Of music and food and blurred lines between the two!

Chennai at it’s best – in December and January. The mild chill in the air which brings out all manner of “winter clothing” among our “let’s avoid the cold, rumba jill-a irukku” (Tamil for “it’s very cold”) population! The strains of music from every sabha hosting the music festival, the sound of selangai (gajjelu/anklets) from Bharatanatyam performances, the rustle of silk saris as singers seat themselves on their stages and the swish of the silks as the audience takes its place, the myriad lights glittering off hundreds of diamond nosepins and above all, the simply wonderful smells of pongals, vadas, chutneys, sambars, rava dosas emanating from the temporary canteens in every sabha. I am sure that half the audience comes to these performances primarily for the food and secondarily only for the music or dance! I do know people who sneak in for the food only, tap their feet to a taal or two and then buzz off to the next sabha canteen to sample some more! These are the Chennai season aficionados – except the season we’re talking about is the pongal-vada season!

Much as I love this season here, my heart harks back to crisp winter mornings in Hyderabad where I grew up, the small bonfires by the roadside around which groups of people would be huddled warming their hands, how the air was always clearer and crisper somehow, of roasted corncobs by the roadside – twenty cobs to the rupee (!), of loose skinned “Nagpur” oranges with a sweetness to rival sugarcane juice… ooohh and that ganne ka ras (sugarcane juice) – worth every tummy upset I’ve ever suffered in consequence of too many glasses, and… hari boot! Those huge bunches of ferny greenery sold by the bundle where you had to look for the little pods and pop them open to get the sweetest of fresh garbanzo beans (fresh chickpeas). Sweet and mildly astringent at the same time, those pods had an incredible taste! 

About a year ago, we were in Bombay in the winter and wandering into a Gujarati provision store, were offered a handful of small, tender green beans – slightly smoky in flavour but they took me right back to ‘hari boot’ days! There was a large bowl of these at the counter and he offered them to all his customers till I demolished the bowl!

Then I found out that these seeds were called “ponk” and fell in love all over again – ponk, PONK, ponk!! How could you not love it?? Wiki tells me that these are green, immature sorghum grains and they are roasted under charcoal before the seeds are beaten out of them – no, I am NOT giving you a recipe for this here – get them from the neighbourhood Mr Patel then!

This recipe for hari boot will work provided:

  • you manage to shell enough beans without the compulsive need to eat them as you shell them
  • you don’t give into to this irresistable urge to eat them all raw!


  • Shelled beans – 2 cups – steam for no more than two minutes – they cook really quickly like fresh green peas
  • Chopped onions – 2 tbsp (optional – i prefer mine without!)
  • Cumin powder – 1/4 tsp
  • Chaat masala – 1 pinch
  • Salt
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • Oil – 1 tsp

Heat the oil in a pan and add everything else except the lemon juice. Stir fry for about a minute and switch off. Squeeze lime over and eat quickly!

If the shells on the pods are very tender, don’t bother to remove them. Just heat the oil and add everything else. Cover and cook for ten minutes on a low fire stirring occasionally./Remove lid and roast for a few more minutes till the skin is crisp – the insides will still be tender. Eat with skin and all!

It’ll help you become a food aficionado, if not a particularly musical one!