Tuesday, June 16, 2009

I miss leftovers

When I was a kid, leftovers were a part of life. They were always there. Not only were they delicious, they also signified the attitude of the house. I grew up in a family where the kitchen was always the centre of activity. Always occupied by at least three ladies (a mix of aunts and grandmothers), it was more organised than most offices are.

They worked in cohesion like a football team. And took over beautifully when one was unwell (or not in a position to enter the kitchen, if you know what I mean). Together they would chop and grind, mix and fix, maybe sing along as they worked, exchange stories & gossip. The kitchen was the sanctum sanctorum. You couldn’t enter it without a bath. You couldn’t even go near it wearing slippers. You wouldn’t dare leave your hair untied in the kitchen. The aunts and grannies were worse than the security guards at the Inorbit Mall.

And there was always plenty of food. We never had biscuits or readymade snacks at home. We were always equipped with raw materials like batter, chutneys, rawa and what-not. Should a guest suddenly arrive, it would take exactly 5 minutes to conjure up a steaming hot snack. Something or the other was always happening in the kitchen. The coffee filter was always dripping aromatic concentrated drops, lying in wait for a guest or a simple chit-chat session.

Coming back to the leftovers. We always cooked in huge quantities. Because we never knew when an aunt, uncle, cousin or visitor would drop in. The rotis were never counted as they were made. ‘Counting them brings bad luck’ they told us. The rice was always excessive. Nobody who came at mealtime was allowed to leave without eating. And we’d invariably have leftovers.

Our mothers and aunts would never let food go waste. They always knew what to do. My most favourite dish was the ‘roti ka laddu’. The leftover rotis were crushed and mixed with ghee and jaggery. And then rolled into little laddus. The most heavenly thing I’ve ever eaten. And these laddus are best made with leftover rotis because they’re slightly crisp and easy to crush. Doesn’t work with fresh rotis. Take my word, I’ve tried.

And the other yummy thing was rice. Mixed with curds and a little ‘tadka’ over it. Mind-blowing stuff. My grandma did various things with rice. Tomato-rice, chutney-rice, pulihaara. Those were breakfasts to die for.

And all our meals were in the kitchen. The journey from the kitchen to another room would mean the food cooled off by half a degree. And that was not acceptable. The rotis would be straight off the tawa. We sat on these little wooden thingies. I don’t know what they’re called in angrezi. The word is ‘Peeta’ in Telugu, ‘Patlo’ in Gujarati, and ‘Paat’ in Marathi.

Even in a place like Bombay we chose houses with decent-sized kitchens where at least three women could work easily. But now things are different. The food is cooked in exact quantities. Cooks have taken over. Unexpected visitors don’t drop in anymore. Even our closest people call before coming. The kitchen is stocked with ready-to-eat stuff. The dosa batter is mixed in planned quantities. And I miss the leftovers.