Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Familiar Foods that Smell of Childhood

A few days ago, I was ecstatic in a way I hadn’t been in a really long time. First it was a walk through a fruit and vegetable market. The colours and the smells made me want to yelp with joy. It’s a different story all together how excited I get going grocery shopping!
I was to find this favourite restaurant of mine in the Malleswaram area. It was bloody summer and very hot but the prospects of eating something I grew up eating made me walk in and out of the utterly confusing roads of 8th cross. I missed the turn to where I was supposed to go, instead I spotted the New Mangalore Stores between Margosa and Sampige Roads (I think), next to some temple. It’s along a row of shops and easy to miss, which is what I did all these years. Once I was in though, I nearly yelped with joy.
There were rows and rows of food of the kind I have grown up eating. The shop smelled of the summers of my childhood, spent carefree in the hills of Madikeri and the hot plains of coastal Dakshin Kannada district. I wanted to indulge, right there, in the luxury of pulling up more memories from summers spent eating and walking the hills among the cashew trees, but there were things to buy.
There was patrode, a dish made of some leaves and a lot of other stuff that you eat with coconut and jaggery. The roll of this otherwise savoury dish is so complicated to make and get right that ma would rarely make it. These days its only when I go to the village along the coast that I persuade my uncle’s cook to sometimes make it. Hot and fresh patrode went into my bag. And so did Mangalore Buns that I have addicted to since college. Back in university, buns (always referred to in the plural) were one of the few edible things both in the hostel and in the canteen, with coffee, made super strong and without sugar.
That, and jackfruit chips, made with fragrant coconut oil, plus vanilla drops, tiny cookies in odd shapes smelling of fresh vanilla, plus some pickle, plus the look and feel of familiar foods made me go into a happy tizzy. To the shop owner, from a familiar village in ma’s home district, the look must have been familiar. We chatted.
Back home, stuffing myself with patrode for dinner and breakfast the next morning (gone was the diet I was telling myself I was on), I was reminded again of some happy summers, a very long time ago. It was those days of hot summer breaks from school when we went to my aunts’ houses in the villages. It was in those houses where we roamed tiny hills topped with tall cashew trees, where the cashew fruits were grainy in the mouth and had to be eaten without dripping the juice onto our clothes, for the stains wouldn’t wash off. It was where we spent hours lying in the stream and eating raw mangoes by the half dozen. It was where we ate, fruits, snacks, roasted nuts, full meals, just about everything in sight. It was where we got sun burnt, ate some more, got away with pranks, pushed away hotter afternoons with more mangoes along the streams and read weekly children’s magazines in dark corners of the sprawling houses.
I used to write articles about the food research that was going on in the defence organization in Mysore for TOI. It wasn’t until I went away a month to tour with the armed forces of the country on a defence course that I realized how important food is psychologically. A month without your regular diet can create severe uneasiness. I imagine it would be devastating in war and border situations.
I went through several years of severely missing coconut in my daily meals. We Brahmins from the Dakshin Kannada district (though I am proudly from Kodagu, my cuisine remains, again proudly, coastal) are totally loco about coconuts and use it in just about every dish. I cook with coconut these days, lots of it. But still, finding a place that sold everything from back in childhood was another reason why this city became tolerable for me.


saina said...

I love sweet buns too :)

Captain Nemo said...

Mouth watering blog, this made me hungry and nostalgic... all those summers long ago and the non stop experiments with snacks.

Deepa Bhasthi said...

Thanks guys! Nothing like food associations on a slow day huh!