Everything does pass, and we can endure and we can survive!! – Rahul Dravid
I am a person who is very easily satisfied with a simple curd rice or dosai. But then when one sees an array of items placed carefully (strategically sometimes) on a banana leaf, one’s mouth does water. And one does think of the range of foods that one has tasted before and exalts in one’s feelings of taste that lingers past years in the tongue.
I relish the Naans and the Gobi Manchurians as well as the numerous Pizza sauce combinations, the tortillas and loads of other food. But when it comes to lingering affection, nothing beats the traditional Tamil Brahmin Iyer food for me. Like Chetan Bhagat says in 2 States, Tamil, Brahmin and Iyer are 3 different things. Disqualification in any one category will disqualify you completely from reading this article! 🙂
I have listed few of these great inventions here in this article. Idhuve naaka sundi izhukardhu.
Vetha kozhambu and chutta applam – this will guarantee give you bliss. As blissful as bliss can get. You don’t have to do years of yoga and karma and all of that to enjoy happiness and heaven. Two aapais full of this dish can take you right there. It is awesome simulation, very realistic. If you can have nalla masicha keerai with it, that’s about a perfect continuation to the good morning. Good Afternoon! This dish again can be made in many varieties – sundaikaai, manathakkali, appalam, etc.
Sambhar – Traditional sambhars from Iyer homes come in many varieties – the mullangi, murungaikkaai and vengaayam ones vying with each other for the top spot. Nanna sudara saadhathula pesanju chaaptaa…. Yum yum yum. With Seppankezhangu varuval and urulai kezhangu kari or a simple beans varuval/ poduthuval, it is just impeccable. I am not a kootu admirer, so we will leave those. Although the thakkalikaa kootu is a very impressive dish that makes me sit up.
Thengaai thogayal and poricha applam – On days when amma is not well, she would just grate a coconut and make a thogayal out of it. With steaming rice and applam, it is a fantastic, spicy dish. When I eat it and touch the top of my head, I can find sweat drops for sure.
Poricha kozhambu and kichadi – This is a mixture of vegetables (cut square; like a kurma really) but the gravy consists of coconut mixture (arachu vitta thengaai). Kichadis are Iyer invented raithas. They do not have onions but we put cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots or vendaikkais in them. To be eaten with hot rice and applams or vadaams.
Paruppu usili – This is magnificence. According to me, it vies with Mount Everest. Spice up the legumes with paruppu (pulses) fry them a bit and lo and behold, you see a wondrous dish in front of you. Usilis can be made from different vegetables as well as with keerai and different paruppus. But the traditional usili is the beans/ cheenivarakkaai usili. Periya paruppaa nee? Surely, we are.
Pitla – This is a rare dish, not present in every day routines. But a sure one for occasions. Made usually out of kathirikkaai (brinjal/ egg plant) or paagarkkaai (bitter gourd), it is yet another master piece of a dish. It is thicker than sambar – between paste and solidity. It is made with little more tamarinds and a variety of dals. Pitla can make even the bitter gourd less bitter. Eaten with steamed rice and kari.
Thaalagam – This again is a rare dish made only during Thiruvaadhirai. It is a kozhambu which has a mixture of vegetables (veggies are cut large) and flavoured with red chillies and coconut. It is a kind of pitla minus the pulses. It also has a tamarind base and is extremely healthy and tasty.
Avial – Regarded as a Kerala dish because it is popular there. But it owes its origins in Tamilnadu. It is a mixture of vegetables – cut in a long fashion, heated with curd and seasoned with coconuts. It can be made in both thick as well as gravy types. It doesn’t have the tang of tamarind; instead makes do with curd. This makes it very tasty and different.
Puli kaachal is an Iyengar speciality but then Iyers have their own knack of making it differently tasty. Thengaai saadham, Thakkaali saadham and Lemon rice among lots of other variety rice make for a hurried lunch preparation. They are our own brand of fast food. You can make these pastes once and mix them whenever you need.
There are loads of other kozhambus (mor kozhambu, urundai kozhambu, etc) and different varieties of each of them, but then, I just have time for my favourites.
What to say of the Thakkali rasam and Vendaikkai kari? Rasam itself can be made in many different varieties – each with a unique taste. Eating running rasam from a plantain leaf is quite an art in itself. How an Iyer sitting cross legged on the floor in front of his leaf would scoop up the rice rasam mixture using his thumb as base and other fingers for support and slurp it down noisily ought to qualify for awards. If there is an Olympics for this sort of event, we will get to hear the national anthem more often than we do now. (Or will we? Considering many of our kin now live in US and UK.)
And what of the very humble thayir saadham – oorgai? Will one feel a meal is completed without this? I have known people who, even after a great outing with friends (of pizzas, pastas, macaroni and myriad other things) will come home and drink a glass of mor and lick a spoon of oorgai.
And oorgai is not one dish. Pickles are made out of almost every vegetable but nothing else seduces me like the mango does. Maa vadu and molagaa maangaai are among the tastiest inventions made. Vepilai katti is not far behind and neither are the range of thokkus that can be made from thakkaali, maangaa and other veggies.
Our appalams, vathals and vadagams can give the popular chips brands a run for their money. We consider the pappadam too tiny to be eligible for competition. These appalams and vathals come in a large assortment. Arisi, Javvarisi, Ulundu, Vengaaya vaadaam, etc.
None of these dishes have masala in them – which is a north Indian additive. All of them are healthy – of course, in the right quantities. They are rich in protein, calcium and minerals, attributed to the use of milk products and vegetables. Dashed with very little oil/ ghee and fried kadugu (mustard seeds), thuvaram paruppu (thalichu kotradhu – we call it), and a little of karuvepillai, pacha molagaai and kothamalli, they are a treat for the tongue. Spicy, tasty, colourful and vibrant – they make the Tamil Iyers what they are.