Hava Nagila!

Everything does pass, and we can endure and we can survive!! – Rahul Dravid

Tiffin at Iyer’s

Iyer recipes aren’t just kozhambus and rice variations. We are arguably the world’s best when it comes to tiffin items as well. A sneak peek again at my favourites.

Top of the list is the very modest Dosai. Dosai can take a viswaroopam and can be made in 60 different types. But everyday recipe in a Tamil Iyer household is incomplete without the simple/ plain dosai. These aren’t the flimsy, long models you get in hotels. They are perfectly round and thicker. When eaten with molagaai podi, they give what you call the perfect start to the day. That is Good morning. Chutneys and Sambhars make ideal side dishes to dosai too.

Idlis, they will say are the precursor to dosai but then we like ideal successors. I consider idli as something that we eat when unwell. It is a joram dish for me. It does not do to dwell on Idlis. 🙂 Although I must say the Rava Idli, especially the one with onions do make me drool. Let us move on to a fatter variety – vadais. Vadais can be made out of vegetables, pulses, fruits and even flowers or stems. My, my – we don’t leave any part of the plant, do we? Vadais can be fluffy, thin, fat or hard. They are an extremely tasty snack. We put them in hot sambar, rasam or cold thayir and let it soak for some time. After a while, it gives a fantastic odour as well as a very rich taste. Bhajjis, bondas, bakodas and kunukkus are also tasty relations of the vadai. These are also known for their gram flour and oil content. The samosas and cutlets and puffs come only second when compared to their south Indian relatives.

Pongal – traditionally Tamil dish. It is made of rice, boiled such that the pieces stick together and can’t be told apart. Pongal emits a marvellous aroma because it is seasoned with pepper and usually has some nuts (mostly fried cashews) in it. It can make one doze. 🙂 Pretty heavy dish, that.

Adai – Mainly eaten at dinner. Avial, Molagaai podi and Vellam (jaggery) make ideal side dishes for Adai. Adai is made round like dosai with a hole in the centre for better roasting. It is full of paruppu and can be made in as many varieties as the dosai can.

Kozhakkattai – These are made in the form of balls and are cooked in steam. They can be made out of ravai, rice flour, etc. and since they are steamed, they are very healthy. They are seasoned with the regular kadugu and ulutham paruppu, karuveppilai (curry leaves) and kothamalli (coriander). The ideal side dish for kozhakkattais thengaai thogayal or any chutney. We also have the sweeter version of the kozhakkattai filled with sweet poornam. But this is made only during Vinayaka Chathurthi. There is also a smaller ammani kozhakkattai which is made out of left overs from the main kozhakkattai making process. These are very attractive and taste excellent.

Upma – This is a quick fix dish – when there isnt anything else to make or when there is very less time. Upmas also offer a very large variety. They can be made from rice flour, ravai, semiya, kurunai (rice bran), aval or even old idlis! Ideal side dishes for Upma are oorgaai or sambar or even sugar. They are seasoned with onions and the regular thaligai.

Sevai – This is an Iyer version of the idiyaappam, our own version of the noodles. Sevais, again, can be made in different flavours – coconut and lime being the most popular. Mor kozhambu is the best side dish for sevai. It is slightly more difficult to make and needs to be simmered and taken out at the right time to avoid becoming sticky.

Any of these will give a refreshing start to the day; I would always go for the dosai. All morning refreshment, however, is half finished without the Kaapi (Coffee). Kaapi in TN is served in davara tumbler and it completes our morning breakfast. Not our invention but surely ours now. We have invented how best to make it edible. The aroma of coffee is an outstanding alarm clock. Scientists say it is because of the caffeine in it. We can disregard that. We know that it is because of our combination, because of our decoction, the thick froth and the davara.

Chundal – Baked or very shallow fried Pulses seasoned with coconuts and curry leaves. We can make it out of any paruppu (pulses), peas, chick peas (any kind of channa), mangoes and few other vegetables. It is especially made during Navarathiri. Every day evening, sundal is made and served to those who come home. It can be both sweet as well as spicy. It is commonly sold in beaches. Thenga maanga pattaani sundal!! 🙂

Our evening snacks don’t just end there! Thenkozhal (many varieties), omappodi, mixture, nei murukku, adhirasam, cheedai, thattai, etc – if only Lays or some popular brand would packet these, they would find themselves millionaires within days. Usually these are made with a combination of flours and proper seasoning. These have very elaborate preparatory methods and require extreme love and dedication to make. When made, they disappear from the drums (yes, drums) within days. 🙂 🙂

In the sweet department, we have our own super specialities. Jangri, the tastier cousin of the mediocre jalebi and Mysore paa are traditionally Iyer recipes that give you taste and a sugar high like nothing else. Okkaara vadisal is a traditional Tirunelveli Iyer sweet which is made during Deepavali. We have a very exquisite range of payasamspaal, aval, javvarasi, badam, etc. They do not have the saffron content high as in north Indian kheers. They are simpler versions; nevertheless healthier and tastier.

Three sweets which I have a very special liking to are the Maalaadu, Adhirasam and the Therattipaal. They tingle my tongue beyond other things. Apart from this we have the kadalai urundai, rava laadu, paruppu thengaai, manoharam, appam, chakkara cheedai and 30 other sweet varieties unheard of in other parts of the world. We also have our adopted versions of the north Indian halwas and burfis, the Andhra laddus, the Kerala pradhamans as well as the English cakes.

Tiffins are surely not as grand as the luncheon, but in their assortment and diversity much bigger than the mid-day meal. When we eat these foods, we lose ourselves, forget our worries for a while and experience happiness like never before. They soothe us like panacea, like a magical potion that cures all – temporarily and makes one calm enough to face the next event. This reminds me of Ben Jonson’s quote “In small proportions we just beauties see; And in short measures life may perfect be.” How true isn’t it?

Different we may be, but all Iyers unite as one under the common banner of food. Like I said earlier, these foods make us who we are and it is time to show the world that we are more than the land of idli and sambar. Oh ye, tourists! Next time, you are in Tamilnadu, plan to eat in an Iyer home.


2 comments on “Tiffin at Iyer’s

  1. Ragav
    March 22, 2012

    With Brahminism, the Brahmin way of life, Brahmin Tamil on it’s way to oblivion, it’s heartening to know that Brahmin cuisine hasn’t been wiped out in this mad pursuit of kollywood and global(read American) culture.

  2. Meenakshi
    March 22, 2012

    Whatever was forced is gone and going. Whatever was left to choice remains and continues to grow strong. 🙂 🙂

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