The article originally appeared on The Hindu
Article by stand-up comedian S. Aravind
“Delicate, slow-cooked sticky Oryza sativa seeds with rich, cold, fermented milk and exotic spices such as mustard, curry leaves, asafoetida, seri-dhaan-poda” is how a MasterChef Australia contestant might refer to it. Back home in Madras, we just call it curd rice, a traditional dish with simple ingredients, bland taste, but cherished like a king’s meal. Often considered the M.S. Dhoni of eating order due to its capacity to arrive late and finish in style, curd rice is a South Indian treasure.
Curd rice is revered in various avatars, much like lord Vishnu. It is fondly known as thayir soru, thachchu mammam, moru saadham, dhadhyonnam, dahi baath, dahi chawal, bagalabath and more. The last three names are still sub-judice in the supreme court of Narada Gana Sabha. The cult of curd rice is confirmed by the existence of names such as ‘Rice Bagala-Bath’ in posh Chennai clubs. Clearly taking a leaf out of famous noms de plume like ‘Bond, James Bond’ and ‘Baasha, Manick Baasha’.
Unfortunately, curd rice suffers from years of stereotyping. Traditionally known to be for the homely and God-fearing, it has, over the years, embraced non-conformity (all thanks to hungry software engineer bachelors #botharesame & fussy kids). Today, curd rice has broken barriers and evolved into hipster variations. It has found new friends in tomato ketchup, jam, and Horlicks (you know who you are!), laddoo, parsley-sage-rosemary-and-thyme, gouda cheese and beef. Okay, the last one was just a joke. Calm down Mylapore.
Since time immemorial, school kids have used dry curd rice from upturned, round tiffin boxes as ad-hoc birthday cakes, with pomegranates replacing the cherry on top. Besides such aesthetic value, the dish has many superpowers. For instance, the best thayir saadham is the one made from yesterday’s leftover rice. It has medicinal properties: it is a patent-pending sedative. But intake of huge amounts can end in mobility worse than Inzamam-ul-Haq. Even the most bourgeois caviar-eating, champagne-drinking Madrasi, who just attended a high tea in Hilton, will come back home and find his peace only after eating a bowl of curd rice. In the event of not complying with the aforementioned stipulation, that night’s sleep and next morning’s ablutions will be severely affected.
Even though yogurt is available all over the world, as is rice, many may wonder why a westerner’s yogurt risotto can never taste as wonderful as our very own curd rice. One need not look too far; the answer is in our own hands. Literally. The art of pesanjifying (mixing) curd rice is indigenous South Indian wisdom passed down over several generations. Many years ago, we made a tryst with destiny when the rice and curd were mixed by hand till they were mashed not in full measure, but substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, south India will awake to life and freedom (aka curd rice).
The writer can be contacted via Twitter @_satired