WHEN ISHTU AND HER COUSINS MET HODGE PODGE FROM CANADA!
Still smiling at the easy camaraderie, I had seen at the bharta table, I hurried to discover more food cousins from India and abroad, hear their stories and add them to my store of recipes. I turned a corner to be enveloped by the redolent aroma of coconut milk suffused with a variety of spices. (Read the earlier post here)
Hmmmm……I sniffed appreciatively with closed eyes and then opened them to find the name ‘Hodge Podge’ straight ahead! Taken aback, I went closer for a better look, wondering if the organisers had called this table hodge-podge since the dishes contained a whole variety of vegetables suffused with spices and milk. But no. It was the name of a dish…er…..delegate!
‘Hi, I am from Canada–Nova Scotia, to be precise,’ Hodge Podge greeted me with a smile. ‘I used to feel awkward with a name like that back home, what with being completely vegetarian amidst all the meat and fish dishes but am so happy to be among my awesome cousins here! I plan to take some of them back home with me. With so many people turning vegetarian worldwide, they will certainly be very popular ,’ he said.
‘Oh, we will all become NRIs then!’ shouted one of the excited delegates.
I was charmed. This table held some of my favourite dishes and I mentally added Hodge podge to my repertoire.
‘He is our NRI cousin. I think he must have left the shores with some of our ancestors who went to Canada to make their fortune long ago,’ piped in Sodhi from her place. She was from Tirunelveli (TN) and was made with coconut milk and vegetables and flavoured with ginger and green chillies. She claimed to be more nutritious since the gravy was thickened with cooked moong dal.
‘He seems to be my closest cousin, especially if he were to be made with coconut milk cream. I am sure the vegans in Canada must be doing that, eh, Hodgie?’ asked Ishtu or the Kerala Stew in an impish tone.
But Paal kootu, the mildly flavoured milk-based, Thanjavur dish made with yellow pumpkin thought she was the closest. ‘Hodge-Podge has a base of cream, while I am made with milk, which naturally makes us the closest, doesn’t it? Why change his nature by adding coconut milk?’ she reasoned.
‘Let us not squabble,’ said the affable Ishtu. ‘It is such a great occasion to meet up with each other.’
There were others too at the table, the Sri Lankan sister of the Sodhi, also called by the same name, was there with her cousin the Sri Lankan Fish Sodhi, Thengai Paal (coconut-milk) kurma or Vellai Kurma (white kurma) from Chettinad, Olan from Kerala, several Thai curries that had both vegetables and meat variants sporting the mandatory red ribbon, among them. Among the Thai cousins, I found the Massaman curry the closest to his Indian cousins.
Suddenly Ishtu noticed Solkadhi who looked a little forlorn. From Konkan in Maharashtra, she is a kokum-garlic-chilli-coriander-jeera flavoured coconut milk, with a delightful pink colour that comes from the kokum in the dish. ‘Hey, you make such a fantastic starter and complement in any meal!’ she hugged her cousin, who instantly cheered up.
‘I am nothing like a kadhi, so why am I called solkadhi?’ she wrinkled her nose. ‘And I am made like you, only with different spices’, called out the Sri Lankan Veg sodhi, which made Solkadhi as happy as the rest of them!
From there, I decided to go across the aisle, which had hundreds of dosa/pancake varieties.
Among a great number of sub-categories at the Dosa table, I saw the Neer Dosas, crepe-like with a delicate lacy appearance. There was Rice Ghavan with her siblings Gavhache Ghavan (wheat ghavan) and Jwariche Ghavan (Jowar ghavan) and nachni ghavan (Ragi/Little millet). There were masala versions of neer dosa and ghavan too.
‘You must have migrated to Maharashtra from Karnataka, said Neer Dosa to Ghavan. ‘Or vice versa.’ laughed Ghavan. They didn’t seem to worry about who was the original one, being happy to meet each other!
‘I am from Jharkhand, said another delegate who joined the others just then. I am Chilka roti, because I am as thin as skin,’ he smiled. ‘And oh, I am made with soaked rice and chana dal, with some jeera. Sometimes ground garlic and chillies are added too.’ He was welcomed enthusiastically by his southern cousins.
‘But why are you called roti?’ asked jwariche ghavan. He was happy to have one male cousin among all female ones! Chilka roti shrugged with a smile.
Chattisgarhi Chawal ka Chila joined in the discussion. ‘I am Chawal ka Chila but am I glad I was assigned this table instead of being clubbed with the chilas! I would have missed meeting you all then, as also being so different from the normal chilas! Just look at my gorgeous dress! Isn’t it as lacy as all yours?’ she pirouetted to the admiring glances of her cousins of whom Ghavan was the closest in appearance to her.
They were animatedly discussing the difference in the ingredients and methods of preparation of each variety. The end results are slightly different, but the lacy look is identical to all the versions.
Just then they were joined by a rotund dosa. ‘Hi, I am Appam from Kerala,’ he introduced himself. The others stared at him. He was a weird mix of several dishes.
‘I know I look different. But we are a mixed breed and were told that we don’t have any cousins or twins and so can’t be part of the conference. But we demanded to be given representation in three categories – idli, dosa and neer dosa. You see, we have an idli-like centre, crisp and lacy crepe like edges as with neer dosa and are prepared with a mix of rice, urad dal and methi by Tamilians – the same ingredients for dosa! The organisers had no choice but the agree with our logic!’ he laughed. ‘And if a dosa is prepared by a novice, it sometimes turns out like me,’ he guffawed.
It was an infectious laugh and they all joined in it happily.
Neer dosa turned to a delicate dosa-like creation, who had silently joined their table. She had a red ribbon on her arm. ‘Probably has egg in her ingredients,’ thought the affable Neer Dosa, warmly welcoming her. The new delegate didn’t seem to be offended to be marked apart by the red ribbon, for she understood the finickiness of vegetarians, especially vegans the world over, unlike the Indian delegates who cried caste and played victim at being ‘marked’ apart.
‘You must be our foreign cousin!’ exclaimed Neer Dosa happily.
‘Yes. I am Crepe from France. Glad to meet you all!’ she smiled sweetly. They began talking animatedly. A little later she discovered how close they were. For apart from having eggs, crepes had flour as in neer dosa and were made the same way as appam, by swirling a thin batter in the appachatti/skillet to coat the surface in a thin layer, which also gave the lovely lacy look! Just then Appam made some silly joke about his fat belly that had them all in splits. Looking at them, my face cracked into a smile too!
I saw the crowded upma table next. After the khichdis and idlis, this one was the most crowded and had representatives from across the length and breadth of the country. There were plain rava upmas, rice upma, millet upmas, colourful vegetable upmas and more.
The pohas/aval/beaten rice sat to one side and made up a very large section. Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh were heavily represented here. From plain poha with a simple tadka to elaborate pulavs and sweet poha varieties, there were dozens of them. The best part was that almost all the varieties had cousins from different states. The mixed-pohas from the south, that included puli (tamarind) aval, lemon-aval, coconut-aval, curd-aval and more.
I saw a delighted reunion of the Avalakki Upkari and dhadpe pohe, one from Karnataka and the other from Maharashtra. Both these are uncooked varieties made with raw poha and are like bhel, in as much as they are just mixed with a variety of ingredients including onions, tomatoes and fresh coconut among other spices.
There were two varieties that had their own space – a large one at that, with an impressive array of side dishes. They were the Indori steamed poha and the Nagpuri Tarri poha. The latter had been part of the khichdis too, if you remember.
So versatile is it, that one’s imagination is the limit while using it to create any dish. Clearly, it was one of the most populous and also popular category at the Conference–the desi instant food and answer to the 2-minute noodles, so to speak.
Things seemed to have settled down all round without any more flare-ups or fights and I began enjoying myself even more. All of a sudden, my sweet tooth began craving something sweet. And as if on cue, my nose sniffed at the flavour of jaggery and cardamom!
Have you read the earlier posts in the series?
Images courtesy: Homepage: https://www.cookclickndevour.com/
Hodge Podge: https://www.eastcoastfoodstories.ca/
Neer Dosa : https://www.shettyscookery.com/
Chilka Roti: https://pandareviewz.com/
Chattisgarhi chawal ka chila: Girlee Corner
French crepe: https://www.theflavorbender.com/
Stew and Appam: https://everydayvegcooking.com/