Southern Ambrosia…Andhra Bhawan…and a Promise

The husband will not miss Kashmiri if I never cook it. The son does not much care for the regular no-nonsense everyday-Maharashtrian. I eat Thai all by myself…But we all agree on South Indian! What can I say? We were South Indians in previous life. There is no other explanation. How else can you explain that my FIL, a Maharashtrian born and brought up in Jabalpur (MP), my late MIL, born and brought up in Jodhpur (Rajasthan), my dear H, born in Pune and brought up in saddi Dilli, I, born in Srinagar and brought up likewise, and our son, a 100% Delhiite, should all agree that South Indian food rocks. Period.

It is, by far, the most popular cuisine in our home. I realise I have included practically the entire peninsular India in this categorization – starting south of Maharashtra of course πŸ™‚ . And it does not start and end at the dosa-idli-upma for us – no sir/madam – we like to go the whole hog. As much as we can.

My love affair with South Indian food started when a lot of infatuations do, in my teens. But this turned out to be life long affair. Two of my best friends in school were from Tamil Nadu. Rajamma and Bhuvaneshwari. We were in grade 9. Our school introduced an additional short break of about 15 minutes at around 11 in the morning. That would be the time to peek into each other’s lunch boxes, if we hadn’t already done so. Soul satisfying curd rice is one lingering memory I have of Rajamma’s tiffin. I could never have enough of that. The smells from their tiffin were so different from mine but wonderfully delicious.

And you cannot contain the fragrance of the kadi-patta to the back row…it travels. Before long Rajamma’s tiffin would have been licked clean. But I would take her along to my home for a hot lunch of dal-roti-subzi during the lunch break. Yup, those were idyllic times. Actually, we were lucky to live in IITD and my school (KVIIT) was a quick sprint from home. When most of the students would sit all around the school lawns, under shady Neem trees, I would, often, walk home for lunch.

I had many a dosa, adai, and idlies from my friends’ tiffins. Since we all lived close to school, I would look forward to the occassional invite for lunch and savour more of their everyday kind of food. I particularly remember that at Rajamma’s there would usually be a vegetable-dal dish, not the sambar, which was heavenly with the short, clumpy rice.

We graduated from school and went on to study at different colleges in Delhi. I missed their tiffins. And I needed to do something about it desperately. The curd rice I managed to recreate, since it is such a simple dish.

Then my mother became very good friends with her school principal and his family, the Bhujangaraos, from Andhra! Mrs Rao’s upma was diffferent, her mango pickle with garlic was to die for. Many times, she would invite us over. There were many others from the South – a neighbour in the house oppposite ours, with the drumstick tree…I hesitatingly walked into her house one day and asked for a recipe for sambar!

CY Gopinath wrote a few articles in TOI during that time which were a blast to read and gave me further insights into Tamil (I think he is Tamil) food.

And so began an endless journey to find the recipes behind the tastes and smells of the food of my classmates’ tiffins. My fellow bloggers, a majority of whom seem to have roots in this region, have made it a lot easier. I was searching for a recipe for the dal they serve at Andhra Bhawan when I discovered Mahanandi. It was like standing at Alladin’s cave, and no password required!!

So, when we crave South Indian food, we do not head to Sagar Ratna, though there is one at walking distance. We cook our own or we head to Andhra Bhawan near Hyderabad House. The food used to be better but it is still good. I wish they would charge more (the all-you-can-eat thali is a mere Rs 50!) and bring back some of the earlier curries. The menu is: a dry subzi, a wet curry (this used to be coconut -milk based, but no more), the dal (toor dal with gangura or spinach), a chutney (there is an amzing variety here, just checkout the South Indian blogs. This Monday they served a peanut chutney similar to this one at Indira’s), dahi, a sweet, sambar, rasam, and papad, all served with roti and rice. On Saturdays they serve pooris instead of roti. On every table are small containers with two types of pickles (gongura, lemon, tomato, or mango-garlic); a spiced powder of roasted dals, similar to the Maharashtrian metkoot, to be mixed with the rice and some ghee – yum; and a small katori of ghee. The sweets can be a not-very-good tapioca or vermicelli or rice payasam, or boondi, the moderately good ‘kesari’ halwa (without the kesar, of course), or my favourite of the lot, the shahi tukda.

You can additionally order the non-vegetarian dishes: fish-fry or fish curry, chicken fry or chicken curry, and mutton curry, all for a very affordable Rs 50 70 each! Alas, the chicken curry has fallen from grace since they started cooking it without the coconut-milk! So, everytime we want to have ‘slow’ food without having to cook it, the entire family gets into the car for the drive to Andhra Bhawan. My son is possibly the biggest patron of their dal (and I still don’t have the recipe). He eats only the dal with his roti. Everytime. We have had aloo (potatoes) there just twice in the last 15 years since I have been a regular there!

Sorry, no pics. Did not remember bloggers’ Golden Rule – ‘never leave house without camera’ – in time. Next time.

Cutting a long story short, what I am trying to arrive at is that despite feeling intimidated by the blogs with authentic regional cuisine of the South, it will not be long before you see it featured here. Not a warning, just a promise. Remember that I have a claim from reasons of previous birth. The rice is soaking. Watch this space…

11 thoughts on “Southern Ambrosia…Andhra Bhawan…and a Promise

  1. There was a time when I couldn’t decide between Andhra Bhawan and Karnataka Sangha (Moti Bagh) behind Sangam Cinema (dont know if it is still there). I remember we watched a horrible movie ‘Criminal’ at Sangam cinema and headed to Karnataka Sangha to eat their thali. We ate like there was no tomorrow. Me and my sister were pretty skinny and the guy who served us could not believe his eyes. Lucky you !!

    We used to go to that Karnataka Sangha a lot when I was growing up, since it was close to IITD. They serve(d) a good bisi bele huli anna on Saturdays! Those skinny girls gorging away that one time was you and your sis?!! Just kidding..but maybe our paths did cross.

  2. Loved the story Anita…I remember a Gujju classmate whose mom used to send homemade khakras crushed and mixed with some ghee and Jeeraaloo. I can’t ever forget the smell or the taste of it…So can totally understand what you are driving at…

    It is truly amazing the variety in India…a perk of living in big cities (or perhaps, small town hostel life, in your case?) is we get to celebrate a lot of that first hand!Β  Gujju food is another of my favourites…like there can be cuisines from this country that one would not like!

  3. This was in the heart of the city, unfortunately never got to live in the sweet townside…that’s what Bombay city is all about, it’s a whole mini-India out here!

  4. The curd rice brought back school memories for me too! I have had South Indian friends at every point of my life so I think I grew up parallely on both Konkani and South Indian food πŸ™‚
    My friend Uma used to get curd rice and I’d just wait wait for lunch break. Then after months and months of having it I wanted her mother to pack something different in her tiffin just so I could eat something else equally delicious!!!

    Maybe there is a conspiracy here…they (our South Indian ‘friends’)Β  lure us with curd rice and before we know it we are begging for more…more potent dishes!! πŸ™‚Β  Like I said, Ambrosia…food of Gods.

  5. I found this post by a very roundabout way: I was researching metkut…but what a nice ode to the south! And can we ever try it all!? Perhaps “as much as possible” will have to do. πŸ™‚ But curd-rice, oh…that IS a must, I agree.

    We all are in agreement when it is food from the South!
    So, did you find the metkut you were looking for? Andhraites have one that is very similar to the Maharashtrian kind, just very hot ( πŸ˜‰ yum!). The one my MIL made had no heat.

  6. i am a pakka southi gal with love for ALL CUSINES…jus this afternoon i made sambar…its daily fare for us glad to here plp think much of we do;)…u rite so tantalisingly that even normal food seems mmmmmm…reminds me of enid blyton books…

    Why, thanks, Zia! Keep reading!

  7. Annita,
    I am from Andhra Pradesh and I know the metkoot like powder your are talking about.

    You must have tasted either one these.
    1) Toor Dal powder (kandi podi in AP/ Podi)
    You need:
    Toor dal – 1 cup
    Dry red chillies- according to your taste
    Cumin seeds – 1tsp
    Salt – as needed
    Dry roast toor dal on very low flame constantly
    stirring. Be careful not to burn. Add red chillies when toor dal is half way through. Your kitchen will be filled with aroma at one point where dal turns reddish brown and you add cumin and take it off the stove.
    You can also try the toaster oven set to 275 F (tastes better than stove).
    Once cooled grind evrything to a not so smooth powder. Store in air tight container.
    You can also add garlic to toor dal and roast it for a different flavor.
    Add this to hot rice and lots of ghee. Yummmmmmy.
    Best combination for this is either Mango pickle (avakaya in Telugu) or Rasam.

    2)Dalia (roasted bengal gram powder) (Putnala podi in AP/ Telugu)
    Dalia -1 cup
    dry coconut(optional)- 1/4 cup
    dry red chilles – as needed
    salt – as needed
    garlic 4 cloves or cumin 1 tsp
    Grind everything to a smooth powder
    Another variation is to roast all of them and then grind.
    Server this with hot rice and ghee.
    Hope you like these.

    1. Hi, Hyma! It must be the second podi I think for it is a very smooth powder. That is all thereis to it?! It is soooo tasty! I think they serve the garlic version for I picked outd garlic peel many times! Thank you so much for both these recipes!

      1. Yes Anita, that is it :-). I am glad you liked my recipes. I find your blog amazing esp your comments section.

        I forgot to mention this to you:
        Do not roast garlic, just add the raw one and you will like it. Also reduce garlic to 2 cloves if it is very pungent.

        As I said adding coconut is optional. I personally like it without coconut and I never toast any of the ingredients.

        This podi is made in less than 2 minutes. Sometimes I make it in the middle of my meal if I feel like eating it at that moment.

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