Tickets were booked in October for our trip home (both our homes – Mumbai, his and Bangalore, mine). We were a tad more excited about the Bangalore leg of our trip because it meant meeting our almost 10 month old niece. The plane kissed the Bangalore runway on a late and chilly night of 23rd December. I remember telling mum we wouldn’t be there for dinner, but I was already looking forward to breakfast.
I woke up to her in the kitchen making neer dosa on a 15-year-old cast iron pan. These pristine white tissue paper thin crepes once folded into triangles are fluffy. Mum made a chilli coconut and a plain coconut chutney that we name by colour – “Red chutney” and “White chutney”, of course. Ideally, neer dosa for me is great to mop up previous day’s chicken or fish curry but I won’t complain about the two chutneys. Grated coconut, red chillies, garlic ground together and with a tempering of mustard seeds and curry leaves was the red chutney. The white one was simply coconut, green chilli and the same tempering. It’s the simplicity minus elaborate processes that made breakfast enjoyable.
Dad is known to follow up on the next meal while a crumb or two from the previous one still hangs on his moustache nonchalantly. He didn’t disappoint this time either by promptly asking me about lunch and what he’s supposed to get from the fish market. Very subtle, dad. After 30 seconds of brainstorming with mother and me, he quickly hurried to bring us plump sardines and blue crab (or that’s what the fish monger told him). I was ecstatic just looking at the crab. Nothing else mattered at the time. Not even Trump.
Lunch menu that day was crab gassi (coconut based curry)and sardines pulimunchi (literally translated, sour and spicy). The crab was simply amazing. Rolling up my sleeves and digging into them never felt better. Soft, white and sweet meat that pretty much didn’t need to touch my teeth. My favourite thing about crab gassi is even after the crab is long gone, the curry will always remind you of the crustacean that was cooked in it. You can still taste the crab in there and tastes wonderful the day after.
Some serious crab cracking going on there
The sardines pulimunchi only shone after we ran out of crab curry. The fish was fresh and delicious. Thankfully, fish curry where I come from is had the next day because you know, tastes better and all that. And it did.
Rummaging through my old cupboards lined with old clothes and books my folks bought in the 80s, I picked the books and ran to show them to my husband. And then I found a frame in sheets of bubble wrap. Without intentionally popping the wrap, I ripped it apart to see what was in the frame. It was a sorshey maach recipe in illustration. I found a spot for it and hung it carefully.
That night my mum, sister and I were faced with a big question. What’s for breakfast the following morning? Dad didn’t need to ask. We asked it ourselves. After a few options were struck down, we settled for pundi (steamed rice dumplings) and plain dal to go with it. It was okayed only after my sister and I took the responsibility of prepping it that very night. We did. Rather, she did and I added it to my Insta-story.
It requires rice to be washed, dried and powdered. Then stirred in hot water to be cooked in minutes. As you stir it, it gets thicker and pasty. Once the rice powder absorbed all the water and our arms had their workout for the day, we stopped. “Now we’ve gotta work quickly” instructed my little sister who till a few years ago stepped into the kitchen only to get her food and never to cook. We quickly pinched golf ball sized lumps of the pasty rice and rolled them between our palms to drop them into the steamer. These were steamed till they were further set. Pundi was served for breakfast with dal. I sneaked in some of the crab curry too.
Lunch was the same dal we had for breakfast with fried fish. Mackerels, this time. Are mackerels shrinking in size? #LetsSaveTheMackerel. Ideal lunch, if you ask me. Washed, cleaned, scored and then rolled around in a chilli powder, vinegar and turmeric paste with salt, the fish is marinated for a half hour or so. Then another session of rolling around for the fish, but in rava. The rava gives it a crisp skin that I love to peel off and eat as it is.
At this point, my heart was carrying all the flavours of all the amazing food I’d consumed so far. So much so that I didn’t care what was for breakfast next morning. My mum took advantage of my indifference and made upma (bleghhh). But this wasn’t the regular pasty lump of fine semolina cooked in too much water with almost nothing to offer from the flavour department. Instead, she made this upma or sajjige as we call it, with bansi rava – it is rava but with slightly larger granules than sooji rava. Sajjige is made with a tempering of oil/ghee, channa dal, dry chillies, mustard seeds and curry leaves to start off. Followed by sautéing the rava and then the water goes in. Freshly grated coconut goes on top. This might seem unusual to most, but we eat sajjige with a sprinkling of sugar and/or a banana on the side. No joke. This kind of upma is fluffy and delicious. The only kind I love and will eat without complaining about my life.
That afternoon mum made her kori gassi (chicken simmered in coconut based curry) and kori rotti (rice wafers?). This is a classic Sunday lunch menu in most meat eating Mangalorean households. Followed by a nap. The rotti is broken down into smaller pieces and drenched with the curry. They turn soft as they soak up all the lovely curry and we simply fold them into our mouths.
With so much food interspersed with playing with my niece, we woke up to our last day in Bangalore. As much as I wanted to go back to all my favourite restaurants, time simply wasn’t on my side. But I did the one thing I really wanted to – took my husband on a walk to my favourite neighbourhood ‘Darshini’ (south Indian fast food joint). Here, food is served fast but it’s nothing like fast food. Freshly made idlis and vadas so crispy it drowned out all the other sounds around me. Dunked in light green runny chutney and deliciously dark filter coffee in a tumbler so small I could do shots with it.
Next morning was our flight to Mumbai and I wasn’t sad or anything. I was looking forward to it, in fact. But I had to do my one last Bangalore thing – another plate of idli vada at the airport. I was a happy bird flying to Mumbai.