+ Homestyle cooking of Indian vegetarian food

It’s time to reflect what I’ve been eating in our Chennai home

Cooking at home has always been my mantra. I love cooking for my family and friends. From street food to fine dining food, I like to explore the ingredients that go into a dish so that I can replicate it in our kitchen at a later time.

Meen Kuzhambu / Kulambu, fish gravy cooked in tamarind , coconut milk and spicesContrary to what most people think, we aren’t eating Bengali food at home every day. In fact, the Z-Sisters won’t have it that way and I am guessing neither the Bearded Biker and I would too. At least, not all the time. A meal or two over the weekends does revolve around Bengali food or a bit of Kolkata nostalgia – sometimes Chinese the way its made at popular food kiosks in Kolkata – Karunamoyee or around City Centre in Saltlake, or in one of the legendary Park Street restaurants like Bar-B-Que. Although the look, feel or taste of the former is completely different from its latter counterpart! Then there’s Italian food. I believe that I cook Italian food quite well. At least, that’s what the Z-Sisters say. I find cooking Italian food extremely easy. Also, they turn out so exotic just by adding fresh herbs or a homemade sauce. Currently, I am making pesto very often from fresh basils that are plucked at beck and call from our garden. I stir them into pasta or grilled chicken, drizzle a little olive oil … and Eccoci… our delicious meals are ready (some other post, some other day)!


Exploring regional dishes from South India

To simplify this blogpost, I’ve decided to focus on the new flavours I’ve been exploring after settling down in our Chennai home. During the weekdays, the Z-Sisters bombard downstairs around 11:30 am – 12:00 pm, demanding lunch. Big Z was lucky to have attended school physically for two months until the schools were closed down by the Tamil Nadu government once again, as a preventive measure. Lil Z has been attending online schooling for over a year now. The Bearded Biker is also going to mark a year of working from home. I just told him the other day, that I am getting spoilt with the thought of them staying at home and coming together during mealtimes – a sort of a happy thought for me. Initially, I would cook familiar and easy-to-make dishes during weekdays – stir fries, fried rice, hotpots and grills. The weekends were reserved for slightly more elaborate affair. Since the time Matree, our wonderful live-in lady has joined us, I have been on a spree of exploring regional cuisine. Matree is a Tamilian, born and brought up in Kerala-Karnataka border and is an exceptional cook. Although quite young, she reminds me of traditional home cooks like my dida or mum-in-law who insist on using freshly ground masalas and doesn’t believe in fast tracking the steps in cooking a dish.

Lemon rice cooked at home

Cooking from scratch 

I had intended to teach Matree Bengali cooking … gradually of course, just like Lady M but have now decided to keep my mission on hold. We are enjoying the variety of regional dishes so much, that I don’t want to overburden her by educating her on Mustard Oil, Jharna Ghee and other nuances of Bengali cuisine. Also, Matree’s stock seems to be endless as of now and she effortlessly moves within the different states of South India. Like traditional home cooks, her requirements for kitchen utensils are also very traditional. Whereas for years, I had ‘managed’ with a coffee grinder for grinding my fresh masalas or non-stick woks for the tempering, Matree insists on what she is used to… a Preethi mixer grinder or a proper tadka pan for ‘thaalippu’ or tempering. The chai has to be ideally made in a saucepan (no brown sugar for her), the fresh milk is boiled in a Pigeon Milk Boiler and the curries are made in a heavy kadai. Every other day, we have an Amazon delivery for Matree’s list. I had simplified my kitchen life by giving up on all the miscellaneous gadgets and utensils that I thought required a bit of TLC (tender, love and caring). Since my intention is to delegate the daily cooking and all kitchen related activities to Matree, so that I can re-focus on my writing, I am pampering our Amazon spree to the hilt. The pantry room adjoining our main kitchen resembles a ware house store… new pots, pans, ladles and a whole lot of kitchen items. Initially, my favourite instruction to Matree was, “Manage”. It meant using whatever we already had, which by the way was already proliferating out of the kitchen boundaries into the cabinets in our living room and dining room. Now I have realised, that for Matree to operate at her full potential, she couldn’t be asked to ‘manage’. One couldn’t compromise in traditional cooking and everything had to be done from scratch and at home – be it fermenting the Appam mix overnight or making Idi Appam noodles at home. 

Every night before winding down, as Matree and I decide on the next day’s menu, I ask her to think of a local dish that we haven’t tried yet. I also leave the regional menu pairing to her… if I suggest something that doesn’t go well, she will often reject that. I am in no hurry that she has to learn Bengali cooking … and I also have all the time in the world just to savour all the new taste and flavours that she’s bringing to our table. Only once, I couldn’t resist putting her puri making skills to test to make perfectly phulko luchis to go with our weekend’s kasha mangsho!

Making luchi at home

Phulko luchi with Kasha Mangsho

Beyond Rasam… delicious snapshots of our home cooked meals… 50 shades of rice, lentils and Poriyal. Curry leaves for thaalippu or tempering, and of course as garnish.

“So, you will be eating Rasam now?” “Are you eating Curd Rice and gun powder?” “No more Mustard fish… only idli, sambhar and dosa?”

We have been such a vocal non-vegetarian family and absolutely drowned with stereotypical questions like above… as if coming to Chennai was a culinary exile. To be fair, I didn’t expect to learn so many non-vegetarian preparations as I have done over these few months. A quick search on Google would reveal that 97.65 percent in Tamil Nadu are non-vegetarians. An impressive statistics that would any day lure us, the non-vegetarian Bengali family with West Bengal holding the percentage at 98 percent!

My notion had been laid astray by most of the Tamil friends we have had, and incidentally most of them have been Tam Brahms who are vegetarians. If only we had some association with anyone from the Chettinad region or the coastal area, we would have been prepared for the delicious onslaught of non-vegetarian food that was in store for us.

An authentic Rasam made at homeRASAM. Soup style! The urge to have an authentic Rasam made at home became almost like an obsession after hearing umpteen number of times by actress Deepika Padukone that her favourite food is Rasam and Rice. Moreover, with Rasam having gone ‘viral’ in the US as the “immunity boosting soup”, thanks to chef Arun Rajadurai who worked in Anjappar Princetown, I had to learn what made Rasam so special. I have decided to chill my Rasam in the oncoming summer months!

Homemade Idlis with sambar and coconut chutney

Masala Vada

Homemade triangular dosa with sambar and chutney

Homemade dosa with sambar and chutney

Uttapam with green coconut chutney

Idli UpmaIdli, Masala Vada, Masala Dosa and Uttapam served with sambar and fresh coconut chutneys. The different coconut chutneys make for an interesting taste variations and I learnt that the Thengai chutney is the white coconut chutney with only the thaalippu or tempering of roasted Bengal gram, green chillies, mustard seeds, urad dal, curry leaves and asafoetida. The red coconut chutney had roasted Sambhar onions (shallots), red chillies, garlic, ginger, roasted chana dal and curry leaves. Fresh coriander leaves, green chillies and a dash of lime went into the making of the green coconut chutney along with the usual tempering. The Idli Upma (last image above) is an easy snack preparation made with left over Idlis and adding the usual thaalippu or of mustard seeds, curry leaves and channa dal.

Idiyappam with Malaysian chicken stew

Idiyappam with Malaysian chicken stewIdiyappam with Chicken Stew with coconut milk

Bull's Eye Appam

Bull's Eye Appam with Kerala style Mutton Stew

Kerala style Mutton Stew

Mutton SukhaThe Bull’s eye Appam with a fried egg in the middle is definitely a culinary fine art… and can be had with either the subtle tasting Mutton Stew or the spicy Mutton Sukha, both preparations having contrasting taste profiles. Cooked in the Kerala style, the chicken and the mutton stew tastes surreal with a thick coconut gravy and the subtle fragrance of bay leaf, ginger, fried onions and whole black pepper.

Lemon rice cooked at home

Lemon rice with crispy fried spicy okraLemon rice cooked in the Tamil style, paired with a crispy fried spicy okra.

Pongal with sambar and beans poriyal

Ven Pongal Ven Pongal with Sambar and a Poriyal made with beans (first picture above) and with Kara Kulambu or Kara Khuzambu (second picture above and also below), an extremely spicy and tangy preparation of a mix of vegetables.

Spicy Kara Kulamba

White rice with a spicy Kara Kulamba

Kara Kulambu with drumsticks White rice makes the perfect accompaniment to the spicy Kara Kulambu. Like many variations of Sambar, Matree sometimes has her own renditions of Kara Kulambu – like in the above, where she’s added green mangoes, drumsticks and fresh coriander leaves.

A Tamil Sapadu at homeWhite Rice with Tamil Dal, spicy Bittergourd Poriyal and Papad

Curd Rice with cauliflower Poriyal

Curd Rice with cauliflower Poriyal Curd Rice with Masala Cauliflower Poriyal

Bisi Bele Bath Bisi Bele Bhath with homemade potato chips and Papad is Matree’s favourite. Bisi Bele Bhath is a spicy lentil and rice dish that has its origin in Karnataka. With lots of vegetables thrown in, I felt that Bisi Bele Bhath could be described as a spicier version of Khichuri.

Ambur styled Biryani Ambur styled Biryani cooked in a pressure cooker. Originating in the region of Ambur, this spicy Biryani is paired with Khattay Baigan, or brinjal curry and cucumber raita.

Cabbage Poriyal

Bittergourd Poriyal Poriyals are shallow fried or sauteéd vegetable dishes that can be made with every possible vegetable. Cabbage Poriyal with fresh grated coconut and bittergourd  poriyal (first and second image above). In fact, amongst all the Poriyals I tasted so far, my favourites are the carrot-bean poriyal and the spicy bittergourd poriyal.

Kadala Curry, a rich Kerala style black chickpea curry

Kadala Curry, a rich Kerala style black chickpea curryKadala Curry, a rich Kerala style black chickpea curry with triangular shaped homey Parathas with raita, the ‘Princess Raita’ as Matree calls it. She cooked the above dish in coconut oil and added a little coconut milk, making it really special for Maha Shivaratri

Preparing Malbari Parotta at home

Malbari Parotta made at home

Malbari Parotta made at home

Malabari Parotta is the regional variant to Laccha Paratha in the way it is prepared. Its beauty lay in the layered manner in which the dough is rolled out and the subtle flakiness as ghee is added when the parathas are cooked.

Egg Curry cooked in the Tamil style

Meen Kuzhambu / Kulambu, fish gravy cooked in tamarind , coconut milk and spices

Meen Kulamba with mango Meen Kuzhambu / Kulambu is a fish gravy cooked in tamarind, coconut milk and spices. I learnt to cook this from an authentic source and while mine tasted quite similar to the one Matree cooked later (the second picture above), she made hers with pieces of green mango that added a whole new layer of spunk to the Vanjiram or Kingfish gravy.

Fried Vanjiram Kerala styleFried Vanjiram or Kingfish, Kerala style

Kerala style Fish Curry

Kerala style Spicy fried PrawnsKerala style Spicy fried prawns and Kerala style Coconut Fish Curry with the perfect accompaniment of homemade Malabari Parota.

Gun Powder or Idli Milagai PodiLast but not the least… Gun Powder or Idli Milagai Podi, the spicy powder made with coarsely grinding roasted spices. This powder is quite versatile and can be sprinkled over anything to spunk it up – a plain curd, the curd rice, uttapams and others.

Plugging in a bit of nostalgia… alibi a local goli soda. And desserts to satiate my Bengali sweet tooth

Panner Soda or local Icecream soda Panner or Paneer Soda. The word ‘Paneer’ means rose-water in Tamil, hence lending the name to the rose-water scented Goli Sodas… the taste of Paneer Soda is very close to one of my favourite drinks from my childhood… Bijoligrill’s Ice cream Soda.

Javvarisi Payasam for PuthanduJavvarisi Payasam or milk pudding made with tapioca pearls as we celebrated Puthandu, the Tamil New Year at home.

BadushaBadusha, fried dough balls glazed in sugar syrup

Sakkarai PongalSakkarai Pongal that we first had during Pongal, the harvest festival that’s celebrated in January


Before I crossed into the borders of South India… food wise

Before Matree joined us and led us on a culinary roller coaster ride of South Indian fare, our Indian meals comprised of whatever I conjured up on each day. Sometimes, the menu would simply pop up in my head the previous night, or sometimes it would be a prompt makeover out of the stock in our fridge. There have been many such dishes, sharing just a few of them (not Bengali food this time, excepting flexing the phulko luchi earlier on) …

An Indian vegetarian meal at home This was a nostalgic spin off on a lunch we had at a small highway eatery while travelling from Jaipur to Agra two years back. The above spread won my family’s hearts – ready made store bought chappattis, aloo or potato sabji, cauliflower sabji, long green peppers cooked in the manner of a pickle, a masala egg bhurji or scrambled egg cooked in a spicy dry gravy.

Grilled chicken with fresh green herbsGrilled chicken marinated with spices, green chillies and fresh herbs like coriander and mint leaves

Chicken bharta cooked in the style of Punjabi Dhaba at Ballygunge PhariChicken Bharta cooked in the style of Punjabi Dhaba at Ballygunge Phari in Kolkata


Sourcing meat, fish and meat … and super fresh vegetables 

After resorting to the popular supermarket Nilgiris for groceries and its sister counterpart, Veggies for fresh fruits and vegetables initially, we have now expanded our horizon a bit.

From all the conversations within the community WhatsApp group, I have realised that there are many entrepreneurs and starts ups who are engaged in producing artisanal products and fresh organic produce of the highest quality. A lot of these fruits and vegetables with non-Indian origin, “fancy vegetables” as Matree calls them, are all grown somewhere in some farms in India right now. Orders can be placed over WhatsApp and products are promptly delivered home.

Referrals within known circles and word-of-mouth are the prime tools of publicity for much of these home-grown brands. We are loving the quality of the produce and mostly sticking to buying local produce of the season. Ansio sets up a weekly vegetable market within our community and I have already been initiated to a lot of regional vegetables like drumsticks, yams, different types of bananas and others.

We buy our fish from J K Fish Stall in Adyar as they seem to have a good stock of popular Bengali fish that are flown in from Kolkata daily. Whatsapp conversations with the Bearded Biker and his maachwala, the fish vendor ensures immediate home delivery of Bengali fish delicacies like Hilsa or “golda”, the freshwater giant prawns. The other day we bought fresh fish like Vanjiram or Kingfish, Sankara or red snapper and squids from the fishermen straight off the seashore in Kovalam. There couldn’t have a more exciting escapade for fish lovers like us. We order our chicken through online apps like Licious and Tender Cuts, sticking to the former for most of the times. A local butcher just outside our gate has sealed the Bearded Biker’s approval for meat – tender goat that I have perfected in slow cooking ala mum-in-law’s style. Sunday afternoons are now mostly reserved for slow cooked goat curry with big chunky aloo, or potatoes peeping out. The Bearded Biker has found fantastic pork supplier in SSD Meat World & Restaurant in Kilpauk, a bit far away from where we live. The restaurant serves popular pork dishes like sorpotel, vindaloo, chilli pepper fry and pork roasts, while they have their own farm is where the high quality meat is sourced. We recently discovered another place – a kind of a sanctuary very close to where we live, The Farm. It’s a B&B cum restaurant space located amidst rice fields, coconut groves and plantations. Apart from selling fresh produce grown in their own organic vegetable gardens, their product list is quite impressive, specially with the dairy products like Mozarella, Feta, Labneh etc. We recently started buying fresh milk from a dairy farm called Arunodhyam on recommendation from our neighbouring resident. Anju, the founder, spoke to me at length to share her story – how the dairy farm and the milking facilities is based out of her seaside residence. Initially, she was delivering to a few of her friends and its only during the lockdown period, more people got to know her because of word of mouth that led to her think of expansion. Recently, we ordered farm fresh watermelons, water apples and okras on repeat mode (images below) from Sri Durga Farms at Thirukazhukundram, a passion project founded by Maha and Raja, residents of our community. Every day there are messages in the residents’ whatsapp group, some friend or the other has some organic farm and growing something exotic… orders are immediately placed and the products delivered home promptly. Once we ordered oyster mushrooms that were absolutely brilliant!

Farm fresh vegetables from Ansio

Farm fresh vegetables from Ansio

Farm fresh okra from Sri Durga Farms at Thirukazhukundram

Farm fresh water apples from Sri Durga Farms at Thirukazhukundram


What inspires me to cook?

I believe that cooking entails an exchange of energy between the person who’s cooking any dish and the person who’s eating it. It’s an act of demonstration love and affection and should be performed as a rite – something that’s done from one’s heart. Matree listens to music – Tamil love songs while she cooks. She also entertains calls on her mobile. Initially, I had been slightly skeptic about the latter but after observing her for a few times, I have realised that she discusses what she’s cooking and there’s so much of happiness in her voice that it’s almost infectious. When she serves the food, there’s always a sense of excitement and she seems so happy to cook. When we plan the menu for the next day, there’s a lot of enthusiasm in sharing what she knows best. She also has some ‘vague’ dishes in her repertoire – Indian pasta and Indian noodles (the image below) made with Indian spices. Have you ever heard of Indian Mac and Cheese ? Well, just now you did!

Indian noodles

I am as inspired by cooks like Matree as I am by celebrity chefs like Gordon Ramsay. My shelves are full of signed cookbooks and my ‘to-cook’ list is filled with inspiration from the net, food bloggers I engage with, food addas with family and friends over whatsapp … and of course, our travels. Some of which, I shall reserve for a future post. For the time being, what is heartwarming is that when one starts celebrating local festivities at home, it’s sign that you have settled in well in one’s new home. As is evident from our Tamil festive sapaddu last week as we celebrated Puthandu, the Tamil New Year!

A Tamil festive sapaddu

A Tamil festive sapaddu

Unblogging it all… Ishita

Thank you for joining me on my daily food and travel journey oPinterestInstagramFacebook and Twitter

Some posts from my recent Chennai Chapter:
Celebrating Bengali New Year and Tamil New Year at home
Celebrating Pongal with Sakkarai Pongal and other dishes
Kovalam Beach | Buying fish at the seashore and a recipe of Beer Battered Squid
Finally calling Chennai home
Chicken Chettinad cooked in a claypot
Homemade spicy Chicken 65

Disclaimer: This isn’t a sponsored post, nor are there any affiliated links for any of the brands that may have been mentioned in this blogpost. The subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and all images are from my personal album. While you enjoy reading my posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from these posts.

+ Traditional Bengali meal for Noboborsho or Bengali New Year

Celebrating Bengali New Year and Tamil New Year at home

Shubho Noboborsho! Wishing all of you on the occasion of Bengali New Year. Also wishing everyone for the other Indian regional New Years like Ugadi, Puthandu, Vishu , Baisakhi, Vihu, Gudi Padwa and others. If you aren’t celebrating a New Year… may we simply celebrate life! 

Flower arrangement in a traditional urli

A new dawn and a beautiful morning… and some behind the scenes hustle

We are blessed with stunning sunrises over an uninterrupted view of the backwaters. It had rained in the early morning hours and the horizon was still dark and thunderous on Noboborsho morning. The morning breeze carried the earthy aroma of the fresh rains and the seagulls seem to be too drenched and weary for their daily flights. There was a happy hustle and bustle in the home as well… polishing of silver bowls that dates back to our Annaprashan or first rice ceremonies, my excitement of cooking and preparing some dishes specially for the day … not to mention my flower arrangement in the urli that belonged to the Bearded Biker’s thakuma and handed over to me by dear mum-in-law. The floral urli was an inspired idea from a resident in our community, who’s been doing this daily for the last one year. If you think that it’s a breeze… try doing one and please share your secret tips!

Muttakadu backwaters

Flowers in our garden

Flowers in our garden

Flower arrangement in a traditional urli

Silver ware for serving prasad

Celebrating Noboborsho, the Bengali New Year

Our lunch and the dinner menu for ‘Poila Boishakh’ or ‘Noboborsho’ yesterday was a simple Bengali menu. It was a working and a school day and I had asked the Z-Sisters what they would like to eat. Lil Z requested for luchi, aloo bhaja and plain white Rosogolla, or rasgullas … “lots of it”, she said! She had been lamenting lately how nobody brings home the white dreamy roshogollas anymore. Big Z declared that she didn’t care as long as there was Mishti Doi, made by me. The latter has been a bit overdone in our kitchen and the last time I made mishti doi, which was only three weeks back, stayed in the fridge for almost two weeks. So I decided against it. “Then Mihi Dana please”… was her next request. Roshogolla and Motichoor Ladoos (in absence of mihi dana in most sweet shops here) were swiggy-ed in from the sweetshop Sri Gupta Sweets. Our wonderful cook Matree’s Malabari parota making skill was made to use for the brilliant ‘phulko’ luchis… meaning the perfectly fluffed up Indian fried flatbreads. Our Noboborsho menu was as follows… luchi, aloo bhaja or fried potatoes, begun bhaja or fried eggplant, cholar dal with delicate aroma of coconut pieces fried in ghee, Basanti or mishti pulao and Katla Kalia, a thick gravy preparation with Katla fish. The strategy was to focus more on the luchi for lunch so that generous portions of pulao and Kalia would be left over for dinner. 

Bengali food is served in courses and I always feel that it can never be concised into a single thali, like many other regional food from India. The only one thali that could ever be … is the proshad, offered to the Divine Almighty. Accordingly, a thali with a mini sampling of the food was placed in our casual altar. I am not into rituals, hence the altar showcases many idols and images from several religions – a lot of them gifted by friends and families. After we have had a few spoonfuls from the proshad, it’s handed over affectionately to Big Z… “why does thakurer proshad always taste better?”, she always asks. I guess it’s the intention and the heart felt emotion of love and faith that go into the proshad. Sharing the blessed thali from our home with you all… and then the rest of the Noboborsho menu.

Traditional Bengali meal for Noboborsho or Bengali New Year

Bengali Mishti Pulao or Basanti Pulao

Bengali cholar daal

Traditional festive Bengali meal

Katla fish Kalia

Roshogolla or Rasgulla

Celebrating Puthandu, the Tamil New Year… back to back celebrations

The day before was Puthandu, the Tamil New Year and it was naturally a holiday here (for those who are still wondering… Chennai is our new home). We had sapaddu, a traditional Tamil lunch served on banana leaf. Matree, herself a Christian, was keen to do a small puja in our puja room. She had decorated the room with flowers and strung a garland with mango leaves and hung it by our entrance door. The puja was followed by the traditional lunch that she had cooked. She insisted that we sit on the ground and eat while she served us individually. We swapped her suggestion into sitting on the ground and putting the food on our coffee table! It was a beautiful afternoon and we savoured everything that she had cooked. She explained the order in which we had to eat. First, we had to eat the plain white rice with Vendekkai Sambar, sambar dal cooked with ladies finger. Next, we had to eat the rice with Kara Kulambu, the spicy tamarind and tomato curry of brinjal, potatoes and other vegetables. The light Milagu Rasam or Pepper Rasam came last with the rice. A carrot beans Poriyal or curry and Urulai Kilangu Masala, a spicy potato curry and some Appalam or papad were served as sides to the rice. The Ulundhu Vadai she made were soft as well as crispy and could be had on their own or had to be dunked into the sambar. I have to admit that her vadas made from the batter that she had made at home, were the best I had ever tasted in my life. The Dessert looked exotic and something I was tasting for the very first time. Javvarisi Payasam was a milk pudding or payasam made with tapioca pearls. It had the delicate fragrance of cardamon. Cashews and raisins roasted in ghee, were tossed in it. I bought a new silk sari for myself, a traditional weave that would be worn for this occasion and put a garland of malli, the heavy-scented jasmine in my hair. Sharing the Puthandu menu below… again, starting with the prasad offering and then the rest.

Javvarisi Payasam offered to Lord Shiva

A Tamil festive sapaddu

A Tamil festive sapaddu

A Tamil festive sapaddu

Kara Kulambu, Sambar and Rasam

Ulandhu Vadai

Javvarisi Payasam for Puthandu

In my happy space… in my home, talking about Bengali food

A prequel to Noboborsho was my Bengali food chat with culinary expert Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal in her InstaLive series #SpiceChroniclesWithRMG. Rushina started this in May last year during lockdown as an Instagram LIVE research project and her culinary marathon was now headed to Bengal. Rushina captured me in my happy space in her inauguaratory Bengal episode … in my dining room, in my home, chatting about Bengali food. I wore a kantha stitch dupatta instead of the traditional red and white saree on Lil Z’s insistence on wearing something casual and this was the most casual I could get! Sharing a picture that Lil Z took of me sitting amidst all my favourite cookbooks, dekchi, pots and pans and my shortlisted items from my Bengali pantry. You can enjoy the episode here.

Ishita B Saha, culinary travel author

I felt like sharing the therapeutic energy of our backwaters and the new day in my virtual Noboborsho video greeting with friends and family. I wish I could embed the video here with the birds’ chirping and the sound of the seabreeze. Sharing a still screenshot from a frame… hope you all will like it and and be engulfed with the same emotion that I felt in the morning… a new journey filled with hope, faith and joyful anticipation of a bright future!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

Thank you for joining me on my daily food and travel journey oPinterestInstagramFacebook and Twitter

Noboborsho greeting card

Some posts from my recent Chennai Chapter:
Finally calling Chennai home
Homemade spicy Chicken 65
Chicken Chettinad cooked in a claypot
Celebrating Pongal with Sakkarai Pongal and other dishes

Some posts about Bengali food:
Shubho Noboborsho | A traditional Bengali menu for Frying Pan Diaries podcast
Traditional Bengali Cuisine | All The ‘Slight’ Details
 A-Z of Bengali Fish
Bengali recipes from my blog

 

Disclaimer: This isn’t a sponsored post, nor are there any affiliated links for any of the brands that may have been mentioned in this blogpost. The subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and all images are from my personal album. While you enjoy reading my posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from these posts.

+ Fresh catch at Kovalam beach in Chennai

Kovalam Beach | Buying fish at the seashore and a recipe of Beer Battered Squid

Buying fresh fish from the fishermen straight off the seashore in Kovalam… this was kind of an ultimate ode to fish lovers like us. The warm glow of the rising sun, the fresh breeze and the excitement of the buyers added to the bustle of the morning.

Kovalam beach in Chennai

It was already 6:30am on a Saturday morning and we hurried. We had to reach Kovalam beach to catch the morning haul directly from the fishermen. Although the beach was very close to where we live, I feared that if we reached late, the fresh catch would be dispatched to the adjoining Kovalam fish market and the surrounding fish markets in the city. As we reached the Kovalam fishing village, a few fishing boats were already parked on the beach. Kovalam or Covelong, is a well-known fishing village near Chennai and has a combined history of French, British as well as Dutch colonisation. Apart from the bustle of fishermen and their fishing activities, the beach also attracted tourists and surfers. The Z-Sisters were expecting squids and calamari, fresh off the brilliant memory of Lil Z’s birthday celebration at Bayview restaurant at Taj Fishermen’s Cove. The resort was built on a Dutch fort, located at the same beach. We have always planned to visit the beach once our new car arrived. However, our conversation at Bayview as we savoured the fresh catch of the day from the Kovalam beach earlier, proved to be catalytic. Hence we ended up the very same weekend, at the beach in the early morning hours with Matree, our wonderful live in lady, who liaised with the fishermen in their local dialect to negotiate on the prices and certify the quality of the fresh catch.

Fresh catch at Kovalam beach in Chennai

Fisherman in Kovalam beach in Chennai

A fisherwoman in Kovalam beach in Chennai

Fresh catch at Kovalam beach near Chennai

Fresh catch at Kovalam beach in Chennai

A fisherman in Kovalam beach in Chennai

A fisherwoman in Kovalam beach in Chennai

Fresh catch at Kovalam beach in Chennai

Fresh catch at Kovalam beach in Chennai

A fisherman in Kovalam beach in Chennai

Fresh catch at Kovalam beach in Chennai

Fresh catch at Kovalam beach in Chennai

A fisherman in Kovalam beach in Chennai

A sting ray caught in Kovalam beach in Chennai

Kovalam Beach to Kovalam Fish Market … it’s a fresh seafood haul all the way

When we arrived at the beach, the fishermen were still unloading the nets and sorting out their catch. The shortlisted ones were thrown on to the boat to be showcased to lure the enthusiastic buyers. The non-shortlisted ones were thrown mercilessly on the sand in the beach. A few lucky ones from the second category were swept back into the seawater by the oncoming waves. We had mostly squids and a big King fish in mind. Crabs were aplenty along with a whole lot of other types of fish. Matree suggested that we also visit the fish market nearby, where some of the morning’s earlier hauls would perhaps be ready for purchase. Contrary to her expectations, the fish market was completely empty. It was the day of the new moon and a lot of Tamilians fasted or ate vegetarian food. Matree explained that this could be the probable reason why the fish market was still not ready. A matronly fisherwoman, whom she referred to as Pati or grandma, caught hold of us and insisted that she a few great catches. Pati shared that her bounty comprised of fish offloaded from the fishing boats which had arrived on the shores around 5am. She took out a Vanjiram, or King Fish from an icebox covered in ice. Matree suspected that the Vanjiram had been frozen. A dialogue ensued to make sure that it was a fresh catch of the day. After a gentle negotiation between the two ladies, the 2.8 kg Vanjiram cost us Rs 2,200. An additional Rs 100 tended to cleaning and cutting of the fish into 35-40 delicate pieces. We also ended up buying Sankara, or Red Snapper at a cost of Rs 450 for 4 pieces, with 2 complementary pieces thrown in generously by Pati. After finishing our purchases at the Kovalam Fish Market, I insisted that we should go back to the beach once more, looking for squids. The fishermen were still engaged in sorting out their catch from their never-ending long fishing nets. We managed to buy a small squid that weighed 500 gms (scroll down to check out for the cutie). Only 100 gms of it was accompanying us back home, after cutting and cleaning. Not a very generous portion for each one of us for our lunch that day, but good enough to try the beer batter fried squid for the first time!

A fisherwoman in Kovalam fish market in Chennai

A fisherwoman in Kovalam fish market in Chennai

King fish in Kovalam fish market in Chennai

Red Snapper at Kovalam fish market in Chennai

Red Snapper at Kovalam fish market in Chennai

Fresh catch at Kovalam beach in Chennai


 

Kovalam beach in the morning

If we were to repeat our experience … this is how we will do it

There’s a variety of fish on offer – from the popular King Fish, Red Snappers, Pomfrets, shrimps, crabs to sting rays, depending upon the season and the fishermen’s luck at the ocean. Since the fishermen are still laying out their catch from the nets, don’t wait if something catches your fancy. I missed out on a big squid and an octopus, thinking that I will first have a look through the seashore. Do explore local fish and try out varieties that you haven’t tasted before. We missed out a 5 kg Parai or a Bluefin Travelly which Matree suggested would taste very much like Vanjiram or King Fish. Going to the seashore around 7:30 am instead of earlier, may be a good idea as the fishermen would have finished unloading their catches. There are also some casual restaurants nearby where one can select the fish to be fried with a special masala marination. Open during the weekends, these restaurants start operating as early as 9 am and closes around 9 pm. I learnt that the fishermen were mostly Christians, while these restaurants were owned by Muslims. Pati and many other fish vendors were Hindus. Kovalam also boasts of a very sacred Durgah, a temple on the beach and an ancient Catholic Church. I have also set out my intention of eating out in one of these restaurants in this fishing village… soon!

Beer batter fried squid at home

Marination for beer-batter fried squid

Beer batter fried squid at home

The most exciting way to explore a place, for me, is via its local markets. I love the excitement, the hustle and bustle, the animated conversations between the buyers and the sellers… and finally the prized possession of a fresh haul. It’s been quite a long time since I have walked though a market fearlessly. Although I had my mask in place, this was a great reboot to my system. Of course, the Bearded Biker’s navigational skills and post shopping planning (icebox and other things) made the fishy exploration seamless. Our lunch comprised of a spicy preparation of fried King Fish ala those restaurants in Kovalam fishing village, courtesy Matree. Also, Beer battered Squid with Yoghurt and a Tomato-Chilli dip, courtesy moi. Here’s raising a mug of beer to more such fishy and exciting escapades… and delicious meals!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

Thank you for joining me on my daily food and travel journey oPinterestInstagramFacebook and Twitter

Some posts from my recent Chennai Chapter:
Finally calling Chennai home
Homemade spicy Chicken 65
Chicken Chettinad cooked in a claypot
Celebrating Pongal with Sakkarai Pongal and other dishes

Disclaimer: This isn’t a sponsored post, nor are there any affiliated links for any of the brands that may have been mentioned in this blogpost. The subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and all images are from my personal album. While you enjoy reading my posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from these posts.

Beer Battered Squid

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print
Category=Starters

Beer batter fried squid at home

Ingredients

100 gms squid, cut into small pieces, approx. 1inch/piece
1 tsp pepper
1 tbsp red chilli powder
1 cup all maida or flour
½ cup beer
½ lime, squeezed
salt, as per taste
white oil for deep frying

Method

  • After washing the squid pieces in running water, drain the water thoroughly.
  • Marinate it with pepper, chilli powder, salt and lime juice. Keep aside for half an hour.
  • Make a frothy batter with flour, a pinch of salt and beer. Stir in the marinated squid pieces.
  • Heat oil in a wok or a deep bottomed pan. Fry each piece of battered squid piece, turning over, until the colour turns into a light golden hue.
  • Serve with your choice of dips
Yoghurt Dip

250 ml yoghurt
1tbsp olive oil
½ lime, squeezed
1 spring onion, finely chopped

Mix the olive oil and lime juice in the yoghurt. Garnish with spring onions. Serve chilled.

Tomato-Chilli Dip

2 tomatoes
½ medium sized onion, finely sliced
1 tsp red chilli powder
1 tsp garam masala powder
½ tsp mustard seeds
curry leaves – 4
1 tsp white oil

  • Heat oil in a small wok. Add the mustard seeds and curry leaves. Once they start spluttering, keep them aside.
  • Fry onions, red chilli powder and garam masala powder. Add the tomatoes and stir in well. Cover and let it simmer until the tomatoes are cooked. Add salt.
  • Once the mixture cools down, give it a grind along with the tempering of mustard seeds and curry leaves in a grinder.

+ Tricoloured food to celebrate Indian Republic Day

I never aspired for any other passport but my Indian passport and it has nothing to do with patriotism

Happy 72nd Indian Republic Day! May the love and pride for our nation keep soaring high amongst all Indians, much like the Tricolour!

Tricoloured food to celebrate Indian Republic Day

I have been living abroad for the last 20 years and have just moved back to India from Dubai in October 2020. For those who may be expecting with fluttering hearts that the decision was initiated by a patriotic call to my roots, the country where I belong… the Bearded Biker got a transfer within the organisation that he has been working for many years. We were very excited as both our parents live in Kolkata and the last year was witness to the havoc it created in our minds not being able to travel to Kolkata, if and when we wanted to. We opted for Chennai in a heartbeat. Excepting for a short stint in Frankfurt, we have always lived by the sea. Living in Dubai always felt like an extension of India. The only conscious decision that I have maintained all these years, was that I was never going to give up my Indian passport.

Definitely not because of patriotism.

What does patriotism mean to me? I can’t pinpoint. What is it to be born an Indian? I can’t pinpoint. How does it feel to be a non-resident Indian living abroad? Again, I can’t pinpoint. Isn’t it better to be a first -class citizen in India rather than living a life off a second-class citizen elsewhere? I definitely can’t pinpoint. How do I inculcate Indianness in the Z-Sisters? Well, I don’t think I do. 

Now, may I ask you a question? If you have an answer to that, I may have an answer to all the above questions. What does being born in a particular family or having certain individuals as parents mean to you?

That is exactly what I feel. I have never questioned the family that I was born to, or the surname that I inherited or analysed the nature of my parents. If I didn’t like any behavioural pattern in them, I have been conscious not to have imbibed that. While I don’t deny that I have been raised with certain values or I am guided by ethics and principles that have been passed on by them, I also have my own value system and my own ideas and ideologies that have been shaped by my own journey. I may have tried to change a few things that I haven’t liked about the environment I grew up in, otherwise retained everything that I loved about it. Yes, I have been lucky to have had a happy childhood with a lot of happy memories, a safe upbringing and a life of relative ease. However, I am very different from each of my parent and I lead a different life. There are arguments and our opinions don’t always match. It’s quite obvious that I try to shake them up, make them see my viewpoint. I may or many not succeed – it all depends upon each case. 

One thing is certain though, no matter what, I will never give up on my parents. Or leave them for any other parents. 
My emotions for India are pretty much the same. I am proud of India’s achievements, I am saddened at her failures, I scream at her frustrations. I bask in her glory and fade when she’s ashamed. But I have always stood by her, will always stand by her and will never bash her. 
Neither, my emotions were magnified when I was living the life of a non-resident Indian for two decades, nor have they been sealed with a ‘high-level of patriotism’ certificate, now that I am back. Like I wished at times that Ma or Baba would behave like a certain friend’s parent, yet I have never felt that urge to belong to any other family but my own, my feelings for India has been the same.

I have never discussed Indian politics not because I don’t understand politics, but because I understand how it has the massive potential to incite us and divide us – both in an ongoing party happening at the world stage or in a living room.

I only discuss food. I only discuss travel. Out of choice and out of faith. For I believe, these are the two things that connect people and their hearts across different religions, regions, generations and mindsets. Also sports, but only when the nation is playing against another.

I don’t know whether the hoisting of the Indian flag is poignant to me because of what we were taught in school or because I have always associated the Tricolour with Baba hoisting the flag on the Republic Day, the Independence Day or Gandhi Jayanti as he carried out his roles in his respective government postings. I had the privilege of seating at the front row, seeing him take the gun salute. As the Tricolour unfurled, I had goosebumps all over. To be honest, it had less to do with patriotism and more to feeling that Baba was a superhero and all the parade and drama unfolding in front of him, were directed towards us!

Arun Bhattacharya

Arun Bhattacharya

The Z-Sisters have been studying in a British school all along and after moving to Chennai, they are now studying in an International school. I have no qualms admitting that they may or maynot know the Indian National Anthem by heart. I have never insisted and I have never imposed. Just like my Ma never insisted that I learn Rabindrasangeet although she was a Tagore aficionado and had the tutelage from the greatest exponents on RabindraSangeet like Kanika Bandopadhyay, Nilima Sen and others. In my life’s ups and downs, I often wake up humming a Tagore song, its lyrics reflecting exactly the emotions I am going through at the hour. As if, they have seeped into my subconscious. With the viral video doing the round today in WhatsApp groups, about a four year old girl Esther singing Band Mataram, I did feel a little tweak inside … should I have insisted? There was a community flag hoisting ceremony in the morning which I didn’t sign up for, as I felt that we should still maintain a certain amount of social distancing. I have tied up an Indian flag in our terrace after reading up the dos and dont’s of hoisting the Tricolour. After all, we are in the home turf now and we could end up hurting someone’s sentiments or sensibilities (if we stood taller than the flag and other criterions), considering we are in the world’s largest democracy with approx 1.38 billion people, each having their own sentiment. Today’s plan is to sing the National Anthem together and maybe learn a bit on what the terms like republic, democracy and others mean. Also reminisce on our very privileged visit to the Governor’s House in Kolkata where we saw one of the original copies of the Constitution of India while sipping on Darjeeling tea in a cup which had the proud symbol of Ashok Stambh on it.

A copy of the Constitution of India at Governor's House, Kolkata

I haven’t imposed any Bangaliana on the Z-Sisters, yet they are the ones planning our traditional Bengali menu for our Bijoya get togethers at our home. My heart swells when Big Z declares that I make the best mishti doi in the world. Similarly, I am accused by many of not having imposed any Indianness on them.

What is Indianness? Can there be really one definition? Excepting the emotion that is in unison as was recently witnessed when India won the India-Australia test series. If showing the Taj Mahal or knowing what each colour in the Indian flag stands for, I think I have passed the litmus test, so have the Z-Sisters!

I have already mentioned that when we were discussing our move out of Dubai, we chose India as we didn’t ever aspire for a different passport or wanted to move westwards. As I have already mentioned that it’s got nothing to do with patriotism. Or I am writing this blogpost just because I am back in India. The sights and sounds of India have always rejuvenated me, although I recognise that living in India after twenty years may be different from the romanticism of travelling through India on our family vacations… although we have broken through the comforts of the typical Incredible India routes for the NRIs and foreigner tourists by exploring the rough terrains of Leh and Ladakh following the bike trails. We are the kind of family who gets as excited eating in the streets of Lucknow as enjoying the colonial flavours of Windamere in Darjeeling. There’s a lot to learn and unlearn. The Z-Sisters haven’t for once questioned our decision to move to India. Li’l Z asked me the other day… ‘you are privileged and have a voice Mama, so how are you going to use it?’ That’s serious food for thought though, but for today, I will simply dress my part and celebrate Republic Day by doing the best I can… cook a simple tricoloured food and write. By the way, we live very close to the backwaters and the canal that flows by is called the Buckingham Canal. Guess, even the canal in this Muttkadu backwaters knows that we will probably be excited by that… so what if it’s alibi a canal’s name?

My ethnic kaftan has a few more colours than the tricolour, but quite representative of the Indian flag really. Our lunch was spot on though!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

Thank you for joining me on my daily food and travel journey oPinterestInstagramFacebook and Twitter

Some posts from my recent Chennai Chapter:
Finally calling Chennai home
Homemade spicy Chicken 65
Chicken Chettinad cooked in a claypot

Disclaimer: This isn’t a sponsored post, nor are there any affiliated links for any of the brands that may have been mentioned in this blogpost. The subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and all images are from my personal album. While you enjoy reading my posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from these posts.

Ishita B Saha with tricoloured food to celebrate Indian Republic Day

Below are my Independence Day pictures from my Kolkata visit in 2018. Every year, around July and August, we used to visit Kolkata – a period I term as my ‘summer hibernation’. I missed out on my 2020 summer hibernation and am looking forward to my frequent Kolkata visits from Chennai.

Ishita B Saha

Tea on Tricoloured dupatta

+ Sakkarai Pongal recipe

Celebrating Pongal with Sakkarai Pongal and other dishes

Wishing you abundance and joy as new harvest is celebrated all across India. They may have different names… Makar Sankranti, Pongal, Maghi Bihu, Uttarayan, Lohri and others, but the intentions are the same. It’s a celebration of nature’s bounty and to her show gratitude. It also marks the sun’s transit to Capricorn, hence marking the end of winter in the Northern Hemisphere. Needless to say, it’s the perfect time to release everything from the past and welcome a new decade by setting new intentions!

Sakkarai Pongal recipeI’m immersing myself into every new experience that I can get in my new adopted home, Chennai. Nothing can be better than a festive season or a celebration to learn about it’s cuisine and culture. Ideally, I’d visit local markets, explore back alleys, try out popular casual eateries alongside the long-standing finer restaurants. I love meeting cooks and chefs of both restaurants and family kitchens, listening to their food stories and food memories. The last year has been quite different in that sense … I haven’t been able to embrace new people in their kitchens and homes spontaneously and without any fear, unlike other times.

I wanted to learn to make a few dishes that are cooked for Pongal so that we could have a special Pongal lunch at home (below) along with the Z-Sisters. During this time of the year, Bengalis celebrate Makar Sankranti. The harvesting season calls for Notun Gur, the season fresh jaggery and different kinds of pithes, a kind of dumpling made with rice dough and filled with fresh coconut and jaggery. I will not be making pithes this time or be able to visit our Bengali friends in Dubai, some of who would invariably make pithes at home… but I can proudly say that I have learnt to make the Sakkarai Pongal, the special Pongal dish cooked with newly harvested rice, moong dal and sugarcane jaggery. I also learnt a few other regional dishes followed by a hearty breakfast with this wonderful family who opened up their traditional home kitchen for me. Yesterday felt extremely special, as after a long time I went into the homes and kitchens of two wonderful families in our community ~ Veni and Subha. Of course, with my mask and social distancing protocols in place.

Traditional Sappadu,or a typical Tamil meal of Ven Pongal, Sambar and Aviyal

Traditional Sappadu or a typical Tamil meal of Ven Pongal, Sambar and Aviyal

Ingredients for making Sakkarai Pongal

Adda with Veni and digging into her Kolkata konnect

When I met Veni, we hit off instantly. She is a Tamilian from Kolkata, hence an honorary Bengali by her own admission. I caught Veni chatting voraciously with a few other residents of the community one evening, about regional sweets. I am not sure whether the discussion had a probable sweet inclination because of the Kolkata influence in her or was it me lurking in the background trying to get a confirmed place in my new friendship circle and manifesting a topic that I could partake in effortlessly. Did Tamilians, like Bengalis, discuss sweets for hours, I wondered! Veni and her family – her husband Swami, their two cute little boys and her parents, welcomed me wholeheartedly into their home when she heard I wanted to learn how to cook the Sakkarai Pongal. This was a special sweet cooked with newly harvested nice, moong dal and sugarcane jaggery. Traditionally, it was cooked in an urli or a claypot in the courtyard, the sun god being a witness. The idea was to have the porridge overflowing as that heralded an overflowing abundance while everyone shouted Pongalo Pongal… may this rice boil over!

I had to reach at 7:30 in the morning as Veni’s mother planned to cook a few dishes for breakfast. Veni had already mentioned that her mother didn’t follow the traditional method of cooking sakkarai pongal in the urli and used a pressure cooker instead, to fast track the preparation. Aunty reminded me of my mum-in-law… very hands on and at the helm of their kitchen. Their kitchen was a cleverly revamped space that combined both modern aesthetics and regional cooking requirements. Aunty spoke to me in Bengali and rebuked me occasionally “eyije dekho” / look here, instructing me to bring back my attention to her cooking rather than chat away with Veni. Along with the sakkarai pongal, our breakfast menu consisted of the savoury vadas and ven pongal to be served with sambar, coconut chutney and multiple refills of filter coffee. Aunty shared her culinary wisdom with me – how to use the grated jaiphal and the edible camphor to sakkarai pongal sparingly or to mix a bit of regular sugarcane jaggery to the special sugarcane jaggery to sakkarai pongal as the latter could lend a salty taste at times. While Aunty was occupied with stirring and “steering” the preparation of the dishes by standing infront of the gas stove, Veni provided prompt assistance in clearing away pots and pans, or whizzing away fresh coconut in the mixie to make the coconut chutney. I learnt that Aunty’s family had been settled in Kerala and her cooking was occasionally influenced by the Malabari style of cooking. Like every family recipe, each family had their own tweaks to the same recipe. But I guess like all mothers’ cooking, Aunty’s preparations too, won the hearts of everyone in this family. Veni’s husband Swami, loved his mum-in-law’s version of sambar. Post my cooking session at Veni’s, I was contemplating whether I should include sambar in my lunch menu at home with a store bought sambar masala that was already there in my pantry. I was advised not to fuss so much about whether I had certain vegetables at home. Any vegetable that was stocked in the refrigerator, could easily go into the sambar, only once in while.

Veni addressed me as “Didibhai”, an endearing term for an elder sister in Bengali and her two little boys had something or the other to share every few moments, with their new found friend “Ishita Aunty”. To my utter surprise, each boy sang two Tagore songs… Rabindrasangeets, for me… “ami chini go chini tomare, ogo bideshini” and “jodi tor daak shune keu na ashe, tobe ekla cholo re”. Their Bengali pronunciation and renditions were perfect as though they were thoroughbred Bengalis. Veni apparently sung these to the boys as bedtime lullabies! Every artwork in their house had some story and as we had a long adda at their long dining table, even the dining table seem to have a story. The wooden top was recycled out of Kilpauk post office and all the wood that was used in their house was recycled. I felt very much at home and welcomed with a lot of affection and warmth. Inspite of that, I wanted to know whether traditional Pongal meals were a family affair or whether the celebrations called in for bigger gatherings like other Indian festive celebrations, for example Diwali or Eid. Families celebrated Pongal at their respective homes, although Veni and Swami celebrated with guests when they lived in Mumbai. They were very happy to have me, the first guest at their home during Pongal after three years. In fact, Swami shared how he missed out on Pongals all these years, as he was usually in Dubai on work at this time of the year. And guess which was his favourite restaurant ? Ravis’s ofcourse… much like the Bearded Biker! 

Once Aunty finished cooking, an assortment of prasad, an offering went directly off the gas stove to the deities in their prayer room. Veni pampered me with a platter and guided me to the best spots in her dining room and in the garden for natural lighting. She seemed to be an Instagram pro, appearing enthusiastically in my video and presenting the platter with a Pongal greeting. While we all ate together, much like most mums, Aunty didn’t join us and was busy serving us. Each dish was delicious. The vadas were undoubtedly one of the best I’d ever tasted, incredibly soft and fluffy from the inside and at the same time deliciously crispy from outside. The sambar tasted very different from the ones I had tasted before in most of the South Indian restaurants in Dubai. I think, it was the variety and freshness of vegetables and Aunty’s secret which probably did the trick. A take away parcel of the sakkarai pongal accompanied me back home, which led to a bit of change in my menu plans… all for good!

Boiling sugarcane jaggery for making Sakkarai Pongal

Filtering the jaggery through a sieve before mixing it in Sakkarai Pongal

Sakkarai Pongal cooked in a kadai

Cashews and raisins fried in ghee

Ven Pongal

Ven Pongal

Tempering for Sambar

Coconut chutney for vada and Venn Pongal

Aunty setting up the table

Breakfast platter on Pongal Day

Sambar poured into small bowls

Breakfast platter on Pongal Day

Ven Pongal, Sambar, coconut chutney and Sakkarai Pongal

A glimpse of tradition at Subha’s

I had also wanted to witness the traditional preparation of sakkarai pongal, the overflowing of milk as the rice, dal and jaggery slow cooked on fire in a pot. Subha came from the Chettiar family and for them the celebration of Pongal as a festival was huge. She and her family celebrated Pongal in the traditional way. I had reached out to her and although I had an open invite, I missed out on the timing and the actual ceremonial preparation. The kolam, the traditional floor artwork done with rice powder in Subha’s kitchen was intricate and beautiful. There were two pots in which sakkarai pongal had been cooked ~ one by her and the other one by her husband. Subha explained the process and showed me how she had offered prasad. She led me to their beautiful puja room, which was adorned with deities created in Tanjore artwork. She served the food on banana leaf which was then placed on the traditional weaved tray that was used to clean the rice. Subha welcomed me to join them for lunch, saying that the food was very different and extremely authentic. As much as I was enticed with her lunch invite, I was too full from the breakfast. Although my heart said that Subha’s invite was too good to miss, my brain guided me elsewhere… to my home to prepare lunch as it was already noon. 

Traditional Kolam design for Pongal

Traditional way of cooking Sakkarai Pongal

Traditional way of cooking Sakkarai Pongal

Traditional Chettiar meal during Pongal

When a burst of colours hit the roads and floors

I took a small detour to the local market just outside our community gate. There were many vendors selling sugarcane plants and turmeric plants – the Pongal tradition called for decorating the entrance with both these plants, the sugarcane and turmeric representing sweetness and savoury respectively. Both in food and life, I guess! On my way back, a quick walk around the community presented me with an array of different kolams that adorned the entrance doorways. There were pulli kolams, the dotted designs as well as some colourful ones. A few #fromwhereistand shots for my Instagram were ready and I scooted home to don my apron for downloading my morning’s culinary knowledge at the earliest.

Sugarcanes sold for Pongal

Pumpkins and peanuts sold during Pongal

Pumpkins and peanuts sold during Pongal

Traditional Kolam design for Pongal

Traditional Kolam design for Pongal

A colourful Kolam design for Pongal

A colourful Kolam design for Pongal

Traditional Pulli Kolam design for Pongal

Embracing the sensory overloads of Chennai wholeheartedly

The sights of flower vendors or women wearing brightly coloured saris with fresh flowers in their hair, I have embraced all these sensory overloads wholeheartedly. The day before moving into our new home which fell on Diwali, I stopped by the road to buy some flowers. The flower lady insisted on putting some flowers on my hair too, taking out a hair clip from a secret chamber. The Universe must have heard my heart’s desire to decorate our home with flowers on a regular basis. Lady Priya, the lovely part-timer who’s come into my life works in the temple in the mornings, setting out rangolis with flower petals and manages her sister’s flower shop in the evenings. Every Monday, she brings in fresh flowers from the local wholesale market, which she offers me at cost price. Their fragrances last for a few days, specially a variety of rose called the pannir rose. Sometimes she strings the flowers into garlands or sets them on silver plates. We place them all around the home, sprinkling a bit of rose water. When she is lucky enough to catch hold of a bounty from the flower market, we decorate a large uruli with flowers and tea lights floating in water. Every time we do that, the traditional uruli, a family heirloom from Bearded Biker’s side, or our Jordanian ceramic bowl adorned with silver filigree, acquires a different dimension altogether rather than lying on the coffee table as mere showpieces. Even the Royal Jasmine, one of the many varieties of jasmine, blooming in our garden or Rangana, the geranium gracing our community gardens are subtle reflections of nature’s colourful bounty that surround us in our new home.

A roadside flower vendor in Thiruvanmiyur

A roadside flower vendor in Thiruvanmiyur

Roses and other fresh flowers

Flower decoration at home by Lady Priya

Panni rose in a traditional uruli

Panni rose in a traditional uruli

Flower decoration in our Jordanian ceramic bowl adorned with silver filigree

Jasmine plant in the garden

Finally at home for Sappadu

My initial plan for our lunch menu was to make the chakarai pongal at home. I had instructed our wonderful cook Lady Priya accordingly, to make a vegetable dish the day before. It was to pair with steaming hot rice and ghee and I intended to serve on banana leaf. Aunty’s parcel of sakkarai pongal acted as a boon in disguise. I cooked a quick sambar and the savoury ven pongal that I had learnt in the morning. The kāykaṟi kirēvi, or a vegetable gravy cooked in a claypot by Lady Priya, added a rustic charm to our lunch set up. Aunty’s sakkarai Pongal deserved special spotlight, hence I took out the silver spoons and bowls from my treasured collection. I also placed sugarcane sticks and turmeric plants in front of our puja room and offered a prasad of the ven pongal that I had cooked.

Sugarcane plants

Melange of seasonal vegetables for making Avial

The savoury Ven Pongal

Avial made with a melange of seasonal vegetables

Sambar

Sappadu during Pongal

Sakkarai Pongal

Festive celebrations mean a lot to me. I don’t believe much in rituals but I believe and respect the immense faith that brings people together. Whether it is Bijoya Dashami or Christmas, we have always celebrated them at home so that the Z-Sisters may have some special memories that will anchor them in their respective journeys in life. All these months, I have missed being with my parents and parents-in-laws, so learning to cook with Aunty and chatting with Veni’s father as we celebrated Pongal over breakfast, felt indeed very special. Pongal is celebrated over a few days, each day marking something special. I may or may not be able to learn any more new dishes, or visit another home… but this memory will last me a lifetime. May all the seasons continue to overflow with abundance and give us many reasons to smile!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

Thank you for joining me on my daily food and travel journey oPinterestInstagramFacebook and Twitter

Some posts from my recent Chennai Chapter:
Finally calling Chennai home
Homemade spicy Chicken 65
Chicken Chettinad cooked in a claypot

Disclaimer: This isn’t a sponsored post, nor are there any affiliated links for any of the brands that may have been mentioned in this blogpost. The subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and all images are from my personal album. While you enjoy reading my posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from these posts.

* The recipe is guided by Aunty’s home style cooking of Sakkarai Pongal, that I had jotted down. 

Sakkarai Pongal

  • Servings: 12
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print
Category=Dessert; Cuisine=Tamil

Sakkarai Pongal

Ingredients

1 cup rice (new harvest rice Pongal raw rice is available in stores. Aunty used Gobinbdobho, a special rice that Bengalis use for making payesh)
1 cup moong dal
¼ cup sugarcane jaggery, powdered
16 cardamoms, powdered
jaiphal or nutmeg, grated (a pinch)
edible camphor
½ cup milk
1 cup cashews
¼ cup raisins
4 tbsp ghee

Method

  • Roast moong dal in a heavy bottom pan in medium flame till the dal turns golden brown and aromatic
  • Add rice to the roasted dal, add water and rinse them well.
  • Add ½ cup milk and 1 ½ cup water to the rice and dal and cook in the pressure cooker upto 2 whistles. Once the pressure is released, mash the rice and dal lightly, and set it aside to cool
  • Make the jaggery syrup by adding ½ cup water to 1 cup of jaggery (Aunty mixed two kind so jaggery saying that the latter tends to be a bit salty). Heat on low flame and keep stirring until the jaggery dissolves
  • Transfer the cooked rice and dal into a thick kadai (You can use a traditional uruli for this. Aunty has recently stopped using the uruli as it’s too heavy for her). Pour the jaggery filtered through a sieve. Begin to cook in a medium flame. Add 2 tablespoons of ghee, powdered cardamom and pinch of nutmeg
  • In a small pan, add 2 tablespoons of ghee and add the cashews, raisins and fry them slightly until they turn golden and aromatic. Pour them over the Sakkarai Pongal
  • Add a pinch of edible camphor and mix well

+ Chettinad Chicken cooked in a claypot

Chettinad Chicken cooked in a claypot

One of the most exciting ways to explore and learn more about a region, for me, is to learn to cook regional dishes. I cooked Chettinad Chicken in a claypot, an affair that I have been longing for a long time. It turned out to be delicious and I’m currently obsessing over everything about it… the aroma, the texture and the excitement of cooking in a claypot.

Chettinad Chicken served with steaming hot rice

I have been gathering recipes from Tamil Nadu  – the easy ones to be stirred on the weekdays while I am keeping aside the elaborate ones for the weekends. Today, I cooked Chettinad Chicken in a claypot, an affair that I have been longing for a long time, specially after a drive to ECR or East Coast Road that brought me to a shop selling potteries and earthen cookwares. I have used earthen tagine for cooking Moroccan chicken or fish in the Mediterranean style before, but this was the first time I used earthenware for Indian style of cooking that probably required tempering of spices in hot oil. I was assured by the vendor that my claypot would be safe and sound… hence I took a leap of faith and survived safe and absolutely sound!

Chettinad Chicken in a claypot

Chettinad Chicken served with steaming hot rice

Chettinad Chicken served with steaming hot rice

Chettinad Chicken cooked in a claypot

Chettinad Chicken in a claypot

Grinding dry roasted spices for making Chettinad masala

Chettinad cuisine is one of the most popular regional cuisines of Tamil Nadu. Originating from the Chettinad region, the speciality of the cuisine is the use of a variety of spices and fresh ground masalas. Although the Chettinad Chicken recipe called for roasting a lot of spices, the cooking itself was neither elaborate nor difficult. I missed out on two ingredients – the small round fat gundu red chillies and kalpasi or black stone flower. While I substituted whole red chillies for the gundu red chillies, I couldn’t substitute anything for Kalpasi. The latter is a kind of a lichen and often blended with other spices – I have added that to my next grocery list.

The WhatsApp group in our community, specially the women’s group, has become quite a lifeline for me. Yes, there is a subgroup from amidst the residents’ group, much like a lot of WhatsApp groups that seem to overwhelm us in our daily lives. Various tips poured in when I asked about Kalpasi and I learnt that it was a flavouring ingredient that added aroma to rice variety and curries. A bit of it was enough to lend flavour. The stone flower is often dry roasted with other spices like cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, fennel seeds, coriander, red chillies, pepper corns and then powdered to flavour curries. Some used it sparingly in its whole form for making coconut based kurmas and fried it along with the onions. Too much Kalpasi could make a dish bitter.

Chettinad Chicken cooked in a claypot

Food cooked in an unglazed claypot gives out a strong earthen aroma and the food retains all the oil and moisture. Moreover, since food can only be slow cooked on slow to medium fire, do remember the adage … patience is a virtue.

I poured myself steaming hot rice and I couldn’t stop obsessing over the Chettinad Chicken that I had cooked for lunch. I am sanguine it was the same for the Z-Sisters and the Bearded Biker. That… when humbly said!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

Thank you for joining me on my daily food and travel journey oPinterestInstagramFacebook and Twitter

Some spicy recipes that you may like: 
Homemade spicy Chicken 65
Stuffed Chilli Spring Rolls Thai Papaya Salad

Disclaimer: This isn’t a sponsored post, nor are there any affiliated links for any of the brands that may have been mentioned in this blogpost. The subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and all images are from my personal album. While you enjoy reading my posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from these posts.

* The recipe shared in my blog is guided by our wonderful cook who follows home style cooking and the recipe has been tried in our kitchen. 

Chettinad Chicken

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print
Category=Side dish; Cuisine=Chettinad / South Indian

Cooking Chettinad Chicken in a claypot

Making family style Chicken Chettinad

Chettinad Chicken cooked in a claypot

Ingredients

1 kg chicken with bones, de-skinned and cut into medium sized pieces
8 Indian shallots, thinly sliced
4 medium sized tomatoes, cubed
4 tbsp poppy seeds
4 tbsp fennel seeds
2 tbsp cumin seeds
2 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp turmeric powder
2 two-inch cinnamon sticks
8 pieces green cardamoms
8 pieces cloves
2 star anise
8 dry red chillies
2 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
1 cup fresh grated coconut
1 lime
20 fresh curry leaves
½ cup vinegar
2 tbsp white oil
salt as per taste

Method

  • Wash the chicken well and marinate it with turmeric and vinegar. Leave aside for 1 hour.
  • Dry roast the whole spices – fennel, cumin, coriander, star anise, cloves, cardamoms and cloves, in medium flame in a heavy pan. As the seeds start spluttering, add poppy seeds, dry red chillies and fresh grated coconut. Keep stirring so that the roasted spices don’t burn. Once they turn golden brown, keep the pan aside to cool and grind the masala in a coffee grinder.
  • Set the claypot in medium flame and heat oil. Add curry leaves (leave aside a few fresh ones for adding them later as garnish), sliced onions and tomatoes. Add the ginger-garlic paste and fry for a while. You may use a deep bottomed pan instead of a claypot.
  • Add the ground masala, mix well before adding the marinated chicken pieces to the pan. Stir them well into the masala. 
  • Add adequate water to cover all the chicken pieces. Add salt, cover the claypot with a lid and simmer the chicken for thirty minutes in slow flame.
  • Check for salt and once the chicken pieces are tender and appear well cooked, add fresh curry leaves before taking off the claypot from the fire.
  • Serve with steaming hot rice.

+ Homemade Chicken 56

Homemade spicy Chicken 65 for today’s lunch

Getting into the Chennai groove with a homemade spicy Chicken 65 for today’s lunch. I made two variations of it – with and without gravy. This is probably the closest any of my blogposts have gotten real-time!

Chicken 65 two ways... with gravy and without

My last blogpost was kind of very long as I belted my heart out into how we have settled down in Chennai. The behind-the-scenes activities started in April 2020 and we moved into our home in Diwali. We finally felt at home by New Year’s eve… all of these culminating in a long emotional blogpost. The header image showed a meal that I had cooked a few days earlier, in the manner of a bhog... Khichuri, a dish made with rice and lentils, accompanied by the humble aloo bhaja / fried potato, begun bhaja / fried eggplant and a sweet tomator chutney.

Big Z vented on Facebook… because the header image captured a lunch that wasn’t real time. ‘This is deception and clickbait Ma. This wasn’t for lunch or dinner today 😩😭‘. I responded back, ‘where have I ever written that this was for today?’ The conversation got me thinking… what about an almost real time blogpost?

While it is easier to go real time on Instagram and instastories, my style of blogposts required a bit of tending and time. So today’s post is dedicated to her. It is also a loving retaliation from me defending my dignity on social media and putting myself to the challenge to blog about today’s lunch before we hit tea time. Instagram and instastories included! This was today’s lunch – my rendition of the legendary regional favourite – Chicken 65. I made two variations of it, one without gravy that Lil Z liked. The other one had a slight gravy as the Bearded Biker and Big Z preferred their meals with rice. Lil Z and I preferred rotis, unless it’s a fried rice, pulao or biryani. A simple onion salad with a squeeze of lime and green chillies by the side … and that was it. I could hear Big Z scream, ‘Ma, this isn’t salad!’ Then again, we hardly have salads in traditional Indian cuisine excepting a countable few regional salads here and there. Would you agree?

Homemade Chicken 65

Fried Chicken 65 with rotes and an onion salad

Fried Chicken 65

Fried Chicken 65

Chicken 65 is a spicy, deep-fried chicken dish originating from Hotel Buhari, Chennai (courtesy, wiki). The internet is abuzz with many variations of Chicken 65 – from Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh and other places. I learnt this recipe from my wonderful part-time helper and while not delving into the authenticity of the recipe, I tweaked it a bit (adding a bit of sugar, the Bong touch!). The outcome was pretty insane and exactly how we would like – tender and juicy, crispy and spicy.

I can’t wait to read Big Z’s reprise on Facebook… and yes surprisingly, we are conversing via multiple realms  these days. What matters most is that conversations must keep on going and that we remain connected, what do you think? 

Unblogging it all… Ishita

Thank you for joining me on my daily food and travel journey oPinterestInstagramFacebook and Twitter

Some spicy recipes that you may like:
Stuffed Chilli Spring Rolls
Thai Papaya Salad

Disclaimer: This isn’t a sponsored post, nor are there any affiliated links for any of the brands that may have been mentioned in this blogpost. The subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and all images are from my personal album. While you enjoy reading my posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from these posts.

Homemade spicy Chicken 65

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print
Category=Entrée / Snack; Cuisine=South Indian

Homemade Chicken 65

Fried Chicken 65 with rotes and an onion salad

Ingredients

2 kgs chicken, medium sized pieces with bones
4 green chillies, sliced
3 tbsp red chilli powder
3 tbsp garam masala powder (store bought garam masalas vary with the region.
1 tsp turmeric powder
2 tsp ginger garlic paste
2 tsp sugar (my tweak)
salt, as per taste
1 cup refined flour
2 tsp corn flour
200 gms plain yoghurt

fresh curry leaves, a handful
white oil for deep frying

Method

  • Make a marinade with yoghurt, red chilli, garam masala, turmeric powders, ginger garlic paste, salt and sugar. Add the chicken pieces and refrigerate for 1 hour.
  • Heat oil in a deep bottomed pan. The amount of oil should be generous enough to submerge the pieces by one-fourth while frying.
  • Just before frying the chicken pieces, add flour and cornflour to the marinated chicken pieces and mix well, so that there are no lumps.
  • Fry the chicken pieces until they are almost done. They should be crispy yet tender, not over fried.
  • Add a bit of water to the mixing bowl and pour any remaining marinade into the frying pan. Cover the pan with the lid while lowering the flame.
  • Once the gravy becomes thick and sticks to the fried chicken pieces and the oil is visible, add curry leaves and green chillies. Give a quick stir.
  • Serve the spicy fried chicken pieces aka Chicken 65 along with sliced onions and lime.

+ Traditional Bengali food in my kitchen in Chennai home

Finally calling Chennai home

Wishing you all health and happiness for the New Year from our new home in Chennai, as we start a new chapter in a new city!