Life lessons from a dosa


Every person who knows to cook has a special dish that she or he can rustle up, without fretting too much about the end product – call it a signature dish if you like. And when one has people over for lunch or dinner, this signature dish will definitely feature in the menu.

But then, there is another side to this signature dish story. If you hail from South India, like I do, making dosas is something you are expected to know even in your sleep.

Image courtesy – http://www.shutterstock.com

There is nothing to beat a crispy, golden dosa that has been made to perfection, and then eaten with sambar and coconut chutney.

I do make perfect, golden dosas, crisp or soft, with ghee or cheese, or even the masala dosa, with its filling of potato masala. My friends love my dosas too!

But sometimes, especially when you have guests over for lunch or dinner, and your signature dish’s reputation precedes you, things can head south.

I have guests for brunch, and one of the items planned is the dosa. Dosas are best eaten hot. So, I set the flat pan on the stove, switch it on and mix the dosa batter with elan. I check for batter consistency, ensure that I have all that I need to get started. I do not realize this, but my flatpan has got over-heated as the flame is in full blast mode and not in simmer mode – a sure recipe for dosa disaster.

As I pour the batter with practised ease, in just ten seconds I realize that the dosa has stuck to the pan, and refuses to leave it. I use the spatula to prod it out, without making any sound. My guests are waiting in anticipation. I manage to get the mangled and burnt dosa out. Now, both the flatpan and I have to cool down.

I smile at the irony of it all. This dosa that we eat so often, and that my kids are heartily tired of …has let me down, and how!!!

Soon the flatpan cools and I am able to serve my dosas, though I still feel they could have turned out better.

But then, this is how things are in the bigger scheme of things as well. We work and perfect various skills, we plan meticulously to the minutest details, but then life throws many surprises our way, when we are unable to manifest our skills in the best way at the right time and at the right place.

But the idea is to keep trying, and enjoy the journey, and not be bogged down by the odd bad day!

My grandmother’s gym


I grew up in a joint family, and all of us at home have great memories of the fun times we had with our grand mom. She usually sat up late with us, when we tried to conquer our books, and crammed for tests.  She was very active right into her eighties.

The concept of working out and exercising were alien to her.  For their generation, there was enough equipment in the kitchen to help burn those extra calories.

Indian women in those times did all their dry and wet grinding, pounding and crushing of grains and other food items and masalas at home, using a few devices – in our language these are called ‘Aatukkal‘ (grinding stone), Ammikkal (loosely means rolling/crushing stone), ‘Ural & Ulakai‘ (pounding stone and rod) and ‘Sevai Naazhi‘ (rice vermicelli maker).

Indian cooking involves a lot of blending, and grinding of spices and ingredients for nearly every dish, so my grand mom’s and to a certain extent, my mom’s generation, used these devices.  I still remember the ones we had at home.

The Aatukkal and Ammikkal were made of solid granite stone, polished and carved to the shape required.  The pestles weighed around 2 or 3 kg each.  So, working these for an hour for wet grinding and 20 minutes for the blending of spices, took care of their daily strength training requirements.

Image courtesy - www.indianfoodguides.com

The Aattukal or Grinding Stone used for preparing wet rice batter for salted pancakes

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    The Ammikkal used for crushing and blending. Picture courtesy – http://www.dsource.in

The Naazhi (rice vermicelli maker), required a twisting movement and force to turn the handle, to squeeze the steamed rice dough into beautiful vermicelli string hoppers.  They did this multiple times to make enough for all of us at home.

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          The Sevai Naazhi or the rice vermicelli maker – picture courtesy http://www.subbuskitchen.com

The Ural and Ulakai (the pounding rod and vessel) were usually used to pound wheat and other grains to prepare whole-grain flour.  Two women stood at opposite ends and pounded in a rhythmic manner, passing the rod to the other in turns, chit chatting and singing at times.

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       The Ural and Ulakai – the pounding rod and the vessel – image courtesy – http://www.olx.in

Now we have mixer-grinders, wet grinders, ready-made vermicelli and flour.  And then, we go work out in the gym.

Our ancestors were wiser, they got their work and workout done in one shot.  After all, they had the luxury of a home-gym.

Street Food Stop on The Highway


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We are on the Mumbai-Pune highway. There is a nip in the air when we leave our hotel, but as we leave the outskirts of the city and hit the highway, the sun is bright and blinding.

Traffic is not too heavy at this early hour. The droning of the car on the highway lulls us into a semi-sleep, where one is in a state of hazy awareness.  Trucks whiz past carrying perishables, petrol, and all kinds of goods that people seem to require. The Radio jockey’s voice on the FM talks to us, modulating, sharing jokes and presenting the next song.

Once the sleep cycle is broken, I watch the lush greenery and the mountains. All trucks have a painted notice on their rear which say, ‘Horn OK Please’.

By the time I wonder what this means, we stop at a gas station in Lonavala, a hill station on the Western Ghats. The gas station also has an assortment of stalls, and vendors, selling street food.  Lonavala is famous for its ‘chikkis‘ (peanut candies), and we buy a few to take back home with us.

As we walk around to stretch our legs, my eyes catch a stall selling ‘Dabelis‘.  My mouth waters, as I eye them. My stomach is  full from the heavy breakfast I have already wolfed down.  However, my brain is ready to make more space to accommodate a ‘Dabeli‘. I mean, how could it not.

 For those of you who don’t know, a Dabeli is a very popular snack food/street food from India. ‘Dabeli’ literally means pressed.  A patty made of boiled potato to which a special ‘Dabeli’ masala is added is topped off with pomegranate seeds, roasted peanuts, chopped onions and coriander leaves. This patty is placed inside a toasted burger bun. The burger is topped with ‘sev’ (a noodle-like fried snack made from gram flour)

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I sink my teeth into this perfectly made ‘Dabeli‘.  My taste buds enjoy its sweet-sour taste, and the ‘crunchiness’ as I bite into the pomegranate seeds and sev.  This is absolute joy.  I eat the ‘Dabeli‘ and watch other travelers, who have also stopped by at this gas station, to buy water, to stretch their legs, to eat snacks.  I wonder if I will ever see these people again, I wonder who ordained that we would all meet here, at this gas station, on this particular day.

As I watch, some of them get into their coaches and cars, to drive away to faraway places, probably to meet other people, or to end this journey. Maybe even to begin new ones.

I wash down the ‘Dabeli‘ with a perfect ‘masala chai’ and walk back slowly to the car…as the highway beckons.