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The ‘Rasam’ Debate

‘Rasam’ is a South Indian dish. It is a watery soup that is eaten with rice. Rasam is a combination of many tastes – it is spicy, tangy, aromatic, and full of flavour. More than anything, Rasam soothes, comforts and invigorates. It can be eaten when you have stomach upsets, when you are down with a cold or fever or pretty much all the time.  It is also the dish you want to come home to after a long holiday,  and restaurant food.

Rasam is usually served as the second gravy (that’s mixed with rice) in a typical South Indian meal. The Rasam, as a dish, is so versatile that it can be made with different bases like tamarind, lemon, orange, pineapple, lemon grass and many more.  It can contain one or many of the following – tomatoes, garlic, ginger, drumstick etc.

It is a staple dish in most homes. A good South Indian cook is expected to make a mean cup of Rasam. 

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Where I grew up, Rasam was a must-have with our afternoon meal. Piping hot rasam, with rice and papadams, eaten with spicy potato curry.

My mom is a Rasam connoisseur and I have inherited my intense love for Rasam from her. My mom’s Rasam is to die for, and I have many wonderful memories of tucking into wonderful meals with her aromatic rasam, with the monsoon winds sweeping outside.

Cut to many years later. I was a newly married woman, trying to impress my husband with my cooking skills. One of the first meals that I prepared was a Rasam-Rice combo with some vegetable.

When we sat down to dinner, my husband looked at the Rasam and said, “I don’t like Rasam at all.”

I was shocked. How could someone not like Rasam? I did a hardsell of my Rasam but to no avail. My husband’s family only had Rasam when they were down with fever.

So, for them, Rasam = Fever Comfort Food

For me, Rasam = The greatest dish ever…

How were we going to reconcile this? It was an even bigger debate than Coffee vs. Tea (Coffee for me, of course).

It’s been a long journey. The only consolation is that when my husband is down with a bad cold or fever, he asks for ‘my delicious rasam’. I keep telling him that my rasam is delicious even otherwise…but!

When I think about it, this Rasam debate in our home epitomises marriage. Two different people, with different tastes, who learn to live together and compromise on many things, but don’t on a few things…and can laugh over all this over a cup of rasam.

Mom’s kitchen

The kids are back from school. The humidity is killing, and they look visibly relieved to be back in the cool confines of our home. I get started with preparations to make dosa, a South Indian delicacy that lends itself to many variants.

As I stir the batter and spread it on the tawa, my daughter comes in to the kitchen after her shower. She sniffs and says, “Hmmmm…this smells so good. It smells like grandma’s kitchen.”

I smile. As she eats the crisp, golden dosa with chutney powder, I am transported to my childhood home, and to my mom’s kitchen.

In many ways, the kitchen was the nerve centre of our home. It was rectangular in shape. The cooking range was at one end, while the dining table was at the other end. A square window lit the dining area from 11 am in the morning to mid-afternoon.

Our kitchen was colour coordinated. I remember a red phase and a blue phase. The dining table had an assortment of home-made pickles.

There was always a buzz in the kitchen. With a joint family, there was always something being prepared. We came home from school to the aroma of filter coffee, and dosas with sambhar, or bajjis or some other snack wafting through the air.


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I spent a lot of time doing Math at the dining table. The radio blared in the background as I tried to solve equations!

My mom would walk between the stove and the table at least a zillion times each day, always cheerful and busy. 

When  all of us sat down to have dinner, even after our plates were dry, we would linger on, either sharing how our day went, or singing or listening to my Dad sharing snippets from his day.

Televesion soaps had not invaded our lives then. We would all listen to the news on the radio, and then head back to our rooms to study or squabble with our siblings, or chit chat with our grandma and aunt.

Truly, the smells of my mom’s kitchen were delicious and filled with love, happiness and bonding.