Now before we get into the list, some philosophizings. Elders often rebuke us for praying to god only when the going gets tough. "Aha! so you think of god only when you need him, only when it is convenient". They are right for wrong reasons. They should be saying "only when it is inconvenient". And that brings us to this post's central topic. When things are inconvenient, our prayers are focused. We ask for one single thing to solve the immediate problem and forget to ask for many beautiful things that are far more important. For example - we don't pray for Extra Ghee Special Roast Masala Dosai the day before the last campus interview of our college life. It is the author's firm belief that one should - occasionally - pray for simple pleasures of life. I also think we are praying to the wrong gods. For example, if I wanted a sumptuous meal, asking Lord Rama for it is not a smart plan. I will get an austere meal that will make me wonder why I love food in the first place. Lord Nrihasimha on the other hand might end up feeding my small intestine with somebody else's small intestine.
When Gadorgajha announced himself, he was unsubtle and direct. He was about food. He was going to get it no matter what. He was in a Bazaar and he sang about food. And I pray to him. I get up everyday and list my favorite meal to him. More importantly I advertise it to everybody I know so that when people invite me they know what to feed me. I will walk into people's house with the same swagger that S.V. Ranga Rao shows in the song below. Probably laugh even louder and sit down. A song will be there in the heart. I may not actually sing aloud a glorious song like the one Ranga Rao sings. His song became an iconic song in thamizh/telugu cinema, crossed over generations and ensured that songs inspired by food are better than those inspired by love.
For starters, the meal has to be served in banana leaf. And I will devour it with my bare hands. I may struggle with the rasam. Rasam is like the free spirit, it wants to run away from the rice and so quickly finds a way out of the banana leaf. One has to do the tedious job of ring fencing it with barracks of vegetable, kootu and rice. And the further protect the boundaries by folding the edges of banana leaf. Inspite of all this banana leaf rocks. And that is how I want my food. I want the sliced banana with sugar smeared on it as the first item in my leaf. No one knows why that is the first item but it is good and I want it.
Since we really don't know what "Angaara" bajji and "singaara/junthaara" sojji is that Ranga Rao is raving about. We will skip that. Tomato soup, masala pappad, masala kadalai and roasted cauliflower, and vegetable spring rolls will kick start the appetizers section. Vadai should be crowned as the prince of appetizers. Both sambar vadai and thayir vadai. A touch of onion sprinkled over sambar vadai and boondi sprinkled over thayir vadai is what is required to get a good meal on its foot and running. Tiffin follows next. And let us be a little shy here as we want to save space for the main course. Ranga Rao suggest Poori/Kizhangu and let us allow for that. But beyond that we really want to see a full ghee roast masala dosai. People must really try this in marriage reception dinner. It works well. Rounding this off with onion utthappam should be okay. Now we move on to the vegetables section. Potato is as important as water here. Roast potato that glistens with oil is what we are looking for. Kothavaranga Paruppu Usiyal comes next. It is an amazing dish and one can write several poems about it (which I'll save for a separate post). Seppan Kizhangu, Aveeyal, cabbage kootu and roast vendaikka (okra/ladies finger) follows. These vegetables should surround the banana leaf like palm trees stand around the kerala coast.
Now to the rice dishes. Two varieties of kuzhambu is what we are looking for here. 'Aaraichu vitta' Onion sambaar is key. We all know that. So let us not dwell on the obvious. We also need onion vattha kuzhambu as an alternative. This vattha kuzhambu must have boiled peanuts in it. Very important. Then you have Puliyodharai (boiled peanuts here too), thengai saadham (more peanuts), bisi bela bath (cashews baked in it. yes thank you!) and vegetable pulav that acts as the interval between the two main rice dishes (sambar & rasam). We certainly need raitha (onion and capsicum), chips (nenthrangai & potato), and appalam as side dishes for these. Then comes Rasam or as the iyengars call it (pazha)-saatru-amudhu. Tomato rasam pazha-saaru is the amudhu under question here and we want loads of it. This essentially rounds off the rice variety. Rasam may sound simple to make but only certain hands have the ability to make a great rasam.
I don't know when the tradition began or what the reason for this tradition is. But the sweet variety is served immediately after rasam and just before curd rice. It may have something to do with after taste and so on but I generally think it is a fantastic idea. So we move on to what the iyengars call thiru-kanna-amudhu section. Or as the rest call it - 'paayasam'. Akkaravadisal is the esoteric dish that has been hidden from the rest of the world by these conniving 5-ngars. No song or words are adequate enough to express the beauty of Akkaravadisal. It has a massive taste explosion that probably renders the mouth too weak for anything else. Let me promise you - a well made Akkaravadisal is not just amudhu for thiru kannan himself but for the akila jagadh bhaagavathas. Then comes Jaangiri, Sarkarai Pongal (with ghee dripping), Kesari (again maximum ghee), samiya paayasam, rava laddu, laddu, and a pinch of maanga pacchadi. We then put the 'mangalam' on the fantastic meal with a bagela bath. Now this curd rice concoction is not the usual one. It has to have 'more molagai', raisins, and cashews all baked into it.
At the end of it all one should dust off one's hands and settle down on a good "thinnai" wih 4-5 beedas. After chewing the fat out of all topics under the sun, we set ourselves to sleep for a good 3 hours in the afternoon. A good sleep after a sumptuous meal is a sign of awesomeness of the meal under question. Now if someone were to serve me such a meal - I would probably not need my hands. I would sit down like my favorite god Gadorgajha and simply let the food flow into my mouth. sigh..
P.S: people who have similar lists. Consider yourself tagged. Let me know and I'll link the post.
1. LKS provides an invaluable guide to veggie food in the US.