My Ravings n Ramblings

My earlier venture into blogging was to capture the escapades of my kids. Very soon, I did realise that there was a lot more of stuff that demanded to be "penned down". Not wanting to turn the kids' blog into an "everything under the big blue sky" blog, I decided to start another one - and this is it !! "Anything and everything under the big blue sky" that catches my attention and says "pen me down" will be found here.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Sadhya - The Traditional Feast

Saddhi (Talayalam) or Sadhya (Malayalam)

– ask any TamBram or a Keralaite and they will tell you that it is a integral part of life.

Through my childhood days, I’ve seen a great many of these. A full, traditional feast served and eaten on a plaintain leaf. I would go to the extent of calling it an art form in itself – for it takes quite a bit of preparation and practice to perfect the art of eating on a banana leaf.

Through the years, this traditional routine has not just survived but even flourished. There are a great many, who, even today, would stake claim to the notion that a saddhi is not a saddhi if it is not eaten on a banana leaf.

The ambiance, the character that the banana leaf brings about, sets the tone for a very fulfilling saddhi.

Abroad, when one talks about parties and get-togethers etc.. the food is catered by hotels or restaurants. What we see or get to see on the outside is food in all its glory being slowly heated up by the small tabletop burners/stoves. What happens behind the scenes is a mystery. The cutting up of the vegetables, the grinding of the masalas, the very art, sentiment of cooking and bringing together the entire meal – the whole zeal, the whole fervor is missed out on as far as the onlooker or the spectator goes.

In the case of the “even now abundant” marriage saddhis or poonal saddhis – this is not the case.

The kitchen, or the working area for the cooks, is just beyond the dining halls. People are most welcome to feast their eyes on the vegetables and the ingredients right from the time they are brought in in huge sacks, right upto the time when they are cooked on the huge urns on huge stoves.

Come to think of it, there are not too many people at work – cutting, cooking etc.. and yet it is amazing as to how they keep dishing out food like a conveyor belt. Multi tasking in all its abundant glory !!

I remember, as a child, being fascinated by the vegetable cutting skills of one of the cook’s many assistants – elegantly designated as sous chefs nowadays.

Huge pieces of pumpkin, yam, large bundles of beans, big cabbages would all be chopped, sliced and minced with a gusto and speed that would put an express train to shame.

Long, thin slices of vegetables for aviyal, chunks for kootu curry and tiny tiny bits and shreds for thoran (another name for poduthool).

All the vegetables and other ingredients, neatly apportioned, go into their respective urns and vessels for being cooked into respective dishes. The menu, for a saddhi, is quite often the same. Changes are quite minimal. Yet, no one saddhi is the same as another.

The crescendo starts to build well before food is served. People mill about, searching for a seat in front of a spread out banana leaf. Once that is secured, comes the washing the leaf bit. A bit of water poured on the banana leaf and a swish and flourish of the right hand upwards and downwards on the leaf leaves it clean.

The grandiose finale comes when the food is brought out for being served on a plantain leaf. The cook’s assistants weave their way through lines and lines of tables, all looking uniform with many many plantain leaves spread out on them.

They carry in their hands, gleaming steel buckets with the necessary implements for serving the food. It would be dipping ladles for the liquids like sambar, rasam, yoghurt etc…. flat ladles for vegetables like curries or poduthools (dry curry without gravy), smaller spoons for pickles and puliinji (a semi liquid pickle made out of tamarind, ginger and green chillies seasoned with mustard, methi seeds, asafetida, chana dal and curry leaves).

The ladle for the payasam (kheer) would be slightly different – in that it would be curved enough to contain enough payasam to fill one bowl and yet slightly flat to make the pouring of the payasam into the bowls a not very cumbersome process.

Yet again, there still are many of the old timers around, people who prefer to eat payasam too on the plantain leaf and not drink it from a bowl. The asst cooks would pour the payasam on to the plantain leaf on the bottom half of the leaf, whilst deftly moving the ladle from the left of the leaf all the way to the right. The result being a stream of steaming, fragrant payasam which would then be scooped up in the palm of the hand and gulped down. In quite a few cases, the payasam would leave a trail down the hand – from the palm say halfway up to the elbow – sometimes even further and I’ve seen people licking their hands elbow up without any qualms whatsoever.

Then again, there are people who drink payasam from the bowls with great gusto and relish – slurping, glugging and swallowing the payasam in great gulps – in an effort to empty their bowls before another helping of the payasam arrives.

Then again, there are people who sip daintily at the payasam bowls trying to appear very nonchalant about the fact that the second helping might well be on its way already.

Then again, there are people who, after having finished one helping, request quite unabashedly for another helping of payasam without any qualms or reservations.

Then again, there are people who, after having finished one helping, would extend their bowls for another helping whilst holding up the palm of their other hand as if to say “No Thank You”.

As far as my childhood days were concerned, I guess I used to derive a lot more enjoyment from watching people around me eat rather than concentrate wholly on eating what was on my leaf. You get to see such a wide variety of personalities.

I remember watching with utter fascination as some people rolled up sambar and rice into balls (about the size of golf balls) and they would just toss it into their mouths. With unerring precision, I may add. I used to watch sadhya after sadhya hoping secretly and praying fervently that one of the sambar balls would land on the neighbouring banana leaf. No such thing ever happened !! What a pity !!

Then on to the rasam and rice which was a totally different ball game altogether. It would run all over the banana leaf and hands would chase it all over. Once the veterans were done, there would not be a drop of rasam left on the leaf. I used to skip this course altogether. :-))

Then the payasam and finally, to cool the palate and settle the now abundantly filled tummies, came the curd rice.

And after the sadhya, I still vividly remember the dining area of the hall resounding with burps and belches – of extremely satisfied elders – signifying their satisfaction at having partaken a visually and gastronomically fantastic sadhya.

Finally, there would be the digestive aid – Paan.

I used to watch with wonder at the way the mamis spread out the paan leaves, snapped off the stem of the leaf. They would then proceed to spread a little limestone on the paan and then place some betelnuts right in the centre of the paan leaf. This would be followed by some very meticulous folding of the paan. Some of the mamis used to be so good that by the time they were through folding the paan leaf, it used to resemble a slightly large chewing gum pellet.

That’s what I call ancient Indian Origami. :-))

Sadhya – Oh What a Feast !!!


Blogger Sheela said...

am gald i "discovered" this post, gauri :)

some weird synchronicity as i was noting to prabha: this post feels like you dipped into my mind and crafted the words out of bits and pieces tucked away therein... my upcoming post following vishu sadhya seems unnecessary now that you have recorded most of my thoughts ;-)

4:06 AM  
Blogger choxbox said...

hi gauri. just sawthis blog.

this post makes my mouth water. having lived in madras (it wasnt chennai yet) for 4 years i had the good fortune of attending several of my clasmates family occasions like poonal, weddings etc.

the food was always yummmm. i am hungry and homesick now :( :)

12:13 AM  
Blogger DotMom said...

wow.. nice it ahs made me sooo hungry!

1:30 AM  
Blogger Moppet's Mom said...

Gorgeous! I've just had lunch, but I'm hungry again!

3:36 PM  
Blogger Trishna said...

Ohh am I glad to discover this blog..was looking for some Vishu recipes :)

7:15 AM  

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