The Vegetable Vendor


My husband’s parents live in a close-knit community of independent homes; where people have known each other for many decades.

The streets are always bustling with chit-chatting neighbours, children playing on the streets and vehicles weaving in and out. There always seems to be some excitement, amidst all this bustle.

Neighbourhood shops are a mere stone’s throw away, and one can pick up most anything from these self-contained shops that are tucked away all around the community.

What makes the atmosphere more vibrant are the street vendors, who have their regular ‘beat’ around the various streets.

Their calls, as they hawk their goods, are distinct. Each vendor arrives at a particular time – some on all days, some on alternate days, and some others on the weekends.

I am standing at the doorstep watching the goings-on in the street. The vegetable vendor arrives, parks his push cart outside our door, and calls out, “Tomatoes, beans, onions, potatoes…”.

The ladies saunter towards the cart, with their own bags. They carefully examine and pick and choose the veggies. The vendor’s eyes are hawk-like as he weighs, bargains, and closes multiple deals.

He throws in some coriander leaves, curry leaves and ginger for free, making every customer happy!

There is some personal banter – after all, he meets these people every day. Money and vegetables are exchanged. He takes a breather, someone brings him a cup of tea. He relishes it, while delicately balancing his cart.

I ask him if I can click a picture. He happily agrees. He smiles. His veggies look happy too!

He is on his way soon, to the next street on his beat.

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Wisdom from 150 Beans!


I am flipping the pages of one of my handwritten recipe books. The book is yellowed – with both age and stains from the kitchen; from having balanced the book near the cooking pot or from having turned the pages with hands coated with dough or turmeric powder or a hundred other ingredients.

Against each recipe is a small note in my handwriting, which rates how the recipe turned out.

This book has recipes from my grandma, my mom, my mother in law and my dad’s sister.

Today, I can stand in front of the stove, and estimate the quantities of ingredients mentally, I can gauge by the aroma, if all is well. Skills that have been acquired over many years.

But there was a time when I was a novice cook, navigating the world of recipes with precise measurements and quantities. Life in the kitchen revolved more around the science of cooking rather than its creative side. My tools were a set of measuring bowls and spoons.

I remember one evening, when we had a potluck dinner with our friends. I had to prepare a vegetable side dish for around 40 people.

I used this very same recipe book then. However, I had scrawled down the ingredients and quantities, but had not written down how many people the recipe could serve.

Then began the complicated math. The recipe said 2 carrots, 15 French Beans, 3 tomatoes, 1 onion and so on. To me this seemed like the quantity for around 4 to 5 people.

Being an expert at the math of cooking, I multiplied the quantities by 10 to serve 40 people. When I wrote my new quantities down, the 150 beans seemed out of place………..and thus it began – my journey towards learning that cooking is more about intuition, and less about precise quantities.

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It has taken me many years and many errors to get here. There have been times that the dishes looked good but tasted anything but! Then again, there were dishes that crumbled, but tasted delicious.

It has been a long and enjoyable journey. Today, as I stand in front of the stove, I add salt and spice with practiced ease, I can see and tell, smell and diagnose what is right or wrong. I am a better judge of quantities.

After all, it is the wisdom acquired from 150 beans.

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. 

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

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.