Castles in the air - they are so easy to take refuge in. And so easy to build, too.

आम्हां घरी धन शब्दांचीच रत्नें | शब्दांचीच शस्त्रें यत्न करुं ||
शब्द चि आमुच्या जीवांचे जीवन | शब्दें वांटूं धन जनलोकां ||
तुका म्हणे पाहा शब्द चि हा देव | शब्द चि गौरव पूजा करुं ||
- abhang of Tukaram Wolhoba Ambile of Dehu

There's No Freedom Like That of a Child's Imagination

கடலுக்கு உண்டு கற்பனைக்கு இல்லை கட்டுப்பாடு

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Coconuts, Curd and Carnatic Music

Cooking fancy dishes at home and inflicting them on male members is a favourite pastime among housewives; my mother is not immune to it. Luckily (in fact tremendously luckily, so lucky that I am wary of marriage because of this) my mother has a 'kitchen sense' that makes her skeptical of following recipe books to the letter. That could have been a disaster in its own right, but I'm really lucky in the mother department.

This Saturday we made (if cutting onions and mushrooms makes me eligible to add myself into the we) an allegedly Burmese dish called khowsuey, pulled out from some non-Tarla Dalal recipe book. I cannot actually say we made it. What we made might have been an approximation, an interpretation, perhaps an inspiration (like what Bollywood says when it copies West Side Story and calls it Josh), but it certainly was not khowsuey. In fact, Mom and I decided it needed a new name, so we called it Rangoon Noodles. And right here we are laying claim to the copyright on it, so there!

If you haven't guessed by now what it contained, then just go back into your cubby-hole and watch soaps. Of course it had noodles and the veggies I chopped in it, and there was coconut milk in it (but don't overguess, there was no curd. The curd reference is for later). Spice up with ginger, garlic, onions, and cook it up (a mysterious exercise that is left entirely to my mother while I read Terry Pratchett's Witches Abroad.) and you're done.

Now the reception to noodles at home depends entirely on the generation. The cook's enthusiasm cools off when the process is over, she has no taste for the finished product. Her husband (my father) is generally indifferent until it's over and he can switch to curd rice (That is the curd reference you've been waiting for). The children (my sister and me, both in their late twenties) are generally agog, and raring to go with chopsticks and Manchurian sauce and Soya sauce and chillies-in-vinegar and and all.

The Rangoon Noodles changed everything. Mother and father dug into it like they had rediscovered a long-lost traditional dish. The children were keen to polish off the last morsels from their plates. There was joy on every face — it was the magic of coconut.

Take four Tam Brams whose roots go back to the Nellai valley, and you'll suddenly need to have coconuts everywhere. Rice in coconut milk, vegetables in coconut milk, curd in coconut milk (Actually possible; it's a kind of quick-and-easy sambar that I eat once every three days.)...you get the drift. Served with wet coconut chutney, dry coconut chutney, oil of coconut. A piece of raw coconut to chew on. Coconut-and-sugar crystals at the end of the dinner. Coconut isn't just culture, it is life.

That was why the Rangoon Noodles 'clicked' - it was the avatar we were waiting for. Noodles had come to us in a form we could finally appreciate. Absorb. Get ecstatic over. Want to have it every weekend. Noodles that does not suggest anything exotic, something whose taste will not be forgotten when we shift to curd rice afterwards. Something that could be enjoyed with Carnatic music.

It had finally crossed the ocean and come home.

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