The last few days, I read quite a few blog posts, each expressing the level of attachment to home made conventional South Indian food - sambar, rasam, mor kuzhambu, poruchcha kuzhambu and the variants, which border a lot on the similarities than the differences! I was tempted to write one too! There are a hundred different varieties of food that use the same paste or the same kind of powder, but our taste buds are so well designed, that it is easy to differentiate the food just based on the whiff of the odor emanating from the kitchen.
But in spite of the commonalities, I make it a point to call up home to try out the different kinds. My mother would patiently list out the ingredients, and after a point I had got used to the contents of the mixture. The sambar had to have the pulses cooked from the cooker, the rasam had to have the same pulses, but of lesser quantity and more liquefied, and almost every other paste had the same contents. So, after a point, I had stopped jotting down what was being told, and made a mental calculation of how much I required to get the desired effect. But, initially, it was pretty difficult. The way she used to quantify perplexed me. For every dish, she asked me to put a handful (kaialavu) of this or that. It was difficult to fathom the depth of the handful proportions. But, gradually, I came to grasp the kaialavu measure, and now if I have to tell the measure to a rare listener, I let out the kaialavu tag, and explain to him that he can understand what that means only by experience.
In the last three years, I have experimented quite a lot with the different South Indian delicacies - Vaththa Kuzhambu, Poruchcha Kuzhambu, Mor Kuzhambu, Rasam, Podi Sambar, Arachuvitta Sambar, different kinds of kootu, differnt kinds of poriyal (curry) and so on. There are times when I also cook vegetable pulao or one of those dishes involving the Garam Masala powder. Somehow, the system within me has got so used to the many years of sambar and rasam, that as soon as I deviate from them for even a session, the black hole inside me begs to get back to the daily routine of tonnes of rice and sambar or rasam. It is the same case with many of my south Indian friends too! Even my father, who at one stage, wanted to go on a weight reduction spree, told my mother "Raji, from now onwards, prepare chapathis at least twice a week." My mother, a nice Samaritan that she is, did agree to my father's request. But, instead of a weight reduction, he was actually experiencing a heaviness. It took quite a while to realise that he was supplementing his diet of chapathis with little bit of sambar, rasam and curd rice! There ended the experimentation with chapathis and side dishes!
Being accustomed to a daily dose of three different dishes (sambar, rasam and poriyal), it was difficult to break the shackles and try out something new. When I was in Engineering, I used to have a good meal early in the morning; lunch had rice and dinner obviously was no exception. No wonder, my stomach is a big vault of rice! If George Bush points his finger at the Indian community for the cause of shortage of rice, he would feel more so justified if he looks at the diet of a typical south Indian family. The message is simply clear, try out different kinds of cuisine, but ultimately, you will fall for rice! This definitely holds good for me at least. Again, it is not just sambar and rasam. The meal cannot be considered complete, if I do not have my share of thayir sadam (curd rice) and oorgai (pickle) for the night. As a kid, my mother had to convince me to complete my food with curd rice, warning me that the stomach would churn without a bout of curd rice. But now, I am afraid that the statement has turned out to be quite true after so many years. Without the curd, the stomach does indeed churn!!!!