Saturday, July 22, 2006

Another Round Of Summing Up

David asked me what on earth is Chettinaad cuisine.

Well, let me be vague on this point and tell him it would be difficult to explain.

Brings to my mind the story of a blonde lady accosting Einstein in a party and insisting on explaining his famous theory of relativity.

Einstein the irrepressible wag in him surfacing immediately, said : ' Dear lady, once I met a blind man. He asked me what I was having. Milk with sugar, I said. Sugar I know but what is milk? He asked. It is a white liquid, I said limply. Liquid I know but what is white? He persisted. It is the colour of a swan, a bird that lives on water of lakes. Lake and water I know but what is a swan. I lost my patience, put my glass of milk aside and twisted his arm, to bend it from his elbow and the wrist, and said this is what a swan looks like....' The blonde lady got the hint and left him alone.

To define Chettinaad cuisine in its absolute terms for David my dear friend from Washignton, would be a calamity for he would not be intersted in the recipes nor the ingredients nor the methodology of cooking. To tell him it reminds me of Malvani food from the famous Konkan coastal areas of western India would be to put him in the class of the blindman that Einstein got so thoroughly confused... or Goan food, to stretch it the analogy a little more, would be equally a limp act.

David, suffice it to say that Chettinaad food stands out like a typical Indian Muslim butcher dressed in his chequered lungi with a huge knife in his hands, amongst a kutcheri of pious Brahmins chanting their holy mantras... though it is not a cuisine of the Muslims at all. Best Chettinaad items are all sea-food, or other non-vegetarian dishes and those stand apart from the overwhelmingly vegetarian dishes in Tamil Nadu.

Perhaps the effect of the food may illustrate my point better, David dear? Again what comes to my mind is Dr. Gunther Mark of Munich who came to meet me at Mumbai and both I and my the-then boss Ravindranath, decided to spring a nasty surprise on him. We took him to Ghazala, the Malvani seafood joint in the adjacent building.

'A little spicy food will do, Dr. Mark?' I asked tongue-in-cheek, and the jovial fellow still snickering over the latest incidence of misunderstanding , agreed to have it. What had happened was, he was unfamiliar with the basically South Indian trait of shaking the head from side to side in approval. The typist-secretary, a chirpy young lady named Savitha had been doing that, and he had been repeating the same instruction again and again, thinking she was saying No! She meant to encourage him, by nodding her head.... so, now he kept spluttering till the food arrived, dressed to kill. He didn't suspect whom.

He finished one roti, struggling with the spicy fish curry, his handkerchief totally soaked with sweat, and he called the waiter to know why the air-conditioner was not working. The waiter put it on the coldest setting, and in five minutes he was sweating again. His pink face was purple and he looked like a dying fish himself. We kept our faces like poker players with difficulty. Water water, he kept yelling, though he had already consumed four glasses. In desperation, he took two gulps of Soul Kadi, the innocent looking pink appetizing drink which made his tongue loll out and eyes go rolling....he nearly passed out. He could not talk for an hour later on.

David, Chettinaad cuisine is like that. I have felt my tongue smarting for half an hour after the dinner with desserts was over...and unprintable stuff emanating from me [from the right end] next morning. But the food is celestial. Five stars, I would give it. Once in a while, I put my head on the block in such a restaurant, and willingly get robbed -for it is quite expensive. They have inventive menu too, I mean, Kheema dosa [stuffed with minced lamb meat, with a surplus of spices] or chicken or fish dosa are really very imaginative items, though the vegetarians may cry foul.

A restaurant called Karaikudi, I suspect in honour of the place which used to be the capital city of the Chettinaad empire in the hoary past, near where I live, serves heavenly crab soup. It is built on two levels, and the sprighlty young fellows dressed in spotless white dhoti and kurta [don't yet know what they call these in Tamil] bustling about give it a very authentic ethnic flavour.

More later !

(c) Max Babi


At 7:17 AM, Blogger david raphael israel said...

Excellent, Max! -- your eloquent non-answer has been sufficiently detailed as to give me at least a ballpark idea. I await further personal enlightenment (in a meal I should willingly spring for). But is this cuisine only found in the south? I'm aiming (inshallah) to get to Pune in December, but am doubtful if time will allow a trip to Chennai that time around (though in subsequent return the next year -- double inshallah -- more likely so).

At 3:13 AM, Blogger Max Babi said...

hiya david, yes Chettinaad cuisine is from the south eastern costal areas of Tamil Nadu. Of late, there seem to be many more outlets here in Chennai, I do recall in the 1970s, there used to be very few. But then the overall prosperity of the local populace and their eating habits have gone virtually through a seachange...

At 2:12 PM, Blogger david raphael israel said...

sounds like a seafood seachange!
Nice to learn of something new...

At 5:22 AM, Blogger ndadia said...

That was incredile article. Its admirable how you can make connections in such an eloquent fashion of relating chettinad cuisine with theory of relativity. I think you have summed up the relativity theory by What is chttinad cuisine. What we call in Hindustani Ehsaas, can explain you not words. I guess one has to experience it to know it. Be it chettinad cuisine or theory of relativity. Nimesh

At 4:49 AM, Blogger Max Babi said...

Thanks Nimesh, at first I did not realize it was you, since Ndadia is so misleading....anyway, from your wordings I could make out you have been doing research on me !
Good to see you here...please let your blogger friends know about my colourful diary. It tends to get very lonesome out here.


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