Of sayonaras and kaddus!

A trip to Japan almost a decade ago. Still fresh in my mind because of just how different everything is. The cleanliness (true of any place you are traveling to from India!), the flowers – it was spring and cherry blossom was showing off for all it was worth but other flowers were in abundance as well, the incredible discipline of people. Even the punkiest-looking guys with hair teased into the most fascinating hairstyles, coloured all colours of the rainbow, the so called ‘rebels’ were rebellious only in the way they dressed themselves – I stood behind a long line of them while waiting for a train and not a man-jack of them broke the rules, not one broke the queue, stepped beyond the yellow line on the platform, spoke or even laughed loudly!

Thanks to the friends who hosted us, we saw a good deal of Kyoto, Kobe, the ancient temple town of Nara (breathtaking!), watched a kabuki performance (during which i am ashamed to say i went to sleep halfway through and woke myself up with a gentle snore!), a tea ceremony, got dressed in kimonos and did all manner of tourist-y and wonderful things!

We were staying in Kobe on a manmade island (Rokko) and went down for a walk on a Sunday morning – to discover a flea market in progress. I have an awful weakness for flea markets and went racing back upstairs to get my purse and thereafter empty it!

While I have no Japanese beyond a ‘sayonara’ and a ‘konnichiwa’ – neither of which is of any use in bargaining  and the vendors no clue of English, there was much dancing around, miming, gesticulations (no rude ones, i swear!) – the universal language of bargaining – I am absolutely positive that the vendor has as much fun as the buyer in the process!

My final stop was a couple of young chaps selling an assortment of pottery, cutlery, paintings and a bunch of other stuff. I do the act – with my eye on what I really want while i bargain for something else and casually, very casually get around to asking him for the original at the end! The two guys are smart, very smart indeed and figure out exactly what i want. Finally, in mime, i express that I have come many thousand miles and surely they cannot disappoint a visitor to their beautiful land (dance mudras are very useful in doing all this !) Much giggling from the sellers before they decide they’ve got their money’s worth of a performance from this funny lady and give me what i want. Not a solitary word of English in this whole 20-minute affair by the way.

I strut away, proudly carrying the spoils and turn back to wave bye to my audience – only to be wished by the duo in shuddh (pure) Americana – “have a great day sistah! and enjoy your stay in Japan!”” Bums!! They made a real kaddu out of me! 

And here’s my favourite kaddu dish south of Japan!


  • 250 gm yellow pumpkin – peeled and cut into large chunks.
  • Turmeric – 1/2 tsp
  • Sambar powder – 1 tsp
  • Grated coconut – 3 tbsp
  • Green chilies – 2
  • Peppercorns – 6-8
  • Cumin seeds -jeera – 1/2 tsp
  • Salt

To season:

  • 1 tsp  coconut oil or sesame oil
  • Mustard seeds – 1/2 tsp
  • Urad dal – 1/2 tsp
  • Curry leaves – 2 sprigs
  • Chopped spring onions – shallots – 1 tbsp (optional)
  • Asafoetida – 1 large pinch

Cover and cook the pumpkin with the salt, turmeric and sambar powder till half cooked. Grind the green chilies, coconut, cumin and pepper into a smooth paste. Add the paste to the pumpkin and cook for a few minutes more till pumpkin is tender but still in pieces, not falling apart.

To season, heat oil, add mustard seeds and let them pop. Add the urad dal, curry leaves and asafoetida.

 Add chopped onions if using.

Best eaten a side with rice and sambar. Great with rotis.