Monday, May 16, 2011
I grew up with a Food Culture that was unique---a strange hotch-potch of various Culinary Streams!!!My first Meal when I started Solid Food was "Khimti" made from a powdered mix of washed,dried and then dry roasted till lightly browned and crisp Dal(Pulses) and Rice---cooked to a paste with Water,1 tsp.of Ghee and pinches of Salt and Black Pepper Powder.This was the common Culture of the Maharashtrian Community--both "Ghaati" and "Konkani" alike!!!Both my Grandmas were awesome Cooks--with different styles of Cooking---my "Ghaati" Grandma Akka cooked with fiery hot "Sankeshwari" and "Lavangi" brand of Red Chillies---relying on various types of Dals and Sprouts,seasonal Vegetables,bowls of thick home made Yoghurt,Steamed Rice and Whole Wheat Bread for Lunch----Dinner would be Green Leafy Vegetables,bowls of Yoghurt, Millet Bread and Steamed Rice.Everything would be prepared fresh from scratch noon and night-- while Non- Vegetarian Food would be served on Wednesdays,Fridays and Sundays.I loved the freshness of these Preparations--and also imbibed the subtle mixing of various Spices to form Akka's famous "Bottle" and Fresh Masala---learning the authentic Method from my Grandma herself--as well as grinding it fine on the flat board of Stone Pestle and cylindrically shaped Stone Mortar called the "Paataa-Varvantaa"!!!In "Ghaati " Cuisine we'd use mostly the Dried Coconut or "Kopra" to thicken our Gravies---besides the Fish used would be mainly Fresh Water River Fish or Dried Sea Fish---the Dried Fish would be procured from Mumbai or Ratnagiri in large quantities---hoarded and preserved in large Earthern Ware Jars!!Usage of Fresh Coconut was limited---and then too it would mainly be used as a garnish in Vegetables and Dal Curries!!The Copper or Brass Thaalies would gleam in the Lamplight----adding to the magic and mystery in Akka's Kitchen---a raftered Room with huge Coal fired "Chulhas" or Stoves,with a lofty Ceiling and Cow Dung smeared Floors ---cool and soothing to the touch of our bare feet!!
My "Konkani" Grandma Aaji used the Fresh Coconut liberally----typically running through almost a dozen of these given the size of the Family!!Luckily the Family owned many large Coconut Groves in Sawant Waadi!!The Sea Fish Curries were a staple in the Home--cooked daily using various species of fresh Sea Fish and using different Spices freshly ground----no two of her Curries tasted the same---they each had a distinct Taste and Flavour!!Fresh Coconut would be ground so fine in the Stone Pestle and Mortar called the "Ragda"---a huge Stone Bowl with a hollowed middle and an elongated Stone set in it----this needs expertise to grind evenly and fast-----and ground so fine that if a spoonful of the ground Mixture was dropped in a small bowl of Water it would dissolve completely--leaving no residue!!!While Dry Coconut was used the emphasis was more on the Fresh ones---and instead of Buttermilk we drank the "Sol Kadhi" made from freshly extracted Coconut Milk!!!Meat and Chicken Dishes would be accompanied by deep fried "Vadaas" made from a mixture of Millet and Urad Dal (Black Gram) and there would be 3 different Spice Pastes used in cooking the Meat!!The Fish would be fried in Coconut Oil and Rice would be boiled and drained of all it's Starch just before we sat down to eat---each Mealtime steaming hot,fluffy Rice would be served in our huge Thaalies(Plates)----made of Brass or Copper---later Stainless Steel.
However I took like a Duck to Water to the North Indian Cuisine that was served at the Table---because we lived in Chandigarh,North India(erstwhile Punjab) and our Cooks were North Indians!!Not just that there would be regular British Fare---adapted to suit Indian Tastebuds by the "Khaansaamaas" as those Cooks were called!!The third taste I learnt to eat and love was the "Pahadi" Style of Cooking with Black Bean Dal,Maize Bread,Mushrooms called "Gucchi" and lots of Green Leafy Vegetables cooked in Butter with lots of Garlic and Green Chillies.Of all the various Cuisines I grew up with I guess the North Indian and The Raj style of cooking appeals to me the most---may be because I associate my Childhood with it---besides I prefer simple Food---these Curries are easier to cook because they need mainly Basic Ingredients---unlike the elaborate and precisely measured Ingredients needed for both styles of Maharashtrian Cooking--ensuring that one spends hours in the Kitchen---specially awful in the sweltering Summer!!
Today if I was to state what my comfort Food was it would either be "Khichadi" cooked with Vegetables and lashings of Ghee---the more the better-----or the thick hearty Scotch Broth made with Lamb Shank Bones,Vegetables and Barley with thick chunks of home made Bread!!!But no---I guess the best would be tall Glasses of cold Fresh Creamy Milk or chilled plain Homemade Butter Milk----my "pick-me-up" fix of Ambrosia whenever I'm down!!!