I came across this post about the influences of tradition on food quite by chance, and it has set me thinking. It made me think about why I like the food I do, and why I cook what I do. And the memories made me smile. It took me back to long, long ago.
I was born in Chennai, but brought up entirely in Gujarat. There would be month- and two-month long visits to Chennai in the summer holidays. Part of my family drooled over Gujarati food, while part of them liked only purely traditional South Indian. I spent part of my childhood in a locality full of Maharashtrians. I had a fast friend who was a foodie, and she was largely responsible for introducing me to a variety of tastes. My stints at eating out made me realize I am fond of Indo-Chinese and Indo-Italian food. I am married into a family that has strong Keralite connections. The husband loves Kannadiga food, and introduces me quite often to flavours from Bangalore. As a result, my taste buds and my kitchen have had one influence too many.
Mom and granny majorly used to cook traditional South Indian cuisine. I was blessed in the sense that both of them are wonderful cooks. I fell in love with Masala Dosas, Avial, Cabbage and coconut curry, and with the variety of chutneys and thokkus that these ladies used to make. I loved my nani’s vettalkozhambu and morkozhambu, and would plead with my mom to replicate the exact taste. Nani taught me the joys of adding a spoonful of liquid ghee to a plate of steaming rice and vettalkozhambu, or just plain, salted paruppu. Of course, rasam and sambar were ever-present both at our place and nani’s, but I never much fell for them. Mom and granny’s Gujarati and Marathi friends taught them a lot of recipes, which have now been passed on to me. It was in Ahmedabad that I developed a taste for sweet dal and sabzi, Bombay chutney, vegetable pulav, sabudana khichdi, chivda, khaman, undhiyu, patra, samosas, jalebi, methi na gota, paav bhaji, and dalwada, among several others. Granny and Mom learnt how to make soft parathas and roll out the fluffiest of phulkas, arts which were passed on to me. Because I should not feel different among my Gujarati friends, Mom learnt how to make several Gujarati and other dishes like Paneer Butter Masala, Patra, and Sabudana Khichdi, recipes that were painstakingly noted down by me and which I use till date.
Whenever Mom had to make South Indian food and I wasn’t in the mood to eat it, I would head off with that foodie friend of mine for some yummy but affordable street food. Ahmedabad is a heaven for food lovers, I tell you! I fell in love with the street sandwiches, pani puri, dahi puri, sev puri, et al, and even learnt to make a few of these things at home. Another option when I wanted to eat something different was Maggi – the faithful Maggi which never lets a hungry soul down. Mom and me would experiment with Maggi, and try to cook it in as many ways as possible. And then there were the Knorr soups, which made quite a regular appearance at our place in the winter months. I learnt that I prefer Indo-Chinese and Indo-Italian food over typical Italian or Chinese food. Mom and me developed our own recipes for homemade pizza and Indianised pasta, which we would keep experimenting with.
Bangalore taught me to love Bisi Bele rice, Masala Puri, Holige, and medu vada. My aunt who resides in Bangalore taught me several new recipes, like a customized version of Fried Rice, Gobi Manchurian and Kurma, which I fell in love with too. I thought rasam was only for sick people till the husband made me realize it’s not so, with his wonderful rasam. He taught me to love bajjis, smoked sweet potato, brinjal rice, papads, vadams, and his own version of sambar. The MIL taught me to love Palakkad Adai, Onion and tomato rice, Parikkai Gotzu, and Kerala style kootu and morkozhambu. Like marriage has expanded my viewpoint on a lot of things, I believe it has expanded my tastes also, and (I think) it has improved my cooking skills too.
My taste buds crave change quite often. I’m not one of those who can eat curd rice or roti-subzi or upma or Maggi for one week straight. Hence, I keep experimenting. One day our kitchen turns into a South Indian one with coconut, dry chillies and paruppu all over the place. The other day, it emanates strong smells of garlic and onion and tomato. I refer to several food blogs too, and each one of them has taught me new recipes, which have been tried and tested and loved. I prefer homemade food over outside food, the only condition being that it should be yummylicious. If I love some dish that I had somewhere, I try to get the recipe from somewhere and try it out in my own kitchen – like the mushroom sabzi that I made recently. Thankfully, I liked to eat the food that I cook, and the better half loves it too. He is more than willing to be a guinea pig for my experiments, and is generous with his praise. What else could I ask for?
I am yet to experiment with a lot of flavours – I have never tried Arabic cuisine or Mexican, amongst several others. There is a world of taste I am yet to explore, and I do want to get around to doing it.
I think I love Gujarati food above all – I love the sweetish taste of it, sans the generous quantities of oil. But then there are days when all I want is rasam rice or curd rice or Maggi. Some days, I crave for a combination of North and South – I want avial with phulkas or mushroom sabzi with dosas.
Curious people have asked me – what will your child eat? Will he/she eat roti-subzi or rice, dosa or fried rice? I honestly don’t know. I would leave it to my child to experiment and discover the joy of finding a taste that he/she loves. I can only make sure that I provide him/her ample exposure to every taste that I have had the good fortune to taste.