Orthodox families of some decades ago in India had lots of food prohibitions – can’t eat this, that and the other – it’s polluting! Meat, of course, was quite simply, out of the question in vegetarian households!
Outside food was a strict no-no to my paternal grandmother, who would even carry a brass ‘chembu’ full of coffee decoction with her when she traveled – a source of great curiosity to us when younger and much hilarity later in life – during adolescence – to us… kids can be pretty awful and awfully judgmental too!
My parents, on the contrary, belonged to the generation fired by the zeal of India’s independence movement and willing to throw all orthodoxy by the wayside and so they took quite happily to Hyderabadi cuisine (no non-veg food was ever cooked at home though), never imposed any restrictions on what we could eat – in friends’ homes mostly – no one could afford to eat ‘out’ those days!) with the result that my brother Arvind became a ‘strict’ non-vegetarian for the better part of his life while my older brother Anand and I never took to it and stayed ‘ghaas-phoos’ eaters – vegetarians!
In most homes though, there was a clash of generations over this whole issue – with the older people obviously horrified by what the younger people considered edible and even yummy – statements like “how can you eat that stuff? Why can’t you eat the ‘good’ stuff made at home instead??!” For the young, thirsting after the thrills of ragda-pattice by the wayside, Chicken-65 at a friend’s birthday treat and the giddy heights of Chinese cuisine (Japanese and Thai were a long way away from Indian shores – for all we knew, the Japanese probably didn’t even have food!), the ‘good’ stuff at home consisiting of rasam, dal, spinach and suchlike was anything but appealing! Five decades on, most of us are quite happy to tuck into the rasams, dals and spinach gravies though – but that was much in the future then…
A friend of mine, coming from a strict vegetarian family of Jains, had tasted omelettes for the first time at another friend’s home – this friend’s family owned a poultry farm and we could eat as many omelettes as we wanted when we visited – phew, luxury! Aruna, the veggie friend, fell in love with eggs and wanted desperately to try them out at home. Living in a joint family with grandparents, sundry aunts and uncles, horror at home when she announced that she wanted to eat eggs! Normally the sweetest and most biddable of girls, Aruna put her foot down on this one. And reluctantly, the family gave in – with a caveat. The offending eggs must not come in sight of the kitchen!
And so, armed with a discarded saucepan (never to be brought into the kitchen again(!), a spoon and the rest of the paraphernalia, the children set up a ‘fireplace’ with twigs and sticks in a corner of the garden – lucky they had a LARGE garden – out of offending sight of the old people – and proceeded to make a glorious mess of omelettes!! For a household renowned for it’s tasty Jain fare, this was the most exciting meal the children had ever had!
Bread was the other item generally not allowed in the house – “double roti” as it was called in Hyderabad – was considered impure because it had to be bought and who knew what ‘polluting’ things went into it!!
India has changed – vive la change!
Here’s a celebratory abhishtu food – banana, walnut and cinnamon loaf:
BANANA, WALNUT AND CINNAMON LOAF
- Whole wheat flour – atta – 1.5 cups
- Maida – plain flour – 1.5 cups
- Yeast – 1 packet
- Milk powder – 1 tbsp
- Sugar – 3 tsp
- Bananas – overripe – 4 – mashed
- Salt – 1 tsp
- Butter or sunflower oil – 30 ml
- Walnuts – 1/2 cup broken into bits
- Cinnamon powder – 1 tsp
Prove the yeast in 1/4 cup of warm water and sugar. Add the rest of the ingredients except the walnuts and mix the dough. Sprinkle the kitchen counter with a little flour and knead well, pulling and pushing and folding over – this part is a great workout and great fun, particularly if you have little kids – this is licence to create a mess and how often do we get that??! Cover with a damp cloth, leave in a warm place and let it rest for about an hour till it has doubled in size. Knock back, add the walnuts and shape into a loaf in a loaf tin (where else?!)
Let it rise again – about half and hour and then bake at 190 C for about an hour till it sounds hollow when you tap the tin at the bottom.
Eat the non-abhishtu bread with impunity right at the table, not hidden away in a corner of the garden!