Thursday, 15 September 2016

Crumbs Of Comfort

                       An Aalu Paratha (chapati stuffed with spicy boiled potato) sizzling on my griddle.


This was the picture I sent to my daughter yesterday on her What's App. She has just finished her admission formalities in India, followed by two days of orientation and has her first day of college tomorrow. So she's had a really hectic week and as I called my son for dinner, I remembered this is one of her favourite foods and she wasn't there to eat it! When she's been studying really hard, staying up nights, she enjoys this carb laden food item, along with stuffed red chilly pickle. It is one of her comfort foods! So I thought of sending it to her virtually...It's funny how you sorely miss them at the dinner table...Even though for the last two years she's been carrying her food to her room and continued studying while eating!
And that's when it struck me that each one of us has our own particular comfort foods. We can't help it really. It is a habit formed in childhood and stays with us almost throughout our adult years. While I had made aalu paratha for my son I'd made some basic khichadi for myself with a bit of spice. A khichadi is a pressure cooked lentil and rice concoction and it is the ultimate comfort food! ALL Indian mothers/ grandmothers, no matter from which state in India they come from, give it to their kids/grandkids as a panacea for everything from high fever to an upset stomach to jaundice or even during a really bad cold! It is also made on days when you have had a really heavy lunch and want a light meal at night. Steaming hot khichadi with a dollop of ghee (clarified butter) on it, accompanied by poha papads (pressed rice poppadums) and home made green chilly pickle, bring my own grandmother clearly to mind. When I stayed with her in Pune during my high school years, there were days when I used to reject absolutely every suggestion she made for dinner. Yes, Indian kids are really spoiled for choice due to the vast variety our cuisine offers and the high level of expertise most Indian women have in the kitchen.I didn't really enjoy food then like I do now! (It showed then and it shows now!) Finally at the end of her long tether, she would suggest khichadi and I would readily agree, as I love this most basic, staple and healthy comfort food...Over the years I have tailor made it to suit my taste, adding spices of my choice and playing around with varying flavours and consistencies on different occassions and my kids have developed a liking for it too. Only my husband turns up his nose at it because he associates it with being ill!
Since I've been feeling nostalgic this week with my daughter's departure, even as I sent her the picture, I remembered another long ago occassion when I, myself, had desperately missed hot, home cooked food. I had just moved from India to join my husband in Krasnodar, in South Russia and we were in the middle of buying things for our house. The system there was that the office had hired people with cars to chauffeur us around. So we never had a car parked outside our house but it was always available for our use, along with the owner who doubled up as our driver. Remember this was in the mid nineties and the country was in economic turmoil after the collapse of the Soviet Union and people were glad to get just any kind of employment.
We had gone to buy a music system and we had told our driver to wait in the parking for us. We planned to pick up pizza on the way home as it was getting late, since I had picked up my husband after his office closed. We took our time looking at systems, finally bought one and sauntered out to the parking. We were already ravenously hungry by then, as the cold weather in Russia gives hunger a sharper, almost unbearable edge. I could just see myself biting into the pizza... The car and driver were nowhere to be seen! We spent a lot of time searching in and around the parking but to no avail! It was dark by then and getting even colder and I was faint with hunger...We realized he had misunderstood our instructions and thought we had told him to go, instead of wait.. The language barrier was a reality in Russia, as we had just found out! This was in the pre mobile era, my husband got his first cell phone in Russia two years later, so there was no way we coud call up the driver!
Finally my husband suggested we hail a cab, not a very safe thing to do, and head home as we really had no alternative. And so we managed to get home safely and I rushed into the kitchen, to put together a quick comfort meal of daal (lentils) and chawal (rice) even as my hunger pangs worsened. But even this took half an hour to cook and I realized that for the first time in my life, I was ready to eat, but the food wasn't... Hitherto, my parents and grandmother had always ensured that the food was on the table much before we were at the table...
As I spooned the self made piping hot daal and chawal into my mouth, tears actually ran down my face because these morsels were offering me crumbs of comfort that reminded me of home and the first bite itself made me feel magically better.

What are YOUR comfort foods? What brings your mother or father or paternal or maternal grandmother to mind? What is it, that for you, tastes of your childhood home? I would love to know and who knows, maybe I'll ask you for the recipe too!

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