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Archive for the ‘Traditions and Customs’ Category

Puran poli – the long story

In Maharashtrian, Traditions and Customs, Vegetarian on March 25, 2013 at 12:21 pm

puran poli spread for Champa Shashthi

Have you heard of Champa Shashthi?  In my Maharashtrian side of the family it is associated with a ceremonial pooja the beginnings of which are somewhat obscure.  This winter I was visiting friends who celebrate this day with special prayers.  In their family, the day of the pooja marks the end of a period of abstaining from certain foods such as eggs and meat, and brinjals (eggplant).  Minor ceremonies are observed on the two days preceding Shashthi as well.

The celebration of this festival in our family has an interesting story.  This festival is not traditional to the Konkanasth Brahmin community to which my husband’s family belongs.  A long time ago, and I mean a really long time ago, traveling was an activity associated with uncertainty, hardship, and unknown risks, undertaken only for essential business or pilgrimage.  At such a time, a family embarking on one such pilgrimage handed over the Champa Shashthi Puja to their neighbour and friend in the village, V’s ancestor, like a precious thing for safekeeping.  They never returned to claim it back, and that is how we have this untraditional ritual as our heritage.  Our family continues to fulfill a promise made a very long time ago.  I remember my mother-in-law asking me if she should perform the udyapan, a special puja to mark the end, but I assured her I wanted it to continue.  How could I not want to be part of this beautiful legend, our very own legend!

We, my husband, son, and I,  are hardly religious people but I do believe that without religion, you may end up distancing yourself from what is your culture.  Food is very strongly tied to culture and religion.  One day, several years back, I realised we had not cooked sabudana khichdi in a very long time (years!). Since my mother-in-law’s passing no one in the family was observing any fasts anymore!  We brought back the Janmashtami fast and now observe it as a family.  The much loved sabudana khichdi is on the menu at least once a year. Read the rest of this entry »

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Bhagar ani danyachi amti

In Maharashtrian, Traditions and Customs, Under 30 min!, Vegetarian on March 10, 2013 at 6:33 pm

bhagar with danyachi amti for Shivratri

Haerath mubarak to my Kashmiri readers, and a very happy Shivratri to the rest of you! There was much feasting at my mom’s last night where we gathered for Mahashivratri puja. Shivratri is the most important festivals for the Kashmiri Pandit community. The festival marks the end of winter in Kashmir. The preparations start weeks in advance and culminate in the final three days ending with doon pooza (walnut puja!) on Phalgun amavasya, which is tomorrow. [Read more about it here and here] For us, today is Salam, the day after Shivratri, the day the youngsters receive Shivratri kharcha (spending money!) from the elders in the family. We got it last night itself from my father!

The rituals are quite elaborate and food and cooking is an integral part. Every family has their traditions and the ceremonies are not complete without the cooking of certain dishes. In the puja last night we had vatuks (vessels for water) that symbolised Lord Shiva and his wife-to-be, Parvati, who were married in the presence of other gods and invitees (represented, in their turn, by smaller vatuks). Only the eldest family member observes a fast while the rest feast. Walnuts are soaked in another vessel, to which are offered tiny bits of fresh food from the meals cooked everyday. Meat and fish are traditional and are part of the puja offerings. In the last 25 years, since their relocation from the Valley, Kashmiri Pandits, on finding themselves amongst Vaishnavites, have started observing vegetarianism during this festival. In deference to tradition, my mother cooked fish the day before Shivratri. Last night’s menu for the Shiv-Parvati wedding: rajma, paneer kaliya, mujj chetin, dum-olu, palak-matar, steamed rice, roti (for the non-Kashmiris!), and modur polav.

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Ver – the opposite of Kheer

In Kashmiri, Rice, Traditions and Customs on December 17, 2008 at 11:35 pm

veri masala

As I said earlier, there is much Kashmiris make with rice. Besides being the staple on our plate it is also our preferred ingredient when it comes to celebrations of all kinds. All auspicious occasions begin with rice in some avatar or the other. Barring one sweet made with dry fruits all Kashmiri desserts have rice as the main ingredient. [Therein lies a lesson for all of us to look at statistics with a sharp eye – Kashmiri cuisine has 3.5 desserts in all!]

Kheer is the offering of choice for most Goddesses.  When a sweet offering will not fit the bill, taher is cooked to mark the happy occasion. Similarly, cooking and eating ver marks the beginning of important celebrations such as weddings and yagnopavit ceremonies.

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Birthdays and other days

In Kashmiri, Potatoes, Rice, Traditions and Customs, Under 30 min! on November 13, 2008 at 1:29 pm

taher

Kashmiri Pandits, just like Bengali Brahmins, are known for their love of mutton and fish.  Just the sight of a goat can make my Bengali professor salivate.  Likewise, a Kashmiri is within her rights to discount a meal that did not include meat.

Food is perhaps amongst the most gossiped topics in the Kashmiri community.  The usual greetings and hugging are always followed by queries regarding the last meal.  How do you do?  What did you have for lunch?  The aunt will barely keep herself from clucking if you omit to mention some meat dish, real or imaginary, in your previous repast.  And you had better include the leftover morsel from yesterday’s meal while you are recounting the feast which is obviously your norm.  You can see the mental balancing underway as the relative from one side (paternal or maternal) weighs the meal in question (enjoyed at the other side) and determines who the winner would be after they are done serving you next. I have been accosted on the street – and after the pleasantries were done with –  “Ah, on your way from your maasi’s eh? So, what did you eat?!”  Now I look back at it with nostalgia; it did make our once-upon-a-time annual summer visits to Srinagar all the more colourful.

Yet, this blog speaks little of my nonvegetarian heritage.

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Divali Treats: namak pare

In Maharashtrian, on the side, Tea Party, Traditions and Customs, Vegetarian on October 27, 2008 at 7:17 pm

reading corner
The lights are up!

Yesterday, on dhanteras (the thirteenth day of the Hindu lunar month of Ashwin), I gathered up some enthusiasm to get the Divali cooking underway.  There was no way I could have shopped for gold – the prices are at a record high and the market at a record low.  Making Divali treats seemed to be just the thing to get the festivities off to a happy start. The easiest munchies to make are shankarpare and namak pare, one sweet, the other salty.

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My Continuing Discovery of Indian Cuisines

In Eating Out, Maharashtrian, Masalas (Spice Blends), on the side, Tea Party, Traditions and Customs, Travel, Under 30 min!, Vegetables on October 19, 2007 at 2:46 pm

I mentioned earlier the likelihood of my having been a South Indian in previous life. I believe there are people who are offended by this title – South Indian. I know not why. I do understand though, the umbrage at everyone from Southern India being (once) called ‘Madrasi’ by self-centered North Indians. May I add that for my grandma’s generation all non-Kashmiris were Punjabi – likely the only other state they had heard of from their insular position. “So, you married a Punjabi,” she would say.

Southern India is not a homogeneous region; neither is Northern India nor, for that matter, the Eastern or the Western parts of our country. And, just as the cuisine and customs of the Northern plains have a lot in common, the people of Southern Peninsular India also share a long cultural heritage.

While I have established (some might say – followed my tummy to) the general region of my previous birth as Dravidian India, I have not yet been able to point to the exact spot. In my early teens I already knew that Andhra and Tamil food gave me as much comfort as did my mum’s cooking. I relished the everyday-kind dal-based vegetable preparations (which I may not know by their names) served with thick short grain rice; idli smeared with fiery milagai podi was as much ambrosia as was tayir saadam. I discovered Kerala cuisine a little later – in my twenties – though it was confined to the odd fish curry, thorans and pachadis, and the exotic (to me) appams with either avial or ishtu.

flower seller
If you are in southern India be sure to wear some flowers in your hair…strung flowers sold by arm-lengths!

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Whew! It’s Over! Time for Some Breakfast

In Kashmiri, on the side, Rice, Traditions and Customs, Under 30 min! on September 30, 2007 at 9:44 pm

wedding roth
Party fatigue took over. But since I promised a concluding post, I will tell you a little bit more about the wedding and the events after the mehndiraat.

On the morning of the wedding, preparations were on for the Devgon – a ceremonial cleansing of the self to get ready for the next phase in one’s life – entering the grihasta (family) ashram. In India, it has always been said that a marriage is a relationship not just between two individuals but between two families. The living members and those who have passed on to the other realm. On this day the groom and his family first seek the blessings of their ancestors by performing the pitr pooja.

Hindu philosophy believes agni (fire) to be the ultimate cleanser – it can never itself be sullied or polluted, and all are equal before him. Devgon is performed around this sacred fire. The groom-to-be sits by the fire after a ceremonial bath and offers prayers to Goddess Parvati and Lord Shiva. All the elders of the family participate in the ceremony and fast till the conclusion of the havan.

kheer and monjjvorDaughters of the family are always a part of the ceremonies with the bua (father’s sister) enjoying an enviable position. She prepares kheer and monjjvor (flattened moong dal vadas) on this day which are offered to the Gods and then distributed to all family members to break their fast. The function is usually followed by a simple vegetarian meal of rice and vegetables. Our lunch that day comprised of a yellow subzi of pumpkin, a fiery red dish of radish and potatoes cooked with nadur (lotus roots), and served over steamed rice with yoghurt. (Read more about Devgon and Kashmiri wedding rituals here).

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The Big Fat Kashmiri Wedding and Stuff

In Kashmiri, Traditions and Customs on September 23, 2007 at 6:31 pm

henna
mere hathon me mehndi lagi hai!

There is a very good reason for my disappearance. My cousin is getting married – one of only two boys in our generation on my dad’s side. This is (almost) the last wedding in this generation so we are making the most of it.

Weddings are when I catch up with the extended family. I even get to meet more-than-once-removed cousins now that they are mostly settled outside Kashmir. I am almost caught up 😀 .

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It’s Party Time!

In Bread, Potatoes, Punjab, Ruminations and rants, Traditions and Customs on August 12, 2007 at 8:54 am

The Party is not over yet! The previous two posts and the comments there have piqued my curiosity. And it’s getting the better of me. 😀

While admitting that poori-bhaji is a national (if not yet international) favourite, I cook it infrequently in this seemingly health-conscious age. I am always reminded of it on the day of Ramnavmi, when I see neighbourhood kids (mainly girls – they are revered on this day only 🙂 ) flitting from one house to the next and their growing piles of poori-halwa and chana.

I am getting the feeling that some of us may have deprived ourselves too long! So, I implore all of you to join in the party and make some poori-bhaji for a change. You could start with a longer walk in the morning or burn it off later in the evening as you go shopping this weekend or the next.

The rules are simple:

  • Cook poori-bhaji this week (Aug 12-Aug 19), write a post about it (with or without a recipe 😀 ), how you enjoyed it, maybe a picture of the meal and/or the family enjoying the meal.
  • Too hot to fry? Go out and get some! The portion will be right, and you don’t have to fry ‘nothing’! Write a post about it, and how you really enjoyed it!
  • Link to this post (which will be updated next week to include my poori-bhaji. Of course, I have to make it again; these pics are from months ago!) You may, if you like, use a Pingback and it will automatically show up in the comments here. Or leave a comment here which will lead us to your post!
  • Don’t have a blog? You can still join the party; just leave a comment here about how you enjoyed your poori-bhaji! Feel free to provide links to any pictures you may have posted on a photo-sharing site such as Flickr or Photobucket.

Never made poori-bhaji before but would like to join in the party? Here’s the simplest of recipes to get you started! There are suggestions for variations too.

If a health condition prevents you from enjoying these foods, we understand. Responsible cooking and eating comes first. Always.

It is also India’s Independence Day this week, on August 15. Another reason to celebrate! I hope all of you (Indians as well as those of other nationalities) will join in!

Update: Aug 15

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Relishing the Radish

In Chutneys, Kashmiri, Low Fat, on the side, Traditions and Customs, Under 30 min!, Vegetables on March 27, 2007 at 9:27 pm

mujj chatin

Here is another Kashmiri vegetarian recipe. It is special because it is one of the few accompanying dishes that make up Kashmiri cuisine. The rest of India has a mind boggling variety of things to be ‘served on the left side’ of the thali. Let me explain this. There is a specific sequence to serving food in Maharashtra. You start with a bit of salt on the left side. This is the side reserved for all accompaniments: chutneys, pickles, wedges of lemon, koshimbirs (salads) or raitas. Bhajjis (pakoras), if part of the meal, will also find room here. Next will be a katori of daal, and then to the right of the thali is the main subzi. Rice and roti are towards the lower centre of the thali. The sweet, somewhere in the middle, is always served along with the meal. Even for everyday meals you will have something served on the left, even if just a pickle, though chutneys are served frequently. It would sadden my MIL to serve just a pickle ‘daavi kade‘ (on the left side!).

I have no idea why the Northern most state of our country is so lacking in this category. Maharashtra, Gujarat and all the Southern states lay as much emphasis on this ‘side’ to introduce a complexity of texture and flavour into their cuisine. It might have something to do with Kashmiris being obsessed with their meat or the harsh climate making cooking harder with women concentrating on getting the meat cooked in time for the unusually early meal times. Lunch, in most houses, would be ready and served before 10:00 in the morning. Everyone ate and went to work or school. Where was the time to sit and pound different things together in a pestle and mortar? The plentiful fresh fruits and vegetables such as radishes and cucumbers are perfect for snacking and getting the crunch that might have been missed at meal time.

Though there are just a few chutneys and raitas but these are much loved and used over and over. One loved vegetable is mooli (daikon radish). It is cooked with fish or nadur (lotus stem) to lip-smacking results. It is also the vegetable of choice for making our most popular raita – mujj chatin. For some reason it is called a chutney. Grated mooli added to thick salted dahi with chopped green chillies mixed in. Red chilli powder and a pinch of shah zeera (black cumin) is totally optional. This is the only Kashmiri dish in which I will use a garnish of coriander leaves. I love coriander, but it is not traditional to Kashmiri cuisine.

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