Food is about nostalgia. It brings with it laughter and joy. Cholena takes us through the delights of rice-based delicacies that brings back the love and care of her mother. Here are some breakfast delights from Tamil Nadu.
“ThUd”. This noise was coming from the kitchen. “ThudThUdTHUD” and this time, I was wide awake. Slowly opened my eyes. I registered what I was hearing. That must be the third coconut the maid was about to grate. The mild yet pleasant sound of coconut water that splashed into a silver bowl and following this, the incredibly sweet aroma of black coffee made with palm jaggery and steamed, grated coconut wafted into my room. That was enough to kick me out of bed and made me brush my teeth. I wished to taste of some coconut water and of course, my favourite breakfast dish that day.
Growing up, these were the kind of mornings I adored the most. Rice-based dishes loaded with carbs and sugar took the center stage on our breakfast table. For a little girl, who loved colours, white was never a boring affair (then).
My childhood breakfast dishes ’these are a few of my favourite things’ – I hum that famous song from The Sound of Music.
1. Idli, a steamed, savoury rice cake, is made from fermented rice and lentil batter. I loved biting down on this soft, feather light, snowy white cake with honey drizzled all over. My Mom insisted that I take the spicy coconut chutney because she believed that the heat from the chilli would make me strong .So I took the chutney and without her knowledge, will add in loads of sugar
2. Appam are rice hoppers made from fermented raw rice and coconut milk with mom’s special ingredient – fermented coconut water added in. The bowl shaped lacy, soft pancakes edges are thin and crispy and is soft at the center. It would be served with sweetened, freshly squeezed coconut milk.
And when you do not have the patience to make appam one by one, Vattayappam may be made instead. The batter flavoured with cardamom, which plays havoc to your taste bud when steamed, is poured onto a greasy plate, then sliced once cooked. This super soft rice cake would always be served with warm, comforting and scrumptious potato stew.
3. Modak is a lovely, creamy rice dumpling. Store bought rice powder was never allowed inside my family’s kitchen. The housekeeper would use the freshly ground rice powder. The rice would then be soaked for hours and grinded. With that goes in sugar, freshly grated coconut and a pinch of salt and water. I used to patiently watch the rice balls being made one by one and then being cooked in thick, creamy milk. And when you bite down on the warm, milky rice balls, it just melts in your mouth.
4 Vivika are sweet rice cakes. This idly look alike has raw rice as the main ingredient with mashed banana, sugar, cashew nut, raisins and coconut gratings added in, which can alternatively be eaten on its own, without any accompaniment.
5. Last not least, my all-time favourite is Puttu. It is a rice powder steamed cake layered with coconut. It is made with steamed rice flour and fresh coconut which can be eaten with either juicy mango slices, or crunchy jackfruit flesh, or sugar, papad and green beans, or bananas or grated jaggery.
Now, times have changed and every day it’s just a huge confusion and mental fight between simple and complex carbs. So to be on safe side and to save time, I just stick with oat products, multigrain cereals or whole wheat roti. But I still miss those days, when I used to look forward to breakfasts. If a time machine existed, I would definitely go back in time just to relive one of those mornings and enjoy the traditional food handed down to us by our ancestors. I sure would treasure every single bite of it. After all, laughter is brightest where food is best!
Pix by author.