Monday, 12 May 2008


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:


Kat said...

East or West...

Isn't "thayir saatham and mor milagai" the best...?

See the picture of delight, taken at Taj..!!!! :-))))

Usha said...

I bet you that Mr. Muthki is from some branch of our family tree!
Thoroughly enjoyed this and the pictures of the spread made me drool.
How did you manage to capture That Thayir sadam inspired beatific smile.
Lovely post.

Gowri Mohanakrishnan said...

When I read this post, I felt like I'd feasted on chaat and gol-gappa after weeks of molakkootal!

kallu said...

Well, Mr.Muthukrishnan certainly looks consumed by happiness.
I like your wifely efforts to get him to change; accepting what will be and then finally making him happy in his own way.

Maddy said...

it works you know - stating what you would prefer to eat when in a pricey hotel. I have tried it, though not getting south indian food, at least i manage at times, to get all kinds of food spiced to our taste by asking. only the french get upset...

'Tis a beautiful life! said...

I have to say I only started to appreciate my mum's great south indian food after moving out of home....

what i wouldn't do now for the same food that i found boring then

Praveen Krishnan said...

At the end fo the day, even I would settle for Thayir sadham and mor milagai :-)

That is quite an unbeatable and exquisite combination!!!! Italian food is too cheesy!!!! :-)

Even I too experiment with a lot of foreign cuisine, and I think you may want to try Burmese. That's really good, very close to Indian!!!!

Nice post!

Indrani said...

Thayir Saatham is my favorite too. Thoroughly enjoyed reading this. :)

Lakshmi Bharadwaj said...

Sorry if this is out of context but is that photograph in your slideshow 'Joys of life', a monitor lizard?


Kat, Praveen, Indrani - the husband is happy to have so many supporters. His point, he says like the Aussie Captain who was on a winning streak and who stuck to the same players, is, "Why change a winning team?"

Usha and Kallu , thank you.

Maddy, yes, if you insist and act more pricey than they, they oblige. :)

oncloud9 - hope you get your heart's (tongue's) desire soon.

Gardenia, I shall take that as a compliment - ;)

Lakshmi, to be honest, I don't know what a lizard, monitor or otherwise is doing there - it is supposed to be a slide show of flowers!

Maiji said...

Well, you know the saying - "You can take a horse to the trough, but you can't always make it drink."

harimohan said...

iam just like that a total southie food fanatic and all in my family complain about that but I love my southie food and only that
as a forced bachelor here thayir sadam is my everlasting saviour ,i rememebr RK Narayanan describing the sof thud of thayir falling on sadam !!yummie


Maiji- how appropriate.

Hari Mohan, thanks for stopping by. Bottomline is 'Thayir saatham' wins hands down

Gowri Mohanakrishnan said...

Lovely to read this again!