We are a family of foodies. Looking at me, you’d know… looking at the others, you wouldn’t. Well, more than half the family fall into the ‘appearances are deceptive’ category. But this post is anyway not about the expansion of girth, but rather our love for food.
When I got married in 1997, I automatically qualified to become part of the great ‘foodie family’. Yes, we are Palakkadians alright – the rolling rice fields flanking our home in Ayakkad and the vegetables growing in the backyard would be some testimony but what I was not prepared for was the food overload.
My entry into the family literally started on a sweet note. Till then, I prided myself on a 47kg frame, my Tirunelveli-Nagpur-Cochin lineage and a ‘I hate sweets attitude’. But when life gives you payasams, you have no option but to turn sweet. Since I had happily gotten into an arranged marriage, I did not want to hurt my in-laws’ sentiments, so I first taught myself to swim in the different payasams. It’s a different matter that after 15 years of marriage, I have drowned in them and hover somewhere in the 60s; my weight I mean!
Everything I ate at my in-laws’ place hit my taste buds in different directions. The normal sambhar-aviyal-kootu-kuzhambus-pothuval routine now was just passé! In its place came so many dishes that I’d never heard of. And no dish was repeated in the kitchen for at least two weeks. Food was not made for any occasion; but for the simple pleasure of eating and enjoying. Dishes like kozhakottais that I normally saw only on Vinayaka Chathurthi once a year was a weekly affair – making 108 of them almost every other week was child’s play for Amma. And it was here; I ate vegetables and combinations that I never thought was possible. At first, all this food and coconut can be an assault on the taste buds but the camaraderie is what wins you over. Planning the menu for a week, buying the vegetables from the market, plucking fresh vegetables from the backyard; the entire family sitting together, plucking the jackfruit from its tough skin and gorging on them so much that you got a stomach ache the next day – I would say the food was incidental, it was the bonhomie towards a common love, or must I say cause, that I still find very endearing.
And so my proud ‘Tirunelveli from the banks of the Tamarabarani’ roots that I wore on my sleeve were sort of pushed onto the side-lines. I can now wax eloquent on food like a true Palakkadian. And every telephone call to Amma on an occasion would be on the lines of, “Inniki enna chamayal? (What did you cook today?”) and I would then go onto give a description on what was on my table that day. On WhatsApp, my every day conversation with my nieces and nephews would invariably veer towards food. We would salivate on memories of Puthucode Pulinkari (a dish served at the Puthocode temple during Navratri) and Archuvitta sambhar (sambhar with freshly ground spices) while my Tanjore son-in-law (my niece’s husband) would wonder whether he had switched onto the Asianet Channel by mistake considering the amount of Talayalam spoken between us (a mixture of Tamizh and Malayalam that we speak at home!) But we are proud to have him as a recent convert; he loves the simple mologootal. (a vegetables-dal-coconut base preparation).
And over the years, my culinary disposition has changed to include a mind-boggling variety of Palakkad dishes. But there are still more frontiers to be conquered! As soon as I land in Ayakkad on vacation, the first thing I ask Appa is not to buy too many vegetables from the market. Let’s have the keerai (spinach) and the pavakkai (bitter gourd), chundakkai, marthangalikkai,(tiny fruits that are pickled and added in curries) from the garden, I tell my mother-in-law while she goes onto explain that 50 dishes can be made from those mentioned above. Egad! I have only 20 days!
The best part is that all the men in the family cook too! Which means when the entire family is together, it’s them who mostly take over. They decide the menus, cook the food and take care that no food is wasted. Even the leftovers are whipped up into something exotic the next day.
And to think I didn’t have to beat ‘em to join ‘em! The crossover was natural… I’d like to think it’s also to do with all the love!