“Sambar and kari again?” was the refrain I used to hear through the years of my children’s growing up.
They could not understand why we could not have any thing else, other than the routine menu of our household - well-balanced menu of vegetables, proteins and carbohydrates, if you ask me. They longed for the un-tasted thrills of a veggie burger or a pizza to which they were introduced via Archie comics - MacDonald’s was still a distant dream in India then – or the delicacies of the cuisine above the border - rotis or parathas, sabjis and dal.
Delhi being the place where I spent many years in my childhood and college years, I too love samosas and tikkis, rotis and parathas. The samosas and bread pakoras of our college canteen with pudhina chutney still linger in the memory of my taste buds.
But my own kitchen did not see the cooking of these delicacies, as my husband is a hardcore Southie food person. Not for him the wheat preparations of the north, though wheat rava upma was welcome, or wheat flour dosai, and of course the hot favourite rava dosai. The only times I made pooris and parathas were as tiffin for the kids when they returned from school. As they grew older and more demanding, the frequency of these increased, and my husband had to give in.
In the growing up days of my children, eating out was an uncommon pastime. We only went as a special treat on a birthday, or when someone was visiting. When my brother visited, he would take us to the nearest five star hotel as an experience. While the children revelled, my husband did not. He preferred to go to Woodlands, one of the few decent eating places then. And there, while I would choose to order something that I did (or could) not cook at home, and the children look for the dishes most removed form mother’s regulars, my husband would calmly order a ‘thali’.
And a South Indian ‘thali’ at that! The same sambar, rasam, koottu, poriyal, and vatha kuzhzambu that he got at home everyday! At first I rebelled, and exhorted him to try something else, but he would not budge. If it was a tiffin item, then he would go for the rava dosai. Later I did not bother him with my attempts to change the taste of his palate – and as in everything else, we agreed to disagree.
After the children left home, their coming home was marked by occasions of ‘going out to eat’, and forays into newer restaurants. As usual it was a struggle getting my husband to come to any other place other than Woodlands, and attempts to introduce him to any other cuisine failed miserably. He sulked his way through a whole Chinese meal, and we did not repeat that disaster.
But he was thawing and coming round to eating vegetable dishes prepared in the North Indian manner – 'Paneer Butter Masala', (which had been rejected earlier because of the mistaken notion that it was Chinese!) became a hot favourite.
When we went to visit our children abroad, they wanted to introduce us to varied cuisine from all over the world – strictly vegetarian of course, with maybe eggs. Thai, and Mexican which was closest to our food they insisted, Italian, which I loved, and Greek and other Mediterranean eating places were offered whenever an occasion arose to eat out, and rejected by my husband, who said, “Indian, please.” The very fact that he had graduated to saying Indian, rather than South Indian was accepted with relief. But there were places when we went around where there were no Indian restaurants. In such places he would have a quick discussion with the waiter, and a special omelette stuffed with vegetables would be made for him, while we ate falafal. At an Italian restaurant he offended the sensibilities of the maitre d’ by asking for a pizza. “Pizza?” sniffed he, “we do not serve that!” Quite insouciant, my husband settled for some bread and soup.
'Thayir saatham' at the Taj city
Last December we went en famille to Agra as part of the celebrations of my mother’s 80th birthday. For lunch, my brother had organised a superb Italian spread that was served to us al fresco under shady trees with scented blossoms
A waiter spotted us for the southies we are – given away by me mostly in my sari and big pottu; the others were more discreetly attired – and decided to take care of us. Chidambaram (as said his badge, and he said he was from Madurai) solicitously seated us, and taking a look at my mother’s not-so-grey hair, asked her if she was comfortable with the menu. “We also have thayir saatham, if you would like that," he said. My mother who has travelled quite a bit and enjoyed various cuisines, refused saying she was happy to eat Italian. I couldn’t resist it however, and pointing to my husband seated at a different table, told him to take care of the gentleman there.
After lunch my husband, totally oblivious of the fact that I was the instigator, came and told me with a delighted grin that he had had a very good meal of thayir saatham and mor milagai! He had not even looked at the delectable raviolis or other dishes! He was in for a great deal of “Trust Muthki to manage to get thayir saatham even here” kind of pleasant ragging that day.
By the way, the menus at my children’s homes are not any more exotic than they were in mine (though Vandana occasionally experiments with different recipes unconnected to South Indian food). Comfort food rules the roost.
The wheel has come full circle.
Inspired by: http://agelessbonding.blogspot.com/2008/05/its-mothers-day-at-every-meal.html