OF UNUSUAL COUSINS AND HAPPY REUNIONS
The hall was filling up rapidly with delegates and visitors, creating a festive atmosphere, not very different from an Indian wedding. There were hundreds of siblings, twins, triplets, even quadruplets, as well as close and distant cousins—food siblings/cousins that is. Most of them were thrilled to be meeting each other for the first time, others were happy to be renewing their relationships, yet others just proud to claim their places in their respective families.
But there were the disgruntled ones too, just as among human relatives, who create mini and major fights during weddings for silly reasons, caused misunderstandings, walk-outs and more! Like humans these delegates also resented, appropriated, shunned and fought with each other for credit, name and legacy, which sometimes resulted in ostracizing one of their kind or banishing another from the tribe (table), as happened with idli. But I am running away with my story!
I decided to look for the rarer ‘cousins’ of which there promised to be many in the huge hall. Of course, I would stop at the regular ones too, like idlis and dosas and pohas and upmas, but my focus would be the former kind. I would learn a lot from them and also familiarize my readers with the info.
Amidst some fairly crowded tables, I saw one with just a few delegates. I spied small white balls floating in bowls of milk. ‘Paal kozhukkattai!’ I exclaimed loudly. This sweet dish is made of tiny steamed rice dumplings that are boiled in elaichi flavoured sweet milk/coconut milk.
‘Namaskar! I am Khira Gaintha Pitha from Odisha!’ the delegate I had mistaken for paal kozhukkattai, said in a dignified voice. ‘I am offered at Jagannath Temple as bhog and am also known as Khira Puli. I have siblings in Bengal and Bihar too,’ he added.
‘Oh. I am sorry. You look so like paal kozhukkattai from Tamil Nadu, that you could be separated at birth!’ I laughed. Khira Gaintha smiled back.
I looked at the others – the sweet Neerunde/Neer undi/Neer Pundi from Karnataka, my favourite paal kozhukkattai/paal paniyaram from Tamil Nadu, Pala Undrallu/Undralla Payasam from Andhra/Telengana. There was also the Palathalikalu from the latter states, which looked like tubular spaghetti.
There were others too. The Palada Pradhaman from Kerala for instance. It is technically a payasam/kheer. The shape of the ada which is made of rice is also different, with the dried ada being used instead of like the others, which use fresh rice balls. I realised then that the organisers had bunched these together because they had rice/rice flour, jaggery and milk as the common ingredients.
I noticed another similarity between them. Whether it was Khira Gaintha (Bhog at Jagannath Temple), Pala Undrallu/Thalikalu, (offered during Ganesh Chaturthi) or Paal Kozhukkattai (Ganesh Chaturthi and Nag Panchami), these delectable sweet dumplings were all naivedyam fit for the Deities! Most of all, there was a deep serenity at this table. It perhaps had something to do with the foregoing observation.
Our country is amazingly united in so many ways by our great cultural and religious traditions. Customs, especially foods, travelled across the country with the devout who made the various yatras, often on foot, taking their foods along with them. This is one of the most plausible explanations for some food ‘cousins’ residing in far corners of the country, seemingly separated from their original roots. These, then adapted themselves to local cuisine and sometimes transformed a little, or even completely.
Rice and pulses are two staples that seemed to have existed across the country, often with versions in the most unlikely of places, as in the case of Khira gaintha pitha. While the rest of the entries were from one or other of the five southern states, this was from far off Odisha. Still, I wondered how it had reached Jagannath temple to be made a part of the chappan bhog. Perhaps the followers of Ramanujam, the Vaishnavite saint from the south, had taken the sweet offering with them when they had accompanied the saint to Puri or vice versa. Perhaps it had migrated from the adjacent Andhra. After all, the country had different political boundaries before the post-Independence carving of the modern Indian states. Anyway how did it matter?
I had barely walked a few steps, when I was hailed enthusiastically by a big delegation of khichdis. It has almost become a national food today, thanks to the World Food India event in 2017, which had earned it an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records. I would have normally skipped this table, but the cheerfulness and bonhomie that the delegates exuded was so fascinating, that I had to stop. Good that I did too, for I would have missed two unusual ‘cousins’ had I passed the table by.
These two were close cousins and settled in the same place too. They were part of the huge section of poha khichdis, but were clearly the centre of attraction, being fussed over by all their close and distant cousins. Many of them had not heard of the two fellows, some had only heard of them, and so there was a clamour among them to get acquainted with their new-found relatives.. But I will come to them later.
There was amazing camaraderie between the delegates at this mammoth table – from the humblest to the most royal versions, as they hobnobbed without any care about geographical and other distinctions. Kichuri from Bengal, Pongal, Kadamba Saadam and Koottanchoru from Tamil Nadu, Ada Hengu Khechidi from Odisha, Huggi and Bisi-Bele Bhat from Karnataka, the Shahi Khichdis with dry fruits, aromatic dal khichdi from Gujarat, dalia khichdi, millet khichdis from the southern states—there were literally hundreds of them. They were alike in that they had rice or poha as the main ingredient and most often some dal/dals with or without vegetables. Some were lightly spiced, others aromatic and spicy. Most were well-cooked and mashed, making them good convalescent and comfort foods, especially the lightly spiced ones.
The non-vegetarian khichdis like Haleem from Hyderabad and Khichda, a Bohri non-vegetarian khichdi, sported the mandatory red ribbons nonchalantly. There was much laughter and singing and clapping here. It was a sight to warm one’s heart!
Now, let me come back to the special cousins from Maharashtra — Tarri Pohe and Ravan Pohe — both are from Vidarbha and specifically from Nagpur. The name of the former is self-explanatory, for it has some gravy, but the latter name is a mystery. When I asked about it, Ravan Pohe shrugged. ‘I am not sure. The name might have come since it is normally served after the Dushera festivities.’
‘But doesn’t the name make you self-conscious, with all the Ram-Ravan debates?’
Before he could reply, Khichuri jumped in with a wide smile. ‘Ram or Ravan, he is family!’ Others echoed her sentiments. I was impressed by their solidarity with the clan.
I turned to his cousin. Tarri pohe is prepared like regular kanda pohe and served with a spicy and runny gravy made with boiled black chana, which is poured on top and garnished with sev, onion and coriander. I was reminded of the chats of Delhi, where a similar chana gravy is poured over the aloo tikkis and samosas.
In Ravan Pohe, the poha is first fried and served on a bed of lightly spiced, cooked chana dal with a garnish of finely chopped onions, fresh coconut, coriander and a dash of lemon juice. The combination of textures and tastes make this dish more like bhel than any other poha dish, much less like a khichdi! Perhaps the two had been clubbed with the khichdis because they have dals in them like most other khichdis. I tried to picture the bewildered looks on the organisers’ faces while trying to group these ‘cousins’, and it brought a smile to my face.
Just as I was moving away from the table, I saw a shady looking character speaking to Koottanchoru, a sweet, quiet delegate. ‘Why did you Tamilians agree to be grouped under the north Indian name of khichdi? We are an ancient race and have our own culture. You should have demanded a separate category,’ he was telling her, his eyes darting shiftily around.
Overhearing them, Pongal sprang to her feet. ‘Get out of here!’ she cried. ‘We are a big happy family, from all over the country. Don’t you dare create fights at our table!’ Hearing the commotion Khichda and Huggi came over looking belligerent. At their sight, the miscreant slunk away as fast as he could, having least expected such a unified front from the khichdis!
So far, I had seen two great groups of cousins who had incredible bonding amongst them. I looked around and saw Bekar Kofta speaking to some officials. ‘Oh no!’ I thought. ‘Now what is he up to?’
I didn’t have to wait too long to find out because suddenly there was a lot of commotion at the far end of the hall, where the idli table was located. There were angry, raised voices and it looked as if the argument was escalating into a full-blown fight. Was it the handiwork of Bekar Kofta, or one of the shady characters from his paper, I wondered?
Not wishing to miss out on the action, I rushed across the big hall.
Disclaimer: There is no other specific reason except my own whims and fancies for making some dishes masculine and others feminine, even within the same category 🙂
Homepage and this page top: https://everydayvegcooking.com/
Khira Gaintha Pitha: https://twitter.com/
Palathalikalu & Ravan Pohe : https://www.betterbutter.in/
Neerunde : Shetty’s Kitchen – YouTube
Tarri Pohe: https://www.youtube.com/
Foxtail Millet khichdi: https://www.rachnacooks.com/