 25, 2010 @ 03:05:41

    You’re someone after my own heart – food evokes in me passions and emotions that nothing else can. But I can never seem to find the right words to express what I feel, whereas you seem to have done just that, with a dollop of panache.

    Reply

  9. scarlettletters
    Aug 26, 2010 @ 17:12:37

    Shruthi – I cannot stop once I start writing about food. The same goes for eating 🙂 Thanks for dropping by.

    Reply

  10. Aria
    Oct 14, 2010 @ 22:16:01

    ohh foood! ma too a foodie and love all kind .. as long as its veggie..!
    my mum isn’t exactly a great cook but there’s something magical in their touch.. which makes anything they cook.. to borrow your word “droolicious” and am myself hopeless in culinary skills.. so am often reminded of my sis.. she always cooked something awesome for us in weekends.. and then of course I too have my favorite joints..
    this post has made me hungry.. should have a grub and return later ..: D

    Reply

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