Of designer winter head gear and foods to move the bowels!

I think i’m going to cheat a bit today! 109 days of honesty and cooking deserves one let off day, right? Plus i’ve just had a glorious head massage and am sleepy as hell!

Winter, such as we have of it, has come to Madras and when I walk on the beach in the mornings, I see people – young, old, men, women, even children – bundled up and with a variety of head gear to protect their ears! Or is it that we are afraid that the wind might just whistle in one ear and out the other – i wonder??! “Romba jill-aa irukku, illiyaa?” (it’s very cold, isn’t it?) starts almost every conversation you overhear. And all the ear-protected heads nod in vigorous agreement. This – in a city where the minimum temperature last night was 24C! But yes, rombave jillaa irukku! (It is very cold indeed!)

One of my greatest sources of amusement (secret of course) are the many things people use to protect their heads. There  are multicoloured scarves, shawls, monkey caps with “jill” noses peering out and an innovation from a couple of years ago, a truly hilarious contraption that covers both ears with furry rabbity things and meets at the back of the head with a metal thingy – these come in designer tortoiseshell, tiger stripes, leopard spots and other animal patterns – meant to make the wearer look uber “cool”! In its own way, the total disregard for fashion IS very ubercool and I end up gazing admiringly at the “veshti and kurta” clad thatha (grandfather) on the beach, striding along listening to the “Suprabhatam” (or as one friend prefers to dub it – “Super-bhatam”!) with his ears firmly secured against the cold in tiger stripe ear muffs! 

But wait, this is a food blog and even i am determined to cheat, the meme should be cheat about food, right?

The food life on the beach is interesting. There’s a guy pounding away at aloe vera in a large steel vessel and dishing out glasses of fresh aloe vera juice, the ubiquitous tender coconut water seller who’s there in all weathers and who, in winter, is patronised only by the younger ones and “North Indians” who don’t know that this is not “correct” winter food! Brrrr… 24 C is VERY JILL indeed! Loads of guys selling fresh vegetables and fruit; a laughter club creating – and causing – much unintended hilarity (okay, not strictly food but hey, laughter CAN work up an appetite you know!), and what is the subject of my discourse today – winter foods. Thegelu (also called gengulu) in Telugu, Panankazhangu in Tamil, tender palm shoots in English and i don’t know what they’re called in Hindi. 

Plucked only in the winter, the shoots have two outer woody layers that you roast on an open fire or sigri – ok, i do mine on the gasflame now! – and when the skin is very sooty, peeled off. Then you peel off the outer sooty layer and the inner fibrous layer and split it in two longitudinally to get at the white heart  – called the chandamama (moon!) which is again thrown away! The rest of the “thega” is broken into inch-long chunks and chewed thoroughly before the very fibrous part is spat out!

Seems like a lot of work but it actually isn’t and the the woody, fibrous pulp is worth the trouble. High in fibre, it’s winter’s super food – helps you move what otherwise might get jammed up in the cold weather! 

Also, because you need to do such a lot of chewing to get at the heart of the matter, you feel satiated much earlier than you would with say, a samosa – ergo it’s a super diet food – the thega, i mean, not the samosa!

When I first moved to Madras and was still struggling with Tamil, I had this insane pica for thegalu – was also expecting my first child at the time and tried my best to get hold of them. No one seemed to understand what I wanted, even when i drew pictures of it – with colours and all – till one of the vendors near the bus stop where i used to wait for the bus to go home from office and whom i’d asked for thegalu earlier – actually sourced it for me from some market! And told me what the Tamil name was for this was. She became in my eyes, an instant Miss Chennai -what a beautiful soul!

Go chew – on my cheat food for the day!