The Open Dosa

Consuming the Ordinary Differently

Pappadam, Payasam, Biryani!

Because Sambar is a breakfast food.

I cannot use the word slim in my writing to describe the size of something because Slim for me is synonymous with Dahi. Active Masti Slim Dahi. The blue dabba we buy when Amma tells us to buy Dahi instead of using the word Curd. Dahi is white in a thick, smooth way. When you spoon it out of the dabba, you can carve perfect curves into it. It’s not the same as Curd. Curd is watery and lumpy and comes in the same kind of plastic packets that we buy Nandi or Heritage Milk in. Curd is an ingredient we use to make Morru Curry, or Beetroot Pachadi, it’s what we use to marinate chicken. We buy Curd more often than Dahi because Dahi is so perfect. It’s something we save to have with Palak Dhal and Garlic Mixture. It’s something Amma buys for us when she feels bad about having made the fish curry too spicy.

Why is it brown?
What are those spot- spot things?
I offer them some and they decline. Ragi dosa, red rice, multigrain idli, whole wheat bread, if it’s not white is it automatically healthy?
Amma can we make white dosa tomorrow? The crisp one, the one with ghee, the one Sheeja aunty makes when we stay the night at grandpa’s house. The one that goes with green chicken curry. Our dosas are fine for Sambar, for MTR chutney podi, for ghee and sugar, for High Range strawberry jam, for breakfast. If it is dosa and chicken curry for dinner though, it has to be white dosa.

Pappadam versus microwave pappadam. Acha that’s cheating! That’s not real pappadam! Real pappadam is what you get in the tattuh-kaddas in Trivandrum, with dosa and beef fry and omelette. It’s what you powder into semi-dry curries and when fried it has big poofy bubbles that can be broken on top and filled with rice-dahl to serve as a spoon. It’s what Amma eats with payasam.

You do not microwave pappadam. It’s not done. The same way putting beans into beef curry, or nuts into chocolate is not done. Why don’t we ever have dosa for lunch? Or rice for breakfast? Why is it that Lokhi is a vegetable we buy and cut and cook only for the dogs, even though Kavi aunty in Bombay uses it in dahl? Why do Amma, Ishaan and I laugh when we think of Sambar with rice even though Acha used to eat it for lunch all the time in Kerala?

***

Lemon tart

If you could taste the sunset, it would taste like Lemon tart. Warm and gooey and a blur of soft yellow swirls. We used to get Lemon tart from Sweet Chariot, back when it was actually a proper store on a main road and didn’t look like a mere franchise below a flyover somewhere. The gooey bit would stick to the top of the cardboard box. We’d eat one at a time, saving the rest in the fridge for later, but this was a risky exercise. Left for too long in the fridge and it would become a solid block of frozen milk-yellow and frozen milk-yellow is as sickening as the green icing on those mermaid birthday cakes. One of my best friends in school was Manini Menon because she could make lemon tart. Like really good, legit lemon tart. On the last day of school she made me five little glass jars full of lemon curd in exchange for one huge bottle of Pesto and for that I forgive her for everything. Amma and Ishaan ate two whole bottles of it when I was in school. I will never forgive that.

***

Milk.

My mother’s 42 year old cousin drinks Bournvita every day. They say it’s because he never got to drink it as a child. We drink Bournvita too, but only in Komala restaurant after eating one plate double-idli-vada and one plate puri-palya. Ammuma says we should drink milk every day. She says that before marriage Acha loved milk and would drink straight from the packet. But then again, she also says he was born with really fair skin and has now magically turned black somehow. Milk is supposed to be good for your bones. Yet we have this one Brahmin milk-loving family friend who has been diagnosed with osteoporosis. I don’t mind drinking cold milk but hot milk is nauseating. There’s paada in it… that yucky coat of white stuff that sticks to the edge of the glass.

Our milkman’s name is Ghiri and we leave a cloth bag with coupons outside the front door for him to drop packets of Heritage milk into but it’s always empty. I do not think he’s a morning person. But Amma never stops buying coupons from him because every time she threatens to, he says “Madam but we are friendship madam, friendship.” and offers very good-naturedly to buy dye for her grey hair. Only 10 rupees madam. I’ll only buy for you. He also calls her lady James Bond because she rides the bike and wears a black jacket.

***

One Mutton Biryani, one Mexican Shawarma, one Bahraini Sandwich, one Lime-juice.

The waiter takes our order before we give it, pointing with his pen at first me, then Amma, then Ishaan, then Acha, confirming with each of us what we have ordered for years. The order never changes. If we went to Savoury Restaurant for dinner, this is what we ate. It was an unspoken rule. In the beginning we used to pretend to examine the menu, pretended to discuss among ourselves whether or not to try something new.

Then our waiter (the one we called Moosa because he looked like the actor Dilip from the movie CID Moosa) began to catch on and it became routine to have him come tell us our order rather than the other way around, as we all laughed around the table about it. Moosa was ours. If we got to Savoury late and the tables in his row were all taken, we’d wait for a free one even if there was an empty table in another row. When he disappeared one day without any warning, there was a silent mutual reluctance to go to Savoury for months after.

Screen Shot 2016-08-07 at 7.20.38 PM

Image Credits: http://www.savouryrestaurant.in/

The menu card at Savoury was something we began to pick up after Moosa took our order. It was the entertainment provided by the restaurant since the music was kept at an all-time low and one had to press one’s ear to the speakers to hear random Arabic beats if one wanted to in the first place. The best part of the menu were the Faloodas. Apple Falooda, Strawberry Falooda and then Internet Falooda, and Computer Falooda! They had the most absurd names, and it was a favourite pastime of ours to imagine what these exotic delights would look or taste like.

When I have a fever, at one point or another I crave Savoury Biryani. It’s become such a sure sign of my recovery that the minute I fall sick my parents rush to ask me if I’d like some biryani as though it were not a result of recovery but rather the cause. So it’s no surprise then that I order biryani every time we go to Savoury.

Image Credits: Nadir Hashmi on Flickr

Image Credits: Nadir Hashmi on Flickr

But what is a surprise, a surprise repeated so often it has become a family joke, is Ishaan ordering Bahraini sandwich. Once upon a time it used to be a triple deck sandwich with cucumber and tomato and mayonnaise and onions and lettuce and pickles. Literally, once. After that the cook left and the new Bahraini sandwich was three slices of bread stuck together with mayonnaise and maybe one slice of cucumber in the bottom half and one of tomato in the upper half. But he’d eat it anyway. The entire, dry, tasteless thing. Every time.
Meanwhile Amma had her Mexican Shawarma, because Mexican meant it was spicier than the normal ones and shared it with Acha who shared his lime-juice with us. The story of Acha and the Savoury Lime-juice is a classic. One day he was waiting at the take-away counter and watching people at the juice bar when he fell in love with their way of making Lime-juice. Look, look, they put the entire thing in the mixy, skin and all. He sips the juice like a wine connoisseur and continues, mm… taste that? The skin is what gives it the bitterness.

***

Something to drink?

It starts with Lime-juice. In the months of Feb and March, when Bangalore begins to warm up and throats begin to dry. I collapse on the floor as Chiquita jumps all over me, biting and licking, and insanely excited. My racquet and backpack lie dumped on the beanbag and as she steps over me, Amma says I stink.
“Ishaan…” I moan.
“Would you like some ice?” He asks, stirring the smokey lime water and sipping from the spoon every now and then to check if the sugar has dissolved. He adds salt without asking me, knowing that I’d say no if I had the chance and yet adamant that there is no point to lime-juice without it. I do not mind, I cannot tell the difference anyway. He bends down to hand me the glass, his hair falling over his eyes for a brief second before he straightens up again. It’s cool and sweet and beautiful and I think of the freezing clear stream water in Kashmir.

Then with summer, it’s cold coffee. In tall thin glasses. The ones Amma keeps away on the top shelf. He puts it all in the mixy so that there’s brownish-white froth on top when he pours it out. We drink tilting the glasses, trying to get a cold-coffee mustache. We remember how I once tried to make it when we were alone at home and used tea powder by mistake. The dogs got a litre and a half of cold tea that day.
I always feel like chewing cold coffee. It somehow tastes like something you’d chew not drink. As thick smooth liquid slips down my throat and I try chewing anyway, crunching down on pieces of ice instead.

When summer ends, we refuse to admit it until the allergies start. The itchy eyes, the leaky nose, the sandpaper throat. Acha bans ice-cream while Amma says it’s okay, they’re sneezing anyway. She drinks glass after glass of the hot water that makes us feel sick and bloated. The heat helps she says. And so he makes hot chocolate. He stirs in the powder, microwaves the milk and secretly breaks in two pieces of chocolate into the mugs. We sit at the dining table and wrap our fingers around the mugs to warm our hands. I sip sip, then swallow, then drink, then gulp and tilt the mug and stick my tongue out for the last drop and there I see the chocolate. It’s stuck on the bottom, all gooey and brown. We share a secret smile as Amma and Acha continue talking and I quietly lick it up until it’s all gone.

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Shalom Gauri

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