Food Tales That Never Fade
Some memories are just here to stay, aren’t they?
It is that time of year when we reminisce about family stories, what with the long lineup of festivals and the menus that go with them.
Funny how specific food tales stick in the mind when it comes to memories. Even if they weren’t laugh-worthy when they occurred, later in time — as in now, they seem hilarious.
Here are some I vividly remember that may make you laugh . . . or not.
The year was 2001. I like to call it the decade of the guests.
Our house was quite like Liberty Hall. We always had a house guest or two. Or three, or five. Or even seven. As one arrived, he or she would appear to attract a couple more. There’s just no explanation for it.
I am firmly convinced that it was my Mom’s cooking, her sweetness, her hospitality, and showering of love, making people feel like the folks in Hotel California — they could check out any time they liked, but they could never leave. *cue in guitar riff*
So we had family visiting. Five of them. They said they were here for two or three days, but ended up staying for fifteen. The kitchen seemed to be operative 24/7, constantly brewing coffee, tea, mixing buttermilk, grinding, blending, chopping, cooking, serving, washing up. It was a veritable culinary hamster wheel! No sooner would our heads hit the pillow than the alarm rang and it was time to wake up!
Eventually, the day of their departure arrived. We were secretly glad because my husband was out of town and my mom and I were managing things between us while caring for my four-and-a-half-year-old son who was sick and refused to be separated from either of us.
These folks had a three-day train ride ahead and naturally, we offered to pack food for them. Our standard is idlis, dosas, tamarind rice, and curd rice, puris, and potato fry curry. Yes, quite a feast really and if they consumed it in the right order, the food could keep them going for two happy days. My friend who lived next door offered to grind the batter for the idli and dosa as we planned to make quite a large quantity of idlis — at least five dozen.
I don’t know how it happens, but have you noticed how we feel hungrier when we travel? Probably the boredom of sitting still watching the landscape pass by. We got busy in the kitchen to prep. We steamed idlis in our pressure cookers from 3.00 a.m. in the morning in multiples of sixteen. Soft and light fluffy idlis.
When it was time to open the pressure cooker, we freaked out to see the idli batter had spread across the plates and the idlis had run into each other to become a unified mass.
What to do? I am considered the cool one at home, but even I was stymied. I managed to carve out decent round shapes but oh, it was crazy! We somehow managed to pack them and sent our guests on their way with a smile.
You’d think that’s it, right?
We’d hardly shut the front door when the doorbell rang and another group of houseguests landed up — they were on their way south and we were the best transit house. They wanted — you guessed it — idlis for their afternoon snack. Tamil Iyers — they like their tiffin at 4.00 p.m. sharp.
This wouldn’t have been a problem but for the fact that we’d run out of idli batter. This is a process that involves soaking rice and lentils for a few hours, grinding them into a batter, and fermenting this batter before steaming it into delicious rice dumplings.
I quickly grabbed the house keys and slipped out to the nearest store to buy the batter. My guests would have had apoplexy had they known we were going to use store-bought batter! We had no choice, though. Fortunately, when I returned home, they were peacefully enjoying their siesta prior to tea time. I sneakily poured the batter into containers, pretending we had made it from scratch. Oh yes, idlis turned out just fine. And they loved it.
As delighted as we had been to see them, we heaved a collective sigh of relief when they departed the next day.
Not so sweet food tales
Some food tales are not so hilarious. We had this neighbor who wanted to send a box of sweets to her daughter who was away at boarding school. She wanted our help to make it — which basically meant we would make it while she hung around us chatting away. We didn’t mind, really, as it was no big deal. So we got the ingredients together and measured them into the large pan.
But you know Murphy’s Law!
The trick now was to keep stirring the contents on a medium flame just long enough for a specific consistency before pouring it out onto a greased plate. Delay it and it becomes something you have to serve along with a hammer to break it into pieces. Such a delicate balance.
So, I stirred. I watched. My mom was around, cracking jokes. The neighbor ran back to her place for something. At the exact moment when I thought “just a few seconds and then, perfection” the lights went out. We had a powercut.
I didn’t panic, though.
But the sweet did. Before we could grab a candle and light it, the moment of perfection had passed. I swiftly switched off the stove to avoid more damage than was necessary and tried to pour the sweet onto the greased plate we had ready.
Alas, I met with resistance. I was barely able to stir it. I somehow managed to spread it on the plate and pat it out and even cut it into diamond-shaped pieces. Yes, it was hard. Pun intended. Sigh. The neighbor’s daughter loved it, she said — although I suspect she was blinded by her love for us.
And no food tale can be complete without a . . .
Some friends dropped by, late at night. Now, traditionally, at our place, we expect anyone who steps over the threshold to share at least one meal. And so it was, with these dear folks. Except they had just had dinner and opted to have coffee instead.
We’re famous for our fabulous South Indian filter coffee. Pure filter coffee whose taste resides in the mouth — and memory — long after it is enjoyed and the moment has passed.
My mom sashayed into our little outdoor kitchen to make the coffee. She heated the milk. She got the coffee filter going and was lost in its fresh aroma when her reverie was rudely interrupted by weird sounds from the milk container.
Sighing, and knowing that reheating the milk can sometimes cause that, she switched off the stove, made the coffee, poured it into cups. She added some biscuits to the tray because Old Jungle Saying demands that Thou Shalt Not Serve A Lonely Coffee.
So, imagine her consternation, then, when just before she stepped into the living room, the sight of gentle white swirls on the surface of the coffee met her gaze! She blinked to make sure she wasn’t imagining it. Blinked again. No luck. My uncle, her brother, quickly came over, curious to find out what was up. He followed her gaze to the coffee cups. Their eyes met.
He grabbed the tray from her and said, “Devi, let’s serve this quickly!” and urged the guests who happily took their cups to enjoy their java fast as it might cool. And who likes lukewarm coffee, eh? Or coffee with rapidly curdling milk?
As it happened, they fussed over the too-large cups and drank half, asking my uncle, “Hey, Gopal, what about your coffee?” Now, there was no more coffee left. So what did my uncle do? He went to the kitchen and brought out an empty cup and pretended, overdoing it a bit by saying wow, what perfect coffee! And the guests agreed!
Later, after the guests left, we couldn’t stop laughing hysterically. To this day, this incident has a place of pride in our family!
That’s touching the tip of the iceberg of food tales in our family.
Got food tales? Please do share and tag me!
Originally appeared on Vidya Sury, Collecting Smiles ❤ Did you smile today?
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