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In a pickle

In south Indian, Travel on February 24, 2010 at 4:27 pm

limes and pepper

So I promised to turn over a new leaf…

But in the time that intervened I omitted to share my gastronomic visit to the land where I believe I might have lived in my previous life. In the days of spare gas cylinders and even piped gas (I refer here to liquefied petroleum gas – the kind that is in gaseous form unless pressurised, and not the fuel you run your cars on, which is a liquid but called ‘gas’ because obviously gasoline is too long a word) you would believe that city folks no longer have to worry about going without home cooked food because the fuel ran out. You would be right but, there are always exceptions that prove the rule.

Early one foggy December morn I left Delhi to arrive at my friend’s house in Chennai to an empty gas cylinder. My primary concern was regarding that tumbler of filter coffee the thought of which had put some shine to the early morning rise. Thankfully Tambram coffee snobs (at least the ones I know as friends) do not believe that microwaves render water unsatisfactory for the premium brew. Only after smelling the coffee was I willing to contemplate the situation at hand. At worst I would have to wait to eat my friend’s cooking (do you think she might have planned it?), and we would have to subsist on restaurant and “mess” food. But that is not such a bad thing if you are in idli land! :-) Plenty to happily subsist on!

Breakfast at Murugan IdliIn the course of three gas-less days we checked out many small and medium sized restaurants, in Mylapore and elsewhere. My first meal was at the well known Mylai Karpagambal mess where, amongst other dishes, I tried their famous badam halva (but did not become a fan).  We tried to spread the meal out – walk-eat-walk; eat-walk-drink, trying not to eat too much at any one place.  It was decided that I could not skip Sarvana Bhavan in Chennai just because we had one in Delhi – what would everyone think?! And that Sarvana Bhavan in CP (or Rajiv Gandhi Chowk, if you insist) – I am not planning to visit ever again after they tried to fob off a sooji-free dosa as a rava dosa on me!   “Madam, rava dosa is not always like that, some times it comes out limp with no holes at all!”  Are you kidding me?!

The breakfast at Murugan Idly was very memorable – crispy vadai, softest idlies, fragrant sambar poured onto the banana leaf, an array of chutneys, and my first taste of ven pongal! I loved the simple flavours of this khichdi enough to buy myself a pretty little pongal pot! Yes, this year I celebrated Pongal by cooking the dish in my pot of gold!  I also tried a very unusual milk-based drink here called Jigarthanda, its origin as interesting as its name.  I am still unsure whether I like it or not.

sundrying turmeric The streets around theKapaleeshawarar (Shiva) temple in Mylapore house shops with much to offer the tourist and the native. There are shops selling organic kumkumam, traditional brass pots and stainless steel idli stands, flower sellers on bicycles as well as vendors with their ware spread on the street. Take your pick as you wait to make room for the next meal or tiffin-time.

Did you know that when you visit a Shiva temple you are supposed to take some time and sit down before you leave the precincts?

Street Market

Fresh produce

double beans

Mylapore Street Market

fruits sellers

Mylapore Street Market

paniyarum I carried back with me potato chips with a hint of hing from Grand Sweets.  I should have tried the paniyaram there so that I had a benchmark – the ones I made from leftover idli batter resisted leaving my not-so-seasoned cast iron paniyaram pan.  One reason for that might have something to do with the fact that I did not fill the depressions with nearly enough cooking oil. For all the appearance of shallow frying those thing are deep fried alright – just look at the amount of oil in there!  Swimming!

Second Course I satiated my hunger for fluffy appams and stew at Ente Keralam, Rasam was my introduction to Kongunadu cuisine, but the three course Udipi thali at  Matsya is what I wish I could get in my neck of the woods – pure ambrosia!  I also got to taste home cooking at it best with dishes that were unusual and ingredients that were new to me.

Homeward bound I was loaded with a selection of these new flavours: jars of pickles, sweet plantain chips, dried salted fragrant limes, good-old South Indian coffee (of course!) and home-made sambar podi. One of the ingredients that caught my fancy was the narthangai, a fragrant lime referred to as citron by some.  I carried two of them which I later made into pickle using my regular lime pickle recipe.

mango-ginger, limes, pepper, and sundakkai

What precipitated this post (about time!) was a new stash of fresh produce that I received a day ago from the same friend in Chennai.  In addition to narthangai, I have received kidarangai (the larger lime in the basket), sundakkai (the larger berries), fresh green peppercorns, as well as manthakali (not in picture).  Amongst the many new pickles I tried was a simple one made with fresh mango-ginger and green peppercorns which I hope to make soon. I have started a pickle that uses kidarangai, mango-ginger, and the peppercorns, and another with just narthagai.

I am headed south tomorrow (Kochi here I come!) so the remaining ingredients have to await my return.  You, dear readers, must meanwhile tell me what all I might do with these wonderful ingredients when I get back!

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  1. loved this post!! the sight of those fresh narthangais and green pepper!! enjoy kochi… make a stop at jew town

    Two days just for Jew Town!

  2. wow,…enjoy,..;-)
    :) Thanks!

  3. The photos are lovely, especially that first one!
    Enjoy your trip!

    Thanks!

  4. That looks like a fabulous trip Anita! I am green with envy :D the sambar on the banana leaf….slurrrrrrp I was in India around the same time last year and got back green peppercorns and sundakkai that I pickled here… best accompaniments to curd rice. We used to have a huge sundakkai tree in our backyard, so we were always stocked :)
    I’ve never cooked with raw manathakkali though only remember popping a few in my mouth while picking them from the shrubs. My mom would roast the dry vathal in some ghee and have us eat it with warm rice every few months since its know to kill the germs/worms in the tummy :D Good for relieving mouth ulcers too.
    On another note, we always sit atleast for a minute before leaving any temple, forget why we do that though :D

    Wow to have such a stock for sundakkai! So is there a sundakkai pickle recipe you could share?

  5. The basket with the limes and green peppercorns reminds me of my grandmom who was an expert at using those and the mango ginger in a pickle.

    I love the fresh butter beans and mochai beans piles.

    No mention of grandmothers please…why do I always do stuff that rem,inds people of much much older folks?! No, don’t answer that. :)

  6. nice pics…am missing india

  7. Lovely Pictures Anita. Waiting to see what you make and what others suggest

    I am hoping someone here wil tell me how to use the sundakkai!

  8. Hmm, this is unfari ;). The sight of idli and sambar, ON a banana leaf platter…..sigh! Makes me super hungry and has sparked off some serious cravings! Need to have some sambar tonight! The pictures from the market are so, so gorgeous! The last picture takes the cake! It’s like all the stuff you could have asked for :).

    Have a lovely trip, Kochi is wonderful!

    I knew this was going to get a lot of people homesick and start some major cravings!

  9. AFAIK, Narthangai was not made into a traditional pickle like lime that privilege was reserved for kadarangai instead. Narthangai was special but simple and so was the pickle that was made out of it – it was cut into strips, coated generously with salt and sun-dried, till it shrunk to 1/4 of its original size and stored as is in a container. A great accompaniment for the quintessential thayir saadam, one call chew on it if you feel nauseated or are down with upset stomach and such. Mangai-inchi (mango ginger) can be pickled with too and both sundaikkai and manathakali, can again be sun-dried and used as vathal in vatha kozhambu or fried in ghee and eaten with warm rice + ghee as Priya has mentioned.

    Oh, but it was – I did! I know it usually is not.
    I have the sun-dried narthagai in stock – love love it with thayir sadam! Looking for a pickle recipe for sundakkai and manthakali…

  10. Oh Anita, next time you must make time for blog friends :-D. Love the post!

    We sit in every temple for a while, after praying, not just Shiva’s. No clue why, though! Probably to reflect if you really deserve everything you begged God to provide ;-)

    Absolutely – this was mixed with some work so more rushed than normal. In fact, I think you know my friend (or have common friends) and we were planning to give you a call…

  11. Lovely pictures, and beautiful write-up, as always…
    We used to (and still do) sit at (all) temples for atleast a minute because of some reasoning on the lines of “bhagwan ke ghar aaye ho, bagair baithe kaise jaa sakte ho, bhagwan gussa ho jayenge”, and you shouldn’t show your back to god, so we used to sit at an angle on the steps :)
    Regarding the narthangai, my son likes the salt-cured, sun-dried pickle(it attains a black color). Or you could also just cut it into chunks with turmeric and rock salt (rock salt adds flavor and crunch). I have seen kidarangai in more and fancier forms too – with chilly powder, oil, mustard etc.. I love the green pepper pickle treated with vinegar, lime, ginger, that we get on rare occasions at the Indian stores.
    As for the sundakkai, I have had it in the raw form only once, but loved it (if you like bitters like cluster beans, methi, bitter gourd, this tastes similar, and if I remember correct, a little sour too). I had it in a preparation similar to irupulikuzhambu of Tirunelveli fame, but thinner (irupulikuzhambu is a cross between mor-kuzhambu and sambar – with tamarind/buttermilk combo, and a ground mixture of coconut, roasted tur daal, methi seeds and red-chillies)
    Mango ginger at it simplest can be pickled with salt, lemon, green-chillies, or can take more elaborate pickle methods with chilly powder, oil etc.
    Sorry for the long comment, but these are a few of my favorite things, and I just couldn’t stop myself… Lucky you…

    Thanks, L! I am hoping others too will leave long comments with instructions/ recipes for me! I think the narthagai and kadarangai I am pickling as you have mentioned. I love sundakkai in vatha kuzhambu – one of my fave things ever! I hope someone will tell me how to pickle the fresh kind.

    I think we Northies (or maybe just ignorant me!) are always ina rush, even to get out of the God’s house!

  12. Lovely Post and Gr8 snaps!!!!

    Thanks! :)

  13. Anita, this is a beautiful post. I grew up going to Chennai during summer hols and visiting the mylapore market. This brings back memories..mom used to drag me to Raasi on her way back:)

  14. I brought back a bottle of the mango ginger pickle with fresh green peppercorns!

    I never go to Saravana Bhavan on matters of principle :) and am boycotting Haldirams also from now on.

    Plan a trip for some home cooked Mangalorean or Tamil food… I promise I shall cook you a nice meal!

    I feel bad I couldn’t pick up fresh double beans and fresh “mochai”.

    And BTW, we (in our family) are supposed to sit at every temple, before leaving, because one is not supposed to leave the house of god in a hurry. (My father belongs to a Vaishnavite family, so I know it not a tradition reserved for Shiva temples alone – because people in his family do not visit Shiva temples at all.)

  15. Amma’s mango ginger pickle is not really a pickle… salt, lime juice (loads), fresh pepper corns and small round slices of mango ginger!

    Some curd rice on the side and you’ve attained nirvana.

    My favourite way to eat narthangai is the way L described it… not as a pickle, but a sun dried salty accompaniment!

    Gadaranga is made just like lime pickle. :)

  16. ooohhhh Anita, I missed you. I should have met u in Chennai. But I have a bunch of recipes to do with these beauties. The Narthangai apart from pickling if stays fresh can be made into rasam. Just make rasam with dal water and tamarind water and the usual procedure and add the juice of this at the end and switch ooff th stove and cover. You’ll love this I bet. And th green peppers can be salted with little buttermilk and sun dried. As they shrink they can be had everyday with curd rice. Wonderfully hot it is. And mango-ginger makes the best pickle with salt, lemon and green chillies. I am not a fan of the spicier version. Th sundakai can be crushed with a pestle and mortar slightly and sauted in oil and added to sambar or a puli kuzhambu. They taste divine! Oh my god all these I have listed here lack a post in my blog. You have meinded me of so many unblogged recipes ;)

  17. Hi Anita, You can make a similar kuzhambu like this http://passionatetrials.wordpress.com/2007/05/09/4/ sans the mango seed and while sauteing onions saute the slightly crushed pachai sundakkai too. Have it with a simple coocnut chutnet and its my mom’s signature dish! I wish you get to cook them before they start drying.

  18. And if you really want a picking method for manathakali or sundakikai here u go…Do it the same way as u make mor milagai. Make a slit in the sundaikkai. Manahakali can be taken whole (;)) Add some buttermilk and salt it and sun dry until its completely dry and ready to be stored. Thats all.

    Perfect! Sounds easy too!

  19. Anitha I enjoyed reading your post well written with nice photos.

  20. That is such a coincidence that you managed to acquire the two vathal-making berries- I just learnted of them a few days ago! I guess they are prepared like yoghurt-chiles and popped into dishes for extra fun. :-D
    Those fragrant limes look a lot like “magrut” from Thailand- flowery, very fragrant peel and “dry” pulp. I wanted to make a pickle with them this year but couldn’t locate any. :-( Will you save me a teaspoon of the pickle? Pretty please?
    The jigarthanda recipe reads A LOT like the Thai/Lao “drinks” we see here with bobbing, colourful morsels; only main difference is they use coconut milk instead. I like it, but it is SWEET.

    And I am not! Instead, I am very envious of all these glorious things you’ve encountered- look at those jackfruit slices!

  21. Or, no…it’s a melon. I would’ve bought one of everything anyway.

  22. Or is it petha?

  23. What a lovely post Anita… so many of my favorites – the naarthangai, and mango-ginger (maa-inji) pickles always hold a spl place. I tasted my first jigarthanda at Murugan idli shop too and was shocked at the amount of oil that was used for the paniyarams at Grand sweets – i had no idea they were deep fried like that until then. The pan just works as a mould I suppose.
    What I’ve heard is that we must sit after visiting Shiva temples and not do so in the case of Vishnu temples… (not sure abt the credibility of that though). Here in the US a lot of the temples are a combination (Shiva-Vishnu temples) and so that always leaves me confused on what needs to be done.

  24. Oh, this post had me nodding and smiling wistfully :) I envy your three days – ah for a lovely breakfast at Murugan idli!! Saravan Bhavan isnt a patch on it – yes, even the one in Chennai. And I agree the CP branch is an abomination – salty sambar and psychedelic orange kesari!

    I dont thinking sitting in a temple for a while is exclusive to Shiva temples, I have seen many people doing this and have done so too (though I dont visit regularly) and love the sense of peace it gives me…

    Thanks for sharing!

    Miri

  25. BTW, I have a recipe on my blog for sundakkai vathakuzahmbu –

    http://peppermill-miri.blogspot.com/2008/06/sundakkai-vatral-kozhambu-sundried.html

    Its delicious!

  26. Hi there! great description of chennnai’s eat outs. you have made me very nostalgic especially for narthangai :)

  27. Hope you bought something more than just potato chips from Grand Sweets!They make good stuff there.Apart from drying sundakkai never heard of pickling them.Gorgeous pics!Made me really really homesick.

  28. What a great post.. I’m a regular reader and felt compelled to break my silence when I saw these pictures. I grew up in Mylapore and this post makes me want to go back there. I’ve had one or two similar experiences in Saravana Bhavan in Mylapore where I’ve been served cold idlis and old coconut chutney(gasp!!) – good thing about Idli-land is there is no dearth of smaller restaurants that serve the real deal.

  29. Gosh! You make me miss Chennai so much. The only thing I cannot stand about that city is the heat, but the food……..its vegetarian “tiffin” paradise.
    My stock of all those goodies you mentioned at the end of your post is alarmingly low. Good thing my husband shall be shopping for me soon a south-bound trip! :)
    As if that’s not enough, you’re going to Cochin too. :(
    Have fun and enjoy! I guess you must be back now. :)

  30. I love the first photo! Did you take it? The lighting is beautiful. Also, I am very jealous of your banana leaf idli meal. I will have to venture farther south when I am in India next (my fiance’s family is in Pune). Can you give the link to your pickle recipe though? I really want to start making pickle at home since I don’t have any more homemade mother-in-law version around.

  31. Anita, you have always made me miss Delhi and now you make me miss Chennai (or Madras as we called it when I was growing up in Delhi)!!!
    Your post brings back childhood memories of summer vacation spent away from Delhi at my grandparents home in Mylapore … with frequent visits to Karpagambal mess and Kapaleeshwar kovil.

    You can pickle (brine) the green peppercorns. It is a common preparation in the south – leave the peppercorns on their stalks and brine them in a solution of water, salt and lemon juice.

    They are also used in Thai curries as well…

    -K

  32. Loved the post; the citrus platter brought so many memories; we salt cure and sun-dry the larger one and the mango ginger goes with fresh green peppercorns. In our nook, the sundakkai is used only for the special Kanji/new rice porridge on Vishu.

  33. In south Karnataka (Mysore/B’lore)area, citrons/haeralekai are pickled (just like limes) and also made into gojju/a sweet&sour gravy dish. For gojju, chop finely and saute in mustard, turmeric, hing, curry leaves tempered in oil. When it is 3/4 cooked, add tamarind juice, lots of jaggery, salt, red chilli powder, dried coconut gratings and let it simmer into a thick liquid. Alternatively, you could roast red chillies, channa-urad dal mixture and grind with raw coconut and add to the citron-tamarind-jaggery mixture. It is usually mixed with rice or can be used to eat with rotis.

  34. Gorgeous pictures Anita! And some of that food sounds so delicious!

  35. Beautiful pictures.
    Great recipe.
    Instant bookmark.
    I will surely try this.

    I had a feeling this is how you felt, basically.

  36. Hi, Am a punju who lived in chennai 2001-2007 and found it to be my spiritual home. Thanks for evoking such strong memories. Lived a stone’s throw away from Grand Sweets, and loved their sampler offerings while one waited patiently for orders to be filled. The Mylapore area is especially remarkable, not just during Kutchery season but even now. I wonder how you missed out on the Ugadi offerings, as packaged by Ambika Appalam Sore or even Annalakshmi, the veggie restaurant people either love or despair of!

  37. [...] Thank you for the helpful comments on the previous post.  I picked the easiest way to preserve the sundakkai – soaked in salted buttermilk and sun [...]

  38. [...] reading through Anita’s post, when she wanted some suggestions to use up the array of fresh veggie loot she made during her [...]

  39. How lovely to read this from a tourist point of view, though I live, breath this air!..next time, pls me know know your landing time..will get the kappi going!

  40. I was actually checking out your website for making pickles.. stumbled this article…Glad you had a great time in chennai.

    It was a good culinary visit!

  41. I am living in Delhi. I very much miss Narathangai urukai. Is it available in Delhi? Anybody have information, please share it.

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