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!
In 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.
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?
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!
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.
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!