Saturday, February 02, 2013

Of temples and food

- By Deepa Krishnan

I've been doing a lot of food walks lately. Last month I did a Matunga food-walk for the BMW-Guggenheim Foundation, as part of a 3-week Mumbai event that they organised.
At the start of the walk, the organiser from BMW-Guggenheim Lab explains what the  lab is all about
A food walk is, of course, a wonderful way to understand a country. Especially in India, where food is not just a personal dietary preference; but a reflection of a way of life. Our walk began outside the Astika Samaj temple, where I explained to the group how as a Palakkad Brahmin, I have so many  "food memories" associated with the temple. 
The Samaj has been painted afresh as part of a
major kumbhabhishekam ceremony.  But for me, this temple
is more about food than religion :) :)
For me, Astika Samaj will always be associated with their wonderfully dark nei-payasam which our neighbour Moorthy-mami brings us as prasadam (recipe here). Made of ghee, jaggery and rice, the prasadam is a thick gooey delight that leaves you licking your fingers.

I also remember the many feasts I have had here, at thread ceremonies, bangle ceremonies, naming ceremonies and what not. Served on banana leaves, these elaborate multi-course meals are not just about food, but also about an old and established way of doing things. Ammu-patti's blog explains some of my community's food traditions very nicely here.
Typical Iyer saddhi. These days, the jangri (orange-coloured sweet) is  wrapped in plastic so you can put it in your purse rather than waste it! And the meal is served on plastic table cloth  which can be whisked away quickly for the next round of seating. But the steel tumbler remains, thank God :) There is a lot of comfort in knowing that some things don't change!
My cousin's bangle ceremony was held some years ago at Bhajana Samaj, another popular temple in Matunga. 
Ceremony to celebrate the pregnancy and to pray for the health of mother and child. And of course, to eat lots of food!!
During the bangle ceremony, I sneaked into the kitchens to get the early morning bustle as they prepared the morning "tiffin".
Coconut being grated for the chutney and for the sambar. Idlis being removed from the traditional cloth  base (don't see this cloth often these days). Our breakfast was idli, vada, sambar, chutney and sweet pongal
After the ceremony we all got to take home some of the delicious 'bakshanam'. I have taken home countless murukkus, laddoos, athirasams, thengoyals and so on from all these family functions!!
A couple of months ago I went to Bhajana Samaj during Diwali. It was buzzing with activity, as they were selling specialty South Indian sweets. They were being cooked "on the spot" and sold. More fun with my camera!!
Super-efficient team of caterer A S Rajashekar. They handled the tasting counter and ordering process smoothly and with a smile. I went with my mom and aunt, we met several other people from our community and had a pleasant time chatting.
Just standing outside these temples brings back so many memories for me. And each time I visit Matunga, meet people I know, taste my traditional food, it adds a new layer of comfort.


Michael Andre said...

Remember when we went to a restaurant in New York? I think it was your first restaurant in the United States and it was French. And I got the distinct impression you thought the food was weird. When I was in Peru, all the guidebooks cautioned Canadians like me against Peruvian street food. One Sunday morning, enchanted by the culture, I nevertheless bought a sandwich in the market for a nickel. I was sick for a week.

Anonymous said...

I am Made in Matunga - from birth till I was 29 years of age. So, you know how misty eyed I became while reading your post.

I used to live in the lane behind Astik Samaj and the whole area used to be my playground. It has undergone a change but thankfully Mysore Concerns coffee still carries the same aroma to the lane entrance.

Alpha Charlie said...

Never ceases to amaze me how the hygiene factor works out for us so well even in these chaotic production processes...