Small-town Malidas

My sister and I, from infancy through to adulthood, were small town Pondy girls as against our maternal cousins from big city, Madras. Every summer, we would spend a part of our vacation with them, and they in turn with us, and a whole month would speed by in this annual ‘holidaying with family’ exercise.

Even as children, we were aware of and remarked on how differently we lived our lives and yearned enviously for the greener grass on the other side of state lines. I must mention that we were also struck by how uniquely each defined ‘around the corner’ and ‘just there’.

In May of each year, we took the ‘Keerai Express’ (MKM Travels with its load of greens on the carrier on top) at 1.30 in the afternoon to Madras. That was the one and only time in the year that we needed a bus to take us somewhere! In ‘Pattinam’, as Madras was oft referred to by the Tamil-speaking population, we hopped on and off buses that took us to different locations. We marvelled at discussions on how a 12B would take us faster than a 24 C through the laberynthine streets of the teeming city to this place or that. In Pondicherry, it’s extremely difficult to get lost as all roads within the boulevard run parallel to one another and everything that we wanted could be procured within the four avenues at walking distances from one another.

While in Madras, visits to Moore Market, shopping for readymade clothes, buying ‘nice’ shoes, watching a movie on a 70 mm screen – these are fond experiences immortalized in memory. Today, when we, the cousins, have our virtual meets, Hayley and I are told that we were envied too. How wonderful to be able to walk down the street to the beach for an early morning paddle, to chase one other along the pathways in the verdant surroundings of Botanical Garden, to enjoy the slides and swings in Bharathi Park or to play catch or hide and seek in the Children’s Park on the beach. When cycles became a part of our lives we peddled up and down the beach road with our cousins on our carriers! How lucky we were! All these simple pleasures were ‘around the corner’ and ‘just there’ while the very same phrases in Madras meant a kilometer away, at least. Rickshaws were aplenty in the town and older folk often transported themselves in them especially on trips to the markets (the Manigundu Small Market and the Goubert Big Market) when shopping made the return journeys tedious.

Apart from recreational pleasures, the cousins were also treated to culinary ones. Our easy access to French food meant that we always had a variety of pâtes, saucissons secs, chocolates and dragées available to snack on. This was in addition to Nana’s homemade tea-time treats: the most debated on and enjoyed were her Malidas.

Malidas in Madras were small poori-sized circles of dough (maida or whole wheat) that were cooked in boiling water and then topped with grated coconut, cardamom powder and sugar. Malidas in Nana’s kitchen had a very different base – tapioca! Raw tapioca was peeled, grated, mixed with a pinch of salt and some grated coconut, spooned into ghee-greased idli moulds and steamed till they were translucent. Once done, the Malidas were easily scooped out onto trays and sprinkled generously, while still piping hot, with more grated coconut and sugar that slowly melted into the base sweetening the entire cake.

As each of us, children, were served a couple of Malidas on quarter plates silence reigned around the table. Differences between the Madras and Pondy varieties forgotten, we tucked delightfully into them reenergising ourselves for more fun and more mischief much to the consternation of the best of grandmothers ever.

Waste not, want not Vadais.

The ‘thought-fox’ beef pickle story has a bit of a continuation although it has nothing to do with the pickle, per se. In my enthusiasm to try out the recipe, I had shredded more meat than was required for the masala at hand, and so, a portion had to be kept away in the freezer for another day, another recipe, and another story. The meat was, subsequently, forgotten for over a week till the freezer began to wear a depleted look and the forgotten odds and ends revealed themselves for the saving graces that they are. A handful of small prawns that I reserve to enhance the taste of a vegetable dish, a half a dozen Trichy sausages, some bacon and the shredded meat shouted out to me begging to be cooked. Since none of my L.Os. were sufficient to go around the large table at home, in its own quantities , it had to be a combo recipe and vadais came to mind. The beef and prawns would, together, do the trick, and made into vadais would mean an ample accompaniment to the main meal. Jesus did convert five small barley loaves and two fish to feed the thousands at Tabgha. That was indeed a miracle! Taking a leaf out of the holy book thousands of resourceful woman perform such feats in their kitchens, everyday. Thoughtless waste or unimaginative cooking leads to a lot of good food being thrown away and I did not want that sin laid at my door. So, vadais it was – finely diced onions, ginger, garlic, and green chillies, chopped curry leaves, salt, rice flour, powdered big jeera (saunf), raw prawns and the shredded meat were combined in a bowl to which was added soaked and almost fully ground kadalai dhall. Mixed together they were made into small spherical balls and then slightly flattened to appear very much like miniature flying saucers. Into hot oil they went, and on cooking to a slightly dark and crispy brown hue, they were removed and drained on kitchen paper towels, cooled and stored away in an airtight container till it was time for the meal. Postscript: An active hippocampus hoards so many of Nana’s terse expressions that impacts on the conscience to produce, ‘waste not, want not’ recipes of which beef and prawn vadais is one!

‘Thought-fox’ Beef Pickle.

Over the last couple of weeks, I have been totally uninspired, both in the kitchen and on this blog of mine. I wanted to be productive and was hugely disturbed that I wasn’t. A few possibilities crawled hesitatingly into mind evoking memories of Ted Hughes and his ‘thought-fox’, but no amount of coaxing, willing, or compelling produced any results. But then, I am no Hughes, am I?  Did I lack motivation? Perhaps, but I was also caught up with a few other tasks one of which was contributing to a new Facebook page that had come up to promote talent: ironically, writing was one form of expression that was being encouraged and I was advancing its cause. Another reason was my shameless obsession with The Shannara Chronicles. It was, therefore, no wonder that the page and the pot remained blank and mundane, respectively. And then my muse, the lady across the street, the vadavam pork curry friend and the angel who rescued us from the intimidating coterie of medical practitioners on the birth of our lockdown baby, arrived in my home with a sample of her beef pickle. Anything from her kitchen is destined to be flavoursome and this did not disappoint, either. Recipe procurred, I set about making my own supply the next day. Just looking at the end result had the rest at home unashamedly drooling and asking “Can I taste, please?” To Christina Doss Sandou, a former boulevard Pondicherrian like myself, thank you for constantly reliving the past through your food and conversation that hopefully might one day be more than just a blog from an uninspired writer.