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In the modern world of mixer-grinders, food processors, blenders, choppers, fryers and non-stick cookware, I still miss the old-fashioned way of cooking food. Though it’s highly unlikely that I’d go back to using them on a regular basis, a little bit of nostalgia does not hurt.

 The ammi-kall

In our childhood, our kitchen had never been without a mixie as far as I can remember. But we lived in Kerala and that meant power outages for hours together. And we depended on the ammi-kall (grindstone) whenever the power ditched us during the mornings. I loved grinding the paste for ‘archuvitta rasam’ (rasam made with freshly ground spices) and sometimes, coconut and green chillies for aviyal and at other times, for the simple coconut chutney. Nothing can beat the taste of spices ground this way. Nothing!

 The aatukkal

This is a bigger grindstone used to make iddli-dosa batter in the days before Ultra and PVG Excel. I never used it much in Cochin (again we had an electric grinder for as far as I can remember) but I remember Veni maami coming twice a week to grind batter on it. It is an art in itself. The right amount of circular and semi-circular motions, the sprinkling of water, using the half of the coconut to scoop out water after it’s washed – these are memories I’ll never forget. The closest I got to the aatukal was at Nagpur at my periamma’s place where we had mini-sized ones – perfect for both of us. I enjoyed grinding for adai and vadai for festive occasions – just to get the taste of the stone-ground batter.

 The arumamanai

Since my mother’s family had roots in Tamil Nadu (she was born and brought up in Nagpur though), she could not do without the arumamanai – a coconut scraper and vegetable cutter rolled into one. How swiftly and deftly she used to cut vegetables with it, all the while sitting on the floor. I cannot hold onto an arumamanai for dear life nor can I sit on the floor for more than 10 minutes – I prefer my sharp knives instead that go well with my sharp tongue at times (just kidding!)

 The kal chatti

The kal chatti (stone vessel) was enormous and heavy. But it made the vathal kuzhambus and the keerai masiyals sizzle. Food cooked in it was and is drool-worthy! In the age of non-stick cookware, I surely miss the good old experience of using the wooden mathu (ladle) to nicely mash the spinach in the chatti and then temper the mash with mustard and methi seeds! Ah! the thought transports me to a different world altogether.

 The eeya chombu

There are a lot of contradictions regarding the use of this vessel (made of an amalgam of various metals) in cooking. However, the eeya chombu is an integral part of a Tam Brahm kitchen especially for making rasam. It gives the rasam a unique, distinct and characteristic flavour which has to be savoured to be believed!

 The iddli plate covered with cloth (for want of a better description!)

In the olden days, the steel or aluminium iddli plates would have a few holes in them. They would then be covered tightly with a thin white cloth (mostly off the house maama’s old veshtis!), the batter then poured and the plates steamed in a huge pan filled with water with a huge cover. The iddlis steamed this way were fluffy and very soft and again, I repeat with a taste of their own. The brat visited my maternal grandmother’s village, Kallidaikuruchi in Tamil Nadu during the last holidays and came back raving about ‘thuni iddlis’ (cloth iddlis). On agenda: to get said iddli plates on next visit back home!

 I could go on and on with the reminiscences. But thankfully, they don’t just remain reminiscences. My in-laws own all of the above… and I could easily try cooking the old-fashioned way. Maybe, next time…

 P.S. (Pics will be up as soon as I can get them!)


11 thoughts on “Nostalgia series – A different taste

  1. for years we ground masalas on ammi-kall or the aatukall that you refer to. neatly polished half of a coconut shell was used to scoop out water from the bottom stone…
    brought back all those pleasant memories.

  2. These idli’s are still available under banyan trees in all parts of TN. Hot idli, Chatni and Sambhar – ah what a combination. We could go on and on.

  3. Nostalgia, a different taste indeed (ie to go thru your blog). I understand that you are in search of a name for Idli plate covered….. It is Idli Chembu (vessel) and Idli Thattu (plate). “Idli Paani” is a common usage in the olden times.

      1. thanks rekha. Don’t forget to add Shantilal’s (Bhai’s) Julebi Gattiya, Puthumam’s Idli Potato Curry, Pathervodo (colocasia leaf cake), etc.

  4. though the mixie is so much time saving, the taste of ulli chamanthi made on the arakallu is unbeatable.
    Ur post reminded me of the arakallu, i used to spend hours watching it being done at my grandmoms house. The slurp slurp sound, the vigour of the hand , it was an art in itself…
    This is indeed nostalgia of another kind…

  5. but never got a taste of stone ground batter

    and am currently enjoying the softest idlis from the grinder, too. the grinder is the best thig that happened to the kitchen.

    pity i cant take it with me to KL

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