Thursday 8 March 2007

Onion Oothappam

What can a power cut do to elevate your onion oothappam experience into a higher plane? This is not a question I have pondered a great deal about, but I was given an opportunity to do so the other evening.
I’m a great fan of the dosa and its myriad forms. The onion oothappam is a sublimely beautiful thing, crisp on the outside, soft on the inside, with a smattering of molaga podi, if you like it, and finely diced onion embedded into its surface. The process of making one is fascinating to watch, and even more so, to listen to. This uninterrupted listening was made possible by the benevolent souls in the electricity board. No television, no television next door, and so on…
So there I sat, with an emergency lamp sitting next to my plate on the table; my back facing the kitchen where my mum weaved her magic. The batter went on the tawa, the ladle went over it repeatedly in a circular motion, and the whole thing sizzled away until, with a deft motion of her wrist, my mum turned it over. The sizzling became louder, and then a swift scraping noise as the oothappam slid off the tawa onto my plate.
I wasn’t watching her cook, but my ears were being treated to divine music.
As one disappeared down the gullet, another made its way onto my plate; and I began to reflect.
The best food is always found in an environment where there is no insecurity, where everyone knows everyone, and the setting doesn’t overwhelm the food. At home, therefore, the combination of consistently brilliant food and the knowledge that I can eat as clumsily as I want to and no one will mind makes the process of consuming food a real pleasure. I usually eat stretched out on the sofa, with a book in my hand, the remote on the armrest and the plate leaning at a dangerous angle that threatens the equilibrium of its contents. Sitting on an elegant high backed chair, with a frilly tablecloth sitting in front of you, laden with a selection of knives and forks so shiny you don’t want to put fingerprints on them, glasses with fluted stems waiting to upset the candles which seem to be there for the sole purpose of setting the tablecloth on fire; this sort of thing frankly makes me nervous. And the conversations around tables such as these are usually in hushed tones, and forced. The food itself is fussy, with elaborate care taken to make it look like a still life painting. Making food is an art, and it can be kept pure only if it’s allowed to be itself. This won’t happen if some chef too full of his own importance puts the chutney in a squeezy bottle and paints wiggly patterns all over a piece of oothappam cut in the shape of a butterfly with a very prominent proboscis. That chef doesn’t understand food. All he wants to do is to put his signature all over the place; like what I used to do all over my notebooks in school in the days when I used to be this guy with an inflated opinion of himself, seeking attention and seldom getting it.
When the chef begins to think he’s more important than what he’s putting on the plate, he loses sight of the fact that his customers primarily want to eat.
Actually, most of his customers turn up to soak in the ambience, the candlelight, the feeling of being treated like a spoilt crown prince who hasn’t learned to tie his shoelaces yet; eating isn’t quite the priority. That in turn causes the chef to indulge in impressionism, and this sort of thing attracts more of the ‘Look at me, I’ve got Swarovski on my shirt’ crowd. They’re stuck in a mindless vicious cycle.
They have no idea what they’re missing out on, the poor sods.
I laugh at them, a maniacal laugh, distorted slightly by the presence of copious quantities of oothappam in my mouth.

7 comments:

Harini said...

:D nice..
you finished it alas!

Ubiquitous said...

Mouth-watering post. ;)

Loved it!! :)

CuriousMoron said...

The best food is always found in an environment where there is no insecurity, where everyone knows everyone, and the setting doesn’t overwhelm the food. At home, therefore, the combination of consistently brilliant food and the knowledge that I can eat as clumsily as I want to and no one will mind makes the process of consuming food a real pleasure. I usually eat stretched out on the sofa, with a book in my hand, the remote on the armrest and the plate leaning at a dangerous angle that threatens the equilibrium of its contents.

That's the way to eat machi! Suber post.

The best food (ofcourse after home) is the roadside stall food. Avenue road in Bangalore, cant-recall-the-name-of-road which is perpendicular to Brigade road(a small gully infact), V.V.Puram(Bangalore), sundal on Marina and the list can go on and on and on..

Damn! I miss South India. :-(

sparrow said...

wow!!simply delicious......u made onion utthapum just divinely tasty...!!

KK Iyer said...

whoa!!! thank you, whoever's cared to read through the stuff... greatly appreciate the comments, chaps. thank you...

sparrow said...

hey whats molaga podi??

KK Iyer said...

that would be, to put it very simply, chilli powder... but needless to say, it contains way more stuff than that... stuff like sesame seeds, two types of dal, dried chillies obviously, mustard seed powder, asafoetida, salt and so on... i'm sure i'm missing out on some vital ingredient somewhere...