Kosambari

kosumbari1I have always felt that this dish should have shot to fame with brands trying to patent it. It’s my own stupid notion, but I feel that it suffers from its own simplicity and modesty. Much like the women who make it

Cucumber, coriander, coconut, split green gram dal, green chillies, salt and a dash of asofotieda. Its all too simple to be celebrate it.

But it’s special because simple isn’t that simple.

The sixty odd year old lady opposite my house probably knew something that she never told me  about.

‘Manjunath Aunty Mane Kosambari’ (Manujunath Aunty’s House’ Kosumbari) has something that I can never ever recreate.

Maybe it was the perfume of the Nandi Diamond Agarbatti engulfing her house. Or the smell of jasmine flowers that crept into those pulses from her puja room.

Or the fact that despite the enitre colony changing their floor tiles, she still chose to shine her red oxide floor every month with coconut oil and coconut fibre.

Maybe it has to do something about her house being the only house in the entire colony that still rests only on the ground floor. (There’s something about an only ground floor house with ivory window panes).

Maybe it was the Bhimsen Joshi’s cassette on her tape recorder blaring ‘Bhagyada Lakshmi Baramma’ that did the trick.

When the food is good, you start to like everything around it. The person who makes it, the flooring, the color of the walls of that house, the curtains, the plates, the spoons

I would wait for ‘Ganesha Habba’ to arrive, when she would call me over to her house to see the decorated ‘Ganesha’ idol in her house, and seek the lord’s blessings. And I would jump at the opportunity only because I could get a taste of ‘Manjunath Aunty Mane Kosambari’.

Uneven pieces of cucumber, chillies smashed on stone, abundantly chopped coriander with stem, roots, mud and all, coconut carelessly grated with the traditional hand-grater, along with splinters of its shell, mixed with split green gram dal soaked overnight, and rock salt, mixed in a manner that proved that she never prepared it with the kind of love that mothers are now famous for.

traditional coconut csrapper

She never bothered to respond to my compliments “Aunty, kosambari thumba channagide’ (Aunty, the kosambari is superb). It had little to do with modesty, and more to do with lack of experience on ‘How to handle praise?’.

She would turn red behind her ears whenever I praised her humble dish. (It’s not like she made some special basmati rice vegetable pulao cooked on slow fire for hours. It was just a random salad that every ‘kannadiga’ household should be able to make with their eyes closed).

I could never understand why these women would behave this way. Infact, a lot of kannadiga folk are pretty much like these. Its not in their ritual to invite guests over for a feast every other day.

Guests would arrive only during festivals, dussera, diwali, sankranthi and ganesha. Apart from these it would only be a random visit to invite them over for the thread ceremeony of their child, or a grihapravesham or a wedding. It wasn’t a ritual for guests to pop over for dinner or without any other agenda.

The talk would mainly consist of the host coaxing them for a tea. Or a coffee. Or a uppittu.

And it is expected of the guest to say “no no…we are full. Just now we had coffee and snacks in Latha’s house”

And the host would coax further saying “swalpa thogoli …swalpa”

And the guest would say “ok..half plate..or quarter tumbler coffeee”

And the host would return with a full tumbler and a full plate of snacks.

And the rest of the conversation would only be spent on coaxing and cajoling from the host’s side and the guest slowly giving in to the delicious snacks.

This however, would never graduate to the guest praising the dishes anymore than a customary “thumba channagide”.

It was complicated. Because if the guest praises anything more than that, he is hinting at ‘give me more’, which would mean ‘I’m a glutton’. Because he had just declared that he had eaten to his full, in some random ‘latha’s’ house.

And the host would silently conclude that ‘her dish wasn’t good enough otherwise they would have asked for more.’

I feel a million dishes that deserve praise have been lost in this ritual of modesty.

And the host would ignore the praise and coax them to have some more.

But I still find this ritual charming and endearing.

I would wait for Manjunath Aunty to disappear into the kitchen before puckering my lips and shooting mini-darts of the coconut shell chips into obscure shadows on the red oxide. And crunch on her muddy coraindered kosambari.  And scream for help till I could no longer take that lonely chilli that arrived in my mouth without warning.

She would reappear from her dingy kitchen with a tall steel tumbler of water. Just in time to rescue my watering tongue, eyes and nose from her inconsiderately imbalanced chillies.

“ayyo paapa, sorry, nimmagilla idu tumba ne kaara alla?’ (oh poor you, sorry, you people aren’t used to so much spice right?) she would express her concern, suggesting that her dish isn’t up to the mark.

I loved the spice. The sting on my tongue. But I probably could never express it.

I would gulp the water and then seek blessings from her ‘Ganesha’ idol, before I dived back into the kosumbari container that was called ‘dhonne’, a cup made from dried banana leaves. 

Yes, the ‘dhonne’ had its part to play in the taste too. I could smell that faint scent of raw bananas as I slurped the watery residue of the kosambari. A kind of summary of all the flavours that went into it. A magic potion that was a heady mix of all the ingredients. The part I hated the most. Not because I didn’t enjoy it. But because it signalled to me, that the dish was now over.

It’s been many years now since I have tasted “Manjunath Aunty’s Kosambari”.

I have tried it many times now. I have googled recipes and followed them to the tee.

I’ve tried preparing them carelessly, carefully, artistically, intuitively, meditatively, and every other ….ly.

And then served it to myself in the humble ‘dhonne’.

They all taste sexy.

But it just doesn’t taste like ‘Manjunath Aunty Mane’ Kosamabri’.

Every time I sip that juice in the end, I realise that there is something missing in it. One tiny little thing. But I can’t put my tongue on it.

I realise that the identity of every state lies in its simplest of dishes. Dishes that follow the same recipes and add the same ingredients. And dishes that are so simple that it forces the cook to add a little something to it just to gain a satisfaction of having done something ‘extra’ to it to deserve all that much advertised ‘mother’s love’.

Something so little, that if it were to be taken away from them, it would be such a bland world.

I’m happy that I can never ever crack that recipe.

Advertisements

Bakasura Beedhi

Those who read it as beedi, let me correct you, it’s beed(h)i. Like in South India, when we put an ‘h’ we mean the ‘h’. We would spell Vidya as Vidhya, Tandav as Thandav, Dil will be Dhil, and we don’t forget the ‘h’ when we pronounce Mukesh.

Coming the point, Beedhi means street.

vadas-and-others

I am talking about what most people refer to as ‘food street’ at VV puram. To me it has lost half its flavour with that name, so I have renamed it gastronomically. 

This has been covered in Time-out and sporadically in other newspaper supplements when they’ve run out of pictures of fashionable drunkards. I have always felt that no coverage has managed to give people an actual idea of what a visit to this street means. To embark on this mission itself is stupidity but nevertheless. So, let me give you my version of it.

Firstly, it doesn’t fall on your way back home.

Secondly, they do not serve non-veg.snake-god

Thirdly, it is located in a boring Brahminical area where the only other thing you can combine to this trip is a visit to the umpteen temples located next to it.

Lastly, there is no bar in the vicinity.

So I am completely aware of the risk I undertake by recommending that you dedicate one evening out to this place, inspite of all these shortcomings.

To begin with, this place lies somewhere between Chamrajpet and Basavanagudi. Near Jain College. Near Lal Bagh West Gate. Behind JC Road. Close to Cauvery Petrol Bunk. Get somewhere close to any one of these and find your way.

sms1

Tucked away in a part of Bangalore where people still haven’t changed their ways to suit lifestyles of the modern. 

The street runs for about 400 metres, with stalls located so close to each other, that the aroma from one stall might actually lead you to the other. I have been frequenting this place for over 16 years. And after lot of experimentation I have now developed The Ideal Path that could help you enjoy this place better.

First, make sure that you stay away from health and fitness magazines during the preparation period. And assemble a gang of four or five. And make sure that they don’t include killjoys who take pride in displaying their knowledge of good eating habits, and turn into calorie counting machines while you are at it. 

The golden rule is that never ever order too much at any stall. Order about one or two plates of each dish and split it among yourselves. I also advise that you skip your afternoon lunch. And get there by about 8pm. (The place is open only in the evenings, between 6 and 10:30pm). 

And prepare your stomach to hold everything that your tongue callously sends below.

The street starts with VB Bakery and ends at a corn cart. Get to the other side, and begin with the corn. It is easily the most unique offering of this place. You’ll find a fancy cart that has a small electric fan fitted on to it that kindles the charcoal. He has an elaborate menu printed all over his cart, that can end up driving you nuts, american corn ghee fry, baby corn chaat, corn mix and other non-innovative names. Screw it. It’s just the same ingredients in various permutations and combinations. 

charcoalStraight away ask for the baby corn masala. The final dish in your hand looks as good as the raw material. But it is nothing short of dynamite. Tender baby corns are thrown with their covering, into the burning charcoal. And removed when the covering is charred. The corn is now stripped off its leaf, cut into small pieces, and served with a squeeze of lime, salt and some explosive green chilly masala, on a harmless looking platter of a fresh corn leaf. The flavour of charcoal is so subtle, that had it been done in a five star, the chef would have had a program named after him on Travel and Living.

Once they disappear, keep an order of American corn mix on standby to quickly recover from the jolt that just ruptured the path between your nostrils and your brain.

The second one will calm you down a bit. Now, finish it with an total mix. I have no idea what the official name for these mixes are, neither does the maker. So, just rotate your hand around all the ingredients and tell him ‘all mix’.

What you’ll be holding is a medley of raw mango, baby corn, american corn and pineapple. All charcoaled and spiked up adequately. Beside him is a strategically placed fruit chaat vendor. Use his services, if you feel the need to instantly bring down the dizziness in your head.

Walk down the path without being tempted by anything else you see around, and stop at the most crowded dosa corner on your right. 

Order for a couple of masala dosas. And while you are waiting for them to be done, fix yourself a plate of idlis and gatti chutney. The idlis are not the best I’ve eaten, but the chutney definitely makes you lenient on the criticism. While you are passing judgements, keep an eye on your masala dosa taking shape on the smoky tava before you.close-up-dosas

Once the batter is spread out in concentric circles, watch the guy pick out a packet of ghee, that he will now squeeze out inconsiderately on to every dosa, through a pin hole prick on the packet, drenching each piece with ghee, as you go through a list of legitimate reasons to justify why you deserve this binge. And just when you begin to think that he’s overdoing it, he’ll invert the dosa, and repeat the act.

 

ghee-laden-dosa1You’ll be delighted when you notice that the dosa comes without a smearing of that disgraceful red paste, a recipe that most darshinis share today. 

Once you bite into it, the ghee oozes out from every pore of this delicacy but tastes so heavenly, that you instantly pardon all the evil that this humble dish has been cursed with.

Pick an odd assortment of the various vadas and bajjis on the counter, but resist all temptation to settle down here, and move on. Just make sure that you haven’t forgotten the Mangalore bajjis

Walk further down, and stop at the stall that has a curious looking dish being fried on a bumpy vessel that I find hard to describe. (See pic)baba-fried-idli1

Ya sure, the vermillion sadhu adds to the effect. It’s called fried idlis. Not too tasty, but I guess it must be appealing to some taste buds. But the tamarind chutney that accompanies it is uniquely sweet, salty, sour, pungent and spicy in equal measures. 

Walk further up to the ancient VB Bakery and pack some breads, biscuits and other condiments. By now, you’ll be sufficiently full, so chances are that you will not be packing more than necessary. The variety over here is quite tasty, but I’ve heard from some old timers that the quality has dropped. So skip it, if you belong to a generation of better taste.

Since you are in the area, walk ahead a little further, and on the right hand side of a massive circle, is a shop called “Vasavi Condiments’. During season, they make specialities with a green colored bean called avrekai. You get to taste it before you buy. So take your picks, and walk back to the street that is still waiting in the hope of your insatiable return.

I have delibrately left out quite a few dishes, so that you have some to discover on your own. Like the mysterious looking preparation in this picture.

akki-rotis1

 

Oh! I forgot, stop by for some hot jamoons and jilebis, the exact location of which, I trust the sweets will announce on their own. 

Once you’re through with this, walk back all the way to the corn cart that started it all. Close to that you will find your finale point. The last shop on your left. Order for a ‘Butter Gulkand Fruit Salad with Ice Cream’. Ya! that kind of sums up what it contains. But you can still expect surprises. And finish it all with a Masala Pepsi, a jaljeera of sorts, and probably the only new age offering on this side of the planet.

 

last-shop-menu2So, the next time you have someone from Delhi raving about purani dilli ke parathe wali gully, you know where to take them.

 

May not be so elaborate, but then we’ve always been known for our modesty.