Pining for Poori

It’s official. My kids miss their dadi.

She wears the saris in the family, normally. She makes the chutneys. She’s not a curry person, not really. But shaak, roti, puri, ragda, raita, ras mail, vada? Yes, she will make that, invite you over and pack your leftovers in a recycled yogurt (or margarine) container.

My MIL has been in India for several months, now. Hence my interest in getting cooking ASAP and starting this blog. After all the richness of Kodaikanal kuisine and the Udupi restaurants in King’s Circle, I couldn’t wait twelve weeks for more.

But my kids feel quite differently. They want bread. Plain, no shaak. Especially my skinny 8-year-old, about whom I often joke: “He’s all hair and teeth and eyelashes.” If he wants to eat something friend in oil, I call Crisco immediately.

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A bhatura as big as your head.

This brings me to poori: puffy Indian flat bread. A bread can be both puffy and flat when it is first fried in hot, not boiling, oil. After a few seconds it swells, proud as a puffer-fish, from a smooth ball of whole-wheat dough into a golden ball that glistens and shimmers with tiny, raised dots. It’s a mild-tasting but richly textured bread that doesn’t need to taste like much because, really, it’s an accessory. The cook will put it on your plate when it’s still so hot that the poori stings your fingertips. Still, you eat. Over time, if you get proficient, you can tear a piece of poori with one hand and then use that same hand to scoop sautéed vegetables (probably a cauliflower, pea, potato, tomato medley) into the scrap of bread and pop it into your mouth. No questions asked, no shaak spilled, no utensils required.

The bread flattens as it cools, fading from its hot, glossy golden glow to a floppy, flat slightly greyish visage. On the outside, the poori looks not quite like itself, but still it tastes good. Just lacks some of its wheaty and chewy intensity and former good looks. This is a metaphor for nothing.

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A feast fit for a raja: peanuts, poori and root beer.

My skinny guy just loves the stuff. Yet for a recipe with just 3-4 ingredients, poori can be difficult to execute successfully. Still, after a recent trip to the neighborhood Indian restaurant where poori retails for .75/each, I knew I had to try and DIY the p-o-o-r-i. Especially after my son made a meal of poori and peanuts. It was time.

In my next entry, I’ll discuss how my poori (didn’t) turn out.

In the meantime, learn from someone who knows what the heck she is doing!

Yes, I’m talking about Manjula: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o3xLk13j5r0

“India Is”

So maybe I lured you here under false pretenses. Maybe I’m no kind of cook, just a mom with a dayjob and a desktop folder stuffed with navel-gazing meditations on life and death and what consumes all the time in between: parenthood.

Does it matter, so long as I make you a tasty meal now and again?

Without further ado, I introduce a poem I wrote for you.

ImageINDIA IS

When you drink chai for a week like it’s water.

One day your mami tells you: “Buffalo Milk. Buffalo milk. No cow.”

Every syllable is a proclamation. She needs you to know this.

How many calories of chai? You wonder.

India is a hotel room where they don’t change the sheets.

Two towels more, you smile your best American smile. Please?

When the toilet paper is gone, and room service: They won’t give you more.

Moments like this – and art projects – reveal the versatility of cardboard tubes.

India is your Dadi Ma. Old enough to be married at 14,

but too old to remember her mother; passed in her third childbirth, aged 19.

You are just beginning to become old.

When grandchildren come to visit in between trips to Trivandrum and Muderai, Kodaikanal and Bangalore, Dadi Ma is:

  • a stop between hill stations.
  • A hello and goodbye.
  • A swirl of hair that can hardly hold itself together. Knotted low on a brown neck still straight and proud.
  • A language your children can’t understand.

India is language. Dozens of them,

When the Gujarati clan from Dubai won’t believe you speak none of them.

“Just a little they ask?” coming closer in the pool, drawn to broken Gujarati

like moviegoers at the multiplex.

When you’re shy for reasons that are not the blue bathing suit,

the closing semi-circle of women and men in water, the sunburned shoulders popping freckles as you stammer.

“Pani, upara, beta, came cho, eka minata, dudha,” you break down in a string of baby talk.

It sounds like: “Water up darling, how are you? One minute milk.”

In retrospect, that’s a sentence.

India is mosque, temple, church, mosque, mosque, church, Virgin Mary, Ganesh on every dashboard. Diamonds for sale next to the cool bar selling pepsi and potato chips that is next to the ladies on the corner. They sell fishes wrapped in newspaper.

India is so rich, except when it is so poor.

When you are at your worst is when the children find you. Draw to skin that burns and freckles, clothes cut low, T-shirts that hug. Americans, they will find you.

Tell them “no.” Walk away. No rupees for you today.

Your daughter sees them better.

“Why do so many moms ask you for money, but you won’t even look at them?”

India is where she sees you more clearly, too.

Under the smog of Mumbai and in the sea of Trivandrum.

Over the wall of languages waiting to be climbed every hour. Dog fight at midnight!

A chorus of frogs for when it gets quiet.

India is a place to see past the noise. Listen.

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