Thursday, December 10, 2009

The richest meal ever....

There are magazines who make it their life's mission to calculate someones riches, and prepare lists of the richest people in the world. These are declared every year, and avidly commented upon, by various print and electronic media , who are, at least in India, fed up with reporting grown men doing the fisticuffs in Parliament, various wardrobe malfunctions, by folks who make a living out of exposing more skin than cloth, fake interviews given between two urgent trips to Europe by people with size zero whatever, and political expressions of austerity by some wordy worthies, while actually enjoying dedicated rooms and loos at a five star , for free.

This same magazine, has now done a list of the Worlds most extravagant meals.

Makes me wonder. I mean, the food ingredients used world wide are finite, the human stomach has finite capabilities, and size, methods of cooking are finite. The only thing not finite seems to be an urge, to be seen , as having infinite amount of money, and the infinite ability of restaurateurs to fool the rich folks.

Why else , would millionaire types pay $100,000, through their (false ) teeth, to have dinner in a giant dangling crane (of German innovation) above a cathedral in France, to eat vegetables, grown by the chef at his own farm 90 minutes outside Paris ? At Daniel Boulds Caviar in NY City, you can pretend you are slumming at $205 a meal, unless of course you have caviar starters at $805 for 50 gms. Flying to Russia to steal the fish eggs for less maybe an option. Nino's Bellissima Pizza, in the same city , fools folks with a $1000 pizza studded with the same stolen fish eggs. Out West, if you are dying to eat in a Laundry, the French Laundry in Napa Valley, will present you with 2 menus of $240, with unique ingredients that are not repeated. In Istanbul, at the Ciragan Palace Kempinski, you can eat a $1000 cake made of French wheat, Jamaican rum , dry fruits, Polynesian vanilla, and finally sprinkled with Turkish gold dust, just in case you wonder whats Turkish about it. And then again, something called the Fleur Burger , with some ancient wine, for $5000, all this, appropriately, in Las Vegas, where money flows out of machines and card tables.

So does the sugar taste any sweeter, or the wine any tarter, because your account is debited more ? Does your digestive system find itself wallowing in floods of pepsin and renin of some special superior quality ? Does the hydrochloric acid in your stomach get an upgrade in view of receiving 50 gms of fish eggs stolen from Russian fish ?

They say having food is a state of mind. A mind, happy in wonderful company, removed of all anxieties, gets satiated with the simplest foods, which , far from debiting your life, credit your body in the most wonderful way.

Forty years ago, girls going to the US at 19 for graduate school was considered total madness on the part of parents. Once there, people wondered about the red dot on your forehead, admired your grasp of English, it was not usual to see thousands of Indian students wandering about on campus, and stores that sold Indian groceries were there only in big metros.

She was a vegetarian, knew how to cook the basic stuff, and had a wonderful American roommate, who undertook to make her initiation into America , a very enjoyable venture. The roommate would go ga-ga over potato subji, and dal and rice, but doing the chappaties (=fresh tortillas) was not a frequent occurrence due to a busy schedule at college, and the habit of always having had them hot off the griddle at home.

A year passed and she got a call from some folks she knew in Los Angeles . They were like 10 years older to her, just had had a baby, and the baby's maternal grandma was visiting to help with the first six months . Grandma knew she was at the University almost an hour away, and wanted to meet her, as she knew her folks back home. Would she like to come one weekend ?

She certainly would :-)

"Tell me what you feel like having when you are here and we'll try " grandma said, and urged her to let her know in advance so she could source the ingredients , if she didn't already have them.

The young girl really didn't have to think much. Visions of early winter mornings in Pune, the sun streaming in amidst jamun trees and mango trees shading the windows, and someone sitting at a table, amidst an aroma of burning coal, water boiling in copper vessels, rubbing her hands, eyeing a plate, as a fresh fragrant jowar bhakri slid on to it, wallowing in that little dollop of white butter , melting indulgently on it, winking at the fresh green chutney on the side, with besan pithla and spliced chilies to spice things up.

Grandma laughed. She didn't really expect this. But then she too was a Pune lady. So was her daughter. She understood the yearning. All those ready to cook tortillas and stuff were no match at all, but were OK for a daily rushed schedule.

"Let me try", she said ," I have seen some Mexican flour here that resembles Jowar flour. I'll figure out something. You come for sure ...."

The following weekend saw the young girl land up in LosAngeles mid morning, carrying some gifts for the baby, and a lot of anticipation . Grandma wanted a few things picked up before lunch, and she went out with the young couple while grandma attended to the baby . When they returned, cooking was on, the tawa(griddle) was on the stove, and there were a bunch of plates on a table in the kitchen with a lot of fresh vegetable mustardy pickles in bowls alongside.

"Wash your hands and come eat " she said, flipping a bhakri on the griddle, as she watched it puff up. It was just like a piece of home.

And so she sat , face to face with grandma's daughter (the son -in -law , a wonderful person, offered to entertain baby) , and the two of them , with blissful expressions, one even sitting crosslegged on the chair, kept getting layered bhakris in their plates, with the white butter, and the pithla and the chutneys and pickles.

No words were spoken for some time, as plates shone bright with all the stuff being wiped clean by the hot bhakrees. Hot and sweet lemon pickle, garlic chutney, fresh vegetable pickle of the type made here in winters.

And then grandma poured us some tall glasses of thin buttermilk, lightly flavoured with coriander, ginger, black salt and lemon, the type that is called "mattha" and is still served in some traditional Pune weddings.

The son in law watched, not terribly surprised at the gluttony of the girls, looking at his own daughter, and wondering what she would be like, at that age, born and brought up in the US . Of course he himself ate like a glutton when it was his turn, with his indulgent mother-in-law urging him to have a little more , but he , the epitome of good manners and bringing up, shook himself out of this food reverie and insisted that grandma join him in the eating, now that the girls were done with their Bhakri attack.

To this day, that is the richest meal I can recall. No fancy ingredients, implements, ladders, hanging from cranes, stealing from fish, sprinkling of golden dusts, and pouring of liquids from ancient cellars with controlled temperatures.

Just a comfortably cluttered kitchen, two wide eyed Pune girls ecstatic about the stuff coming of the tawa, a smiling grandmother, saree tucked in at the waist, turning over the bhakri on the tawa, with her bare hands, and then stirring coriander into the pithla on the stove alongside, getting it slightly burning brown at the edges.

And all the while, the young new father, waited his turn , looked once at his daughter, and once at his wife, shook his head indulgently at the visiting young girl, and looked for the TV remote to check out the latest football game.

We are not on the world's rich list.

However, should Forbes ever condescend to value this meal, it will find itself regretting its inability to find numbers , high enough, to allocate.



  1. I just want to say "खूप पैसे कमावल्याने कोणी सोन्याचा घास खातं का?"



    Thats my tryst with Jowar Bhakri ! One of the most awesome stuff that i have ever had.

    And yet, healthy. And yet so filling. Your post brought so many memories.

    On another note, when you are far away from home, the food thats so typical of home, becomes so mouth wateringly alluring.

    Lovely, i need some food !!


  3. People who spend obscene amounts of money on food and drink are obscene...I'm sure they can't tell the difference between a $10 bottle of wine and a $1000 one...They just want to be seen spending the money, period...

  4. The last line summed it is not going to buy you a tasty bhakri made with love at home...It's the people who are going to get you this

    And you know I made besan pithla for lunch..what a co-incidence :)

  5. So one should count people and not notes :P

  6. Priceless expressions.
    Someone has said that the good taste of food is a reflection of the feelings of one who cooks it, notwithstanding the price of ingredients. How true!

  7. Fantastic !

    I loved the last line !! APT !!

  8. Ah, but we ARE on the world's rich list, with people like yourself who bring us in to their worlds with their words, set us down at the kitchen table and tell us stories.

    I don't say this enough, but I am a HUGE fan of your writing.

    I don't know why I haven't done this before, but I've added you to my blogroll.


  9. Terrific as always! The way some people spend outrageous amounts of money on stupid things is obscene!
    Oh, and I voted!!

    Enjoy your weekend!


  10. Priceless, indeed! And your post is priceless too. The husband and I, separately in our parents' homes, would turn up our noses at upma. Now we make it and eat it and relish it like it was the most delicious and rich food item on earth.

  11. Bhakri and what else does one require.Thanks for reminding me. Told my lovely wife to prepare this soon.

  12. Luckily I am in a place where I get almost every stuff we find in India. I dont think even in the local markets in Mumbai i would have got this much variety.

    It is strange how the stuff made by mom, that you have been eating for years and learnt to take for granted becomes such a sought after meal once you stop getting it. Just yesterday i made Shektachya shenganchi Bhaji. Couldnt get the perfection of my mom but just remmebering those simple meals at home made me feel like going back home rt at that moment.

    No amount of fine dinings can compare to those simple meals enjoyed at home.

  13. That picture brought back so many memories. Of ajji making piping hot bhakri and tearing the top layer and pouring melted tuup into it. I used to eat it just like that with tuup and salt....ahhh bliss. Unfortunately I will never get to do that ever again because my ajji passed away earlier this year. This post brought tears to my eyes.

  14. that's exactly the picture i was looking up on flickr - pithla bhakri.

    i am not even from pune, but an honorary maharastrian :)

    but one time at a classmate shared his lunch with us - bhakri - made of rice powder and fish.

  15. Outstanding! Irony of Life...

    I'd rather have the 1 Rupee Jhunka Bhakari from the Kendra than the flashy caviar and stuff like that.

    Thanks a lot for taking time to go through my blog. In one way or other you have encouraged me to keep on blogging.
    Thanks a lot!

  16. Ah, it is not the money, but the memory that sweetens the taste of food, being with good people and food that reminds you of home and love. More precious than a monetary value. Enjoyed your post.

  17. I'm trying to follow, but the captcha doesn't allow me :-(

  18. Nu I can actually imagine you rushing to the tape to win the race, to come first ! Then relax, take some comfortable breaths and then get going with the rest of your comments. Which are, always wonderful ! Thank you. (And it IS a coincidence that you made pithla for lunch !)

    G I am not sure, but sometimes I feel Mumbai has the sort of folks who even eat diamond "ghaas"...

    Kavi Glad you like Jowar Bhakri. Wish you many opportunities to enjoy them in the future. Incidentally, NSIyers missus is making them soon. See comments)

    Sraboney This kind of spending is so stupid and obscene, the restaurant people must be having a good laugh over these folks spending like this.

    Phoenix Thank you

    HW Thank you. And I must say your Gujarati Bajra Rotlas are the next wonderful things ....

    Pearl Thank you for the wonderful comments, and for placing me in your blogroll. I wonder when your once announced trip to India is likely to happen. Will be keeping the bhakris ready for you. Many fans of yours in Mumbai. Please come.

    Sylvia Thank you so much. For voting too !

    Sujatha Thank you . Bhakri and Upma, as made by folks at home, are comfort foods like no other. Enjoy your upma !

    NSIyer Thank you. I just told Kavi your missus is making Bhakri. Incidentally, sometimes sesame seeds(til) sprinkled on it before roasting makes it even more tasty. Excellent for winter, and possibly for bones and mmuscles healing :-)

    Enchated Shektachya shenganchi Bhaji ! You must do a post on that .

    Shilpa Those Bhakris had a special something from Ajji, didnt they ? My mother is no more , but my daughter never stops telling me how incapable I am of making farasbi chi bhaji like Aji !

    Anrosh Your friend was probably from Konkan and associated coastal areas. They eat rice bhakris. These bhakris are typical above the Ghats, and are made from Jowar, which grows a lot in the plains. But I have had rice bhakri too, and enjoyed it, though the jowar bhakri is an eternal favourite.

    Saurabh Panshikar I sometimes get the feeling that if we gave a fancy french name to Bhakri, and served it artistically with butter melting in the papudra and a streak of pithla and lasoon chatni, the caviar types would eat it too. Best wishes for your blogging.

    About the captcha, can u not refresh the captcha words and try ?

    Aleta You said it. Its the memories associated with the food . So true. Thank you.

  19. yes UK, my friend is a kohli- and lived in the machimar community. and his family then was in the fishing business - catching, buying - selling. his mom sold the fish.

  20. This post made me hungry for my favorite homecooked food. Yes it is priceless!
    You have a way with words Suranga.

  21. IHM Why you, my own post had me pining for some bhakri stuff myself :-) .

    What you make for yourself and what your mother made for you has a BIG difference....

  22. Wow such an amazing and exciting and excellent write up.I raced back to school trip to Manmaad where we were served the freshest tastiest bhakris off the traditional mud girdle cooked by open chullas by the village women folk.

    The meal was absolutely simple - bhakris with vegetables and crashed onion accompanied with garlic chutney. This was indeed the richest meal I ever had prepared with warmth and infinite love.