In the last few months, Facebook has reconnected me with a whole bunch of people I used to know from different times in my life. 2014 IS the year of re-connections for me! After the initial excitement of rediscovering old friends and classmates, knowing the kind of people they have become with their diverse interests and unlocking memories that the mind had locked away in it’s attic,
weI, got back to the mundanity of my regular life. One of those days when my domestic help went missing, and the gardener lady vanished too (she is the back-up for my domestic help) leaving me to do a sinkful of dirty dishes myself and I saw the plants in my garden wilting for lack for watering, I went a little insane. My childhood pal called to chat and I began ranting about all my domestic woes to her. Now my friend, is a mum to two daughters and adept in the art of distracting, she suggested we both take a holiday together to get away from the domesticity for a bit. That did it! I stopped venting!
We finalized on Ladakh, even if this isn’t the season for it. Since we are taking a 26-hour train to Delhi and flying to Leh from there, we’ll need to carry some travel-friendly food along (you don’t really HAVE to but since it’s only the onward journey, my friend reminded me that we couldn’t afford to get sick by eating train food).
If you’ve lived in South India for long enough (or are atleast familiar with it’s cuisine), you will know Pulihora (A tangy-flavored rice made from tamarind pulp/lemon/raw mango and flavored with mustard-seeds, asafoetida and curry leaves and sprinkled with crunchy-fried peanuts and bengal and black gram). The tamarind version (and sometimes the mango one too) are made as part of festival meals in the southern states of India. The sourness in it’s flavor makes it the ideal food for travel, as it doesn’t go bad. My friend M, offered to make it for our train journey. Now you should know that I LIKE my friend. We’ve knew each other since we were 3 and have grown up together and despite all the love and affection we have for each other and the bond we share, I WILL NOT eat Pulihora made by her!!! Period.
Tamarind Pulihora occupies the highest place in my mind, I could actually worship it. My beautiful neighbor aunty (what Indian kids call women their mum’s age-group) made the BEST version of it in the Whole Wide World and would smuggle me some over the wall. Now that I think back, she didn’t really have to bother smuggling it because nobody, except me – the vegetarian convert in my non-vegetarian household, cared for it. It was moist with the tamarind pulp and loads of oil, flavorful with the generous sprinklings of crunchy seeds in every bite. Oooooh! It was a medley of flavors! It was heaven! No wonder the gods in the temples in South India are offered this food. I’ve had many different versions of that Tamarind Pulihora since; in temples, in people’s homes, at office-canteens. Some have been ok and some decent and some others downright sad! Nothing ever came close to what aunty made for me. She even gave me a demo on how to make it once, during my summer hols. But in my mind, it was HER dish and so perfect that I could never try to replicate it. So I never ever tried to make it. And why would I, when she’d always smuggle me some. She introduced me to Andhra-Brahmin cuisine, all those spicy and yumm pickles and pacchadis, she excelled at making, were stuff and I was so fascinated with. It’s funny how the one vegetarian in my household was fascinated by the way the Andhra Brahmins (who are staunch vegetarians) ate their food and their dishes. Ironically, aunty’s youngest son used to eat Beef Biryani in my Muslim best-friend’s house! He was fond of it so my friend’s mom always called him over when she made some. Obviously his parents did not know that. The Hindus in India consider the cow very sacred, so usually most of them do not eat beef. I have friends who’ve and been around the world and have had all sorts of meat and seafood, even alligator, say no to beef. Yep! we are like this only!
Coming back to the topic, so my standards for Pulihora are very high and there was no way I was going to trust a Bengali, who detested Pulihora as much as she hated vegetarian food to make it.
So I decided on doing a trial run and tried recreating the one I had in my food memories. It tasted decent but definitely not the way it was in my mind. I did the decent thing, I gave up and tried a Mango-version of it and was quite happy with the outcome. I found the recipe here.
When I spoke to my friend today she insisted on making this and I had to argue politely with her for quite a bit to insist that I would. She finally blurted out that she wasn’t looking forward to my version of Pulihora after tasting so many bad versions of it in her hostel, especially because I don’t cook much (the impression she carries of me). She generously allowed me to get baked stuff, but when it came to food, she refused to trust me. I’ve managed to convince her to allow me to do it this once and she finally gave in. I need to battle some perceptions here so wish me luck!
This is what I will be carrying for lunch on my train trip to Delhi. I am off tomorrow and will be gone for 10-days. I hope to return with a whole lot if stories, food-related and others to tell. I will see you soon 🙂