Fun-filled, traumatic, joyous, troublesome, boring, cruel, pleasing, satisfying, challenging, tempting, misleading - yes Life is full of 'em - that is why life is so very SPECIAL - and yet the thrill is in "living" life! And all the accompanying ordeals are the frills attached with the thrills.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005


Whatever you earn is all for your stomach (ellaam indha arai chaan vaithukku dhaan). I do not know about other countries, but in India, especially the south, food holds an important part of any occasion. In India, serving food is held high as a ritual. Ofcourse, this is beyond any religion or creed. And I really enjoy in awe to see this kind of significance being attributed to food - especially the old traditional way which specifies norms on how food is to be served.

Since my knowledge is wider with respect to the food culture in Tamilnadu, I'll dwell more on that. I have experienced myself when I go to a normal household where when a person enters the house, s/he is offered water and requesting the guest to have food is considered a "dont-miss" formality. Well, formality or not, I feel many households ask that in full earnest.

A typical Tamilnadu meal (be it from any region) is complete, well-balanced and heart-filling. I cannot but wonder how our ancestors were so knowledged (like many other things) about the balancing act in food. And adding to it is serving the food on a banana leaf - our very own native disposable, non-stick plate! Usage of banana leaves makes you assert that our fore-fathers were very hygiene conscious. Won't you agree with me when I say that eating food on a banana leaf enhances the taste of the food itself? I am sure you would.

There's also a procedure as to what is to be served where and when on a banana leaf. I initially thought this procedure was for some superstitious reason but later realised it was for a practical purpose. Like, the broader side of a leaf is to be placed on the right since most of us use our right hands to eat and it would be easy to have the wider part for eating. Salt, pickle, fruit, paruppu (dal/lentils) all have their own places reserved on the banana leaf. I read some interesting stuff here about the banana leaf.

A traditional meal starts off by serving water, sweet, salt, vegetables, appalam other crispies like vadai and finally rice (to be served only after the guest takes his/her seat). Salt is served as an add-on incase any dish lacks salt (don't ask me what if its the other way round). First would be paruppu (dhaal/lentils) and nei (ghee/clarified butter). This is a source of protein and fat. Sambhar, again a source of protein and vegetable, follows. Sambhar is substituted or partnered with similar items like mor kuzhambu, puli/vatral kuzhambu and the likes. Too much protein is too heavy on the stomach. So for digestion, you have rasam made from tamarind extract and tomatoes (occasionally with garlic and lemon juice too) - all these ingredients help in digestion and to "disperse" the gas formed by the lentils. Again, tamarind extract is acidic in nature. So to cool the effect of this, you end your meal with curds. Just before curds you have payasam (calcium from milk added with raisins and cashews). Your skills on eating from a banana leaf are best known while having rasam saadham and payasam (The rasam or payasam should not drain down your leaf). But inspite of the intricacy of this ordeal, the taste of payasam on a banana leaf just after rasam is just awesome. You should experience it in order to enjoy it.

And to add to these, you have the vegetables for vitamins, nutrients and fibre (roughage) content, crispies for 'accomplice' , the seasonings - mustard seeds and curry leaves (source of iron too) and banana for digestion and the final betel leaves with betel nuts and lime (chunnambu) to give you that extra punch ;-) (not sure about betel nuts but betel leaves are definitely good for health - esp throat).

I can rest assure that of all the places in India (or probably the world), its only in Tamilnadu that you would find an eating place (good or not) in almost every corner and also catering to the hungry mouths almost round the clock (more so in places around Madurai).

I feel the "allergic" or "dosen't suit my health" factor is purely psycological. Given the number of people who cannot afford even one course meal a day, I would only request people not to be too choosy about food and be thankful for whatever we get. If being choosy over food is bad, wasting food is worse. I am sure each one of us can do our little best to avoid wasting food. Like it is said "Take all you like and eat all you take". Some thoughts...
  • Pack leaftovers from the hotel and give them to the deprieved lot on your way back home or use them for your next meal.
  • Serve leftovers at home to people in need, if not, atleast to dogs, cows, cats or birds.
  • During big functions like marriages, intimate orphanages or old age homes who would be ready to take un-served, leftover food. (Ofcourse, make sure to intimate them well in advance). The food left over on plates can be given to animal shelters for serving animals (I have heard that some establishments dry the leftover food in sun and use them as plant manure).

"Every grain has the eater's name written on it" so says Kabir in his doha. So be thankful to God for all the grains that have your own name on them and make sure you consume them in the best possible way i.e., by sharing!


Sushil said...

Very good post :-). Though I am a Mallu at heart I have spent my entire life in Madras and have developed a liking to the local food. You have described in very good detail the traditional meal and its order. Luckily I have just had lunch else I would have become very hungry reading it. I agree with you that people shouldnt be picky about food unless they really have medical problems such as BP/Diabetes or food allergies which cause rashes/asthma.

Vinesh said...

Excellent post Ravi!

Since I feel so strongly about this issue, I am happy you brought this up in your blog.

One reason why I hate "kalyaana saappaadu" is cos they serve everything on EVERYONE's leaf, and half of it goes waste into the bins. Buffet system is not foolproof, but certainly better than kalyaana ilai saappaadu

யாத்திரீகன் said...

hm.. sapaduradhai vitutu matha aaraichi velai ellam paarthu iruka :-) but gud one..

nee sonna maaadhiri madurai is THEEEEEEE best in this regd... yaaruku vena, eppa vena, evlo-ku vena.. soru poduradhula.. madurai-ai adchika vera ooray kedayaadhu..

spl kudos to you machi for mentioning madurai ;-)

Ravi said...

I love Kerala food too - more for its "naturalness". Very true about being picky.

Thanks for your nice words and happy that you too go by my views. Yes, the sad part about 'kalyana saapadu' is the amount of wastage and people more tend to showcase their grandeur than stand up for the real cause of pleasing a stomach. Good point Vinesh!

Thanks for coming by.
I liked the way you put your comments - both hilarious and appreciative. Yes, Madurai is THE place for food. Though I am not a native of Madurai, I love (& enjoy) the 24-hour kaiyendhi bhavans there. But heard these days due to "police kedubadi", these bhavans are on a decline.

Shakthi said...

Beautiful post. I totatly agree with you.

Ravi said...

Thanks Shakthi for coming by and your comments too :-)

RJ said...

Hi Ravi...
This is the first time I am coming across your blog....I do not have words to express about your article on the Traditional South Indian food....
Truly amazing

J.Murali said...

Very Nice One .....

This Procedure for serving the food in banana leaf is told to my friends But all are laughing/commentig...

Like this things be registered in web then only our next generation peoples also know the hindu rituatles/procedue..

J.Murali said...

Thanks for documenting this!