RUCKUS AT THE IDLI TABLE AND SOME MORE ‘COUSINS’
Continued from Part 2
When I reached the idli table, things had reached a crescendo. Many of the delegates were on their feet, some glaring, others wringing their hands helplessly.
‘Just remember, all of you owe your birth and existence to me. I refuse to be insulted like this!’ threw the elderly and dignified Idli, rising with anger and staging a walk-out.
Wait, sir! Idli sir!’ one of the younger idlis ran after him. He didn’t turn back or acknowledge the calls but continued towards the exit. The organisers were rushing after him, having reached there a few moments ago. The Chairperson was leading the charge of the peace-making force. I saw several reporters with cameras and mikes trying to corner anyone of the delegates willing to talk and give them juicy sound and video bytes. I could see Mr. Kofta nowhere near. Having set fire to the stable, he probably had disappeared from the scene.
I asked the roly-poly and jolly-looking Khushboo idli what had happened. Apparently, what I had just witnessed was the second of the controversies and disagreements. There had been another showdown a while ago, but it had not turned as ugly as this one.
What she told me gave me a sense of déjà vu. You will agree with me, when you hear me out.
The idli table was fairly sagging with the weight of so many participants. The dhoklas were protesting about being clubbed with idlis. Their argument was that the ingredients, not to speak of the method of preparing them was entirely different and so they deserved a separate category. Much heated arguments and discussions followed with the organisers and finally a new category was created.
Now there was another problem. Many varieties of idlis are prepared like the dhoklas, like rava idlis or even oats, ragi and jowar idlis, where the batter is prepared instantly with flour, curd and some soda and made into idlis. The regular idlis, where the grains are ground with urad dal and fermented protested that the former should be sent to the dhokla table. But after much discussion, it was agreed that in this category, one should stick to the name and not to other things. So, a dhokla went to the dhokla table and an idli stayed with the idlis. Thankfully, since the organisers had made a separate category of instant mixes of every kind, there was no more fight about categorization.
But that did not end the acrimony at that place. One of the delegates was being shunned by the rest – the rotund Idli, in his pristine white glory was being subjected to the C and B words by the others – the ragi idli, rava idli, bajra idli and sundry other millet idlis. In the heated exchanges one caught the word ‘Brahminical’ flying wildly about. I looked after the receding figure of Idli, still being chased and pacified by the organisers. I ran after them too, not to miss the drama that might ensue.
On the way Idli had to pass the dhoklas, who had just a while ago left, after winning themselves a separate category. But seeing the elderly Idli walking out and forgetting their heated exchanges of a few minutes earlier, they quickly conferred amongst themselves. They thought it was a shame for an elder to be thrown out in this manner – almost like an elderly relative being shunned by the younger generation in a wedding. They deputed Dhokla to invite him to their table.
Dhokla, looking resplendent in her traditional yellow dress, dappled with green coriander, white coconut shavings, black mustards and beige sesame seeds and adorned with a large, shiny green chilli, hurried after him and begged him to join their table. ‘We know how to respect our elders. We have even adapted your recipe for our white dhokla’, she said humbly. ‘Please share the table with us as our honoured guest.’ Idli, paused in his stride, almost making a young official chasing him collide with him. He was already regretting his impulsive walk-out, wondering if, as an elder he should have exhibited more forbearance with the other upstarts. Dhokla’s genuine invitation was balm to his injured pride. After a suitable pause, when he looked back at his own table with pain in his eyes and accepted her invitation with some measure of humility and affection for his new cousins.
In the meanwhile, the organisers had caught up with him and the Chairperson tried to convince him to return to his place at the head of the Idli table. He looked at her frostily, refusing to rejoin his table. Some of the idli delegates had regretted their action (and inaction) which had resulted in their losing their venerable elder to another group, which clearly was of different origin and ‘raising’.
When all efforts at persuasion failed, the organisers retreated. The idli controversy had simply blown up in their faces, despite their best efforts. ‘I told you to be careful of exactly such a scenario,’ the Chairperson said angrily. The CBD (Casteist, Brahminical, Dalit) issue at the conference is now going to dominate every ‘Breaking News!’ Bekar Kofta and Rajbhog Sarphira will make primetime debates out of the Brahminical roots of idli and the whole fracas that took place here will be telecast globally!’ she looked thunderous.
After all, there were other versions of the white idli – the Mallige idli and Tatte idli from Karnataka, the Khushboo idli from TN, but they had somehow escaped the wrath of the group that protested against idli. When she walked back, she saw Kanchipuram idli and blanched. It was perhaps the next controversy waiting to blow up – a temple prasadam, which meant that it was a Hindu dish and so in line to be branded a communal delegate! I saw her crossing the fingers of both hands and say a silent prayer. I didn’t envy her a bit, the poor thing!
After leaving the much-happening idli table, I came across an unusual bunch of cousins. They were from Rajasthan, Bihar and Maharashtra. The rotund figures from Bihar and Rajasthan looked similar in shape, but the ones from Maharashtra were very different.
They were the baatis, which are dough balls traditionally baked or roasted over coal fires, though innovations have them being made in kadhais, ovens and even appe pans! The Bihari one is called litti. The spiced ball of dough in the Rajasthani version of baati and the sattu-filled version of the Bihari litti, are both roasted/baked.
The Maharashtrian versions are variously called batti/bitti/ghadichi batti/rodga, and are layered (ghadi means fold in Marathi) dough balls. It is a Vidarbha speciality. The battis are made by forming layers of the dough, steamed or boiled and then sliced like bread and fried. While the rodga–which has been mentioned by the Saint poet Eknath in one of his compositions–
is not only layered and roundish, but roasted on coal fire like the baatis, often in the open fields. These unique culinary creations are still made by the yatris during the Bahiram yatra in Amravati, Maharashtra, which is held between Dec-Feb every year.
All the versions are enjoyed with ghee and dal. (Dal-baati, varan-batti), but baingan/bhate ka bharta or chokha, the Bihari and Madhya Pradesh versions of the bharta respectively, also make a good combination with the baatis.
The organisers hadn’t followed any set rule while allotting tables, as one came across dishes that were very different from their neighbours, sitting side by side. But the bharta table was bang next to the bati table. And what an array of bhartas, which included a foreign delegate too.
Though by definition, bharta describes the way a vegetable is cooked—roasted, and includes several vegetables including pumpkin, bottle-gourd (lauki/ghia/suraikkai), spong-gourd, potato, tomato, etc., it is brinjal that rules the roast in this category. Baingan bharta is as much a national dish as khichdi is. Called variously as bharta, gotsu, bajji, choka, etc., it is a pan-Indian food. Bharit, which is made with the addition of curd occupied one section of the table.
‘Hi, I am kathirikkai puli gotsu,’ said one of them chirpily to the table at large.
‘Oh, you smell different!’ said the Punjabi Bharta.
‘Yes, we are roasted and mixed with raw puli (tamarind) water with a tadka of ginger, green chillies and hing along with mustard and urad dal,’ she said.
‘Bas? That’s it? No onion, garlic or tomato and spices?’ asked the former incredulously.
‘Yes. That’s it! It is delicious,’ she smiled. Punjabi Bharta looked at her doubtfully shaking his head. He couldn’t believe that bharta could taste good without onion-garlic-tomato!
‘Oh, I am the traditional Tambrahm version with no onions, but I have cousins whose ingredients include onions and tomatoes like you do. Look there!’ She pointed to the other versions at the table. ‘There is a cousin who is part of the temple naivedyam at Chidambaram, who has moong dal as one of the ingredients, but no onion and garlic. Of course these are added by cooks when they are not offering it as naivedyam,’ she explained with a smile. Bharta’s expression had changed from one of incredulity to acceptance at her explanation.
‘Hi, I am Mattu-Gulla huli bajji,’ called out her neighbour. She had come from Karnataka and was made with a special variety of brinjal called mattu-gulla – a round, green variety of the vegetable, that is native to south Karnataka. Like her Tamil cousin, this huli bajji is also made with tamarind and the same tadka, but with a bit of jaggery and coconut added to it. Some add an optional tadka of onions too.
The two cousins were thrilled to meet each other. There was another cousin called Sutta-Bajji, which is made by the Madhwa community of Karnataka. Bajji is the term given for anything roasted and mashed. The recipe is similar to the Tamilian puli–gotsu.
Begun Pora/Beguner Bhorta from West Bengal, Bhate ka Bharta from MP and Chokha from Bihar were the other delegates in this section. There was an animated discussion about how Chokha, Begun Pora and a variant of Bharit are made with all raw ingredients except for the roasted brinjal. In some versions all ingredients including the tomato, onion and garlic are roasted and then mashed together. Add salt, chillies, some raw mustard oil, coriander and mix, and it is ready to eat!
A distinctly foreign-looking delegate was also present at the table, listening with interest to the discussions. He introduced himself as Baba Ganoush from Lebanon. ‘Many variants of Baba Ganoush are made in the Mediterranean region but the basic ingredients are more or less the same–tahini, olive oil, garlic and other seasonings’, he revealed. He shared the basic recipe briefly with his co-delegates and had to give the recipe of tahini to some of his Indian cousins! There was much bonhomie and banter at this table.
Have you read the earlier posts in the series?
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