Blog post by Jayashri Srinivasan
“Innikki unga aathula enna Sunday special?”
“Engaathula innikki chinna vengaya araichuvitta sambar, chinna urulaikizhangu curry, pappadam”.
How many of you feel this is the best meal ever?
This has been one of the most enduring, time-tested and all-time favorite meals of many TamBrahm families I have known over the years. Whether it’s when guests come over or for other special occasions, this is THE meal.
I remember as a child when all of us had to urichify (peel) sambar onions. It was a tedious job and my siblings and I would find it boring. But to put it simply, if you don’t peel, you don’t get any chinna vengayams in your share of the sambar!
I remember a TamBrahm friend telling me that she and her siblings would count the number of onions they had each peeled. And that’s the exact number of onions that would be served by their mother during the meal.
Another incident that amused me was when a young nephew from Mumbai came over for lunch. His favorite meal, yes, no prizes for guessing right, chinna vengaya sambar and fried chinna urulaikizhangu (baby potatoes)! One would have thought that GenX were more into pastas, pizzas etc. But no, it was the quintessential araichuvitta chinna vengaya sambar and fried baby potatoes.
Of course, other hot favorites include vetta kuzhambu and fried seppankizhangu (colocacia) among others.
These meals were/are also a never-say-no combo, especially when it comes to treating people returning after an extended stay abroad. I remember my husband after a longish stint in Hong Kong calling me up from the Hong Kong airport before leaving for India. He said his “naaku sathupochu” (literal translation – tongue has died) and he was simply dying to eat vettal kuzhambu (a spicy, tamarind gravy), tomato rasam and pappadam!
Vettal kuzhambu brings to mind another endearing memory. Summer times or other holidays always took us on long stays with cousins or we had cousins staying over at our place. This was fun for the kids but a source of tension for the parents in charge of cooking. Kids had to be constantly fed but those days junk food was not so prevalent. It was always homemade bakshanams like kai murukkus, thenkuzhals, ribbon pakodas etc. While these were homemade, they were not exactly filling, especially for those bottomless young teenagers’ stomachs. No, the stomachs had to be lined with some harmless but filling food before they could eat the bakshanams. And the bakshanams were not just handed out when you were hungry. No sir, we as kids, had to, in a way, literally earn them.
The first meal of the day was always lunch around 11am. And this meant that the children were always hungry again around 2.30pm – 3pm. This was when the adults peshanjified (mixed) a huge tureen of thayir saadam (curd rice) and made the assorted kids sit opposite them in a semi circle. Each child had to extend his right hand and get a ball of thayir saadam in the opened palm. And each kid would have to use his thumb to make a little hole in the middle of that little mound of thayir saadam. That hole would be filled with a little spoon of vettal kuzhambu. Then we would have to put that little mound straight into the mouth without spilling any of the rice or kuzhambu.
It was never just one adult who sat down to serve the kids. It was always two or three assorted chittis, athais and/or others who also sat opposite the kids. Each adult was assigned one item. The first one had to serve the thayir saadam, the next one had to do the honors with the vetta kuzhambu and sometimes it would even be cut vadu maangais (small mango pickles) for the third one.
But no, this was not the end. However engaging the entire process, we kids did find just thayir saadam boring. So the icing on the cake was what we received after that. After the group thayir saadam event, newspapers would be cut into little squares to be used as paper plates. Buying paper plates involved spending money which was frowned upon as anaavasiya selavu (unnecessary expenditure) and proper tiffin plates meant extra work with washing etc. On this “paper plate”, finally, we would be served the homemade bakshanams, one or two murukkus or whatever was the bakshanam for the day. Oh, the joy when we “earned” our share!