Festival food traditions retained, the new urban way

Think Id and Biryani comes to mind. Think Ganesha and the visual imagery is that of the elephant god with a Modaka in his hand. Food, either abstaining from it or partaking of it, has always been central to religion and community. This could be due to the fact that while men may create rites in the patriarchal societies that most of us live in, it is women who perpetuate them. Within families, the bedrock of any community, women carry on rituals and customs; ensuring that traditions thrive.

The food stalls around Swagath Road get busy in the evening as crowd buy snacks to break their daily fast. Pic: Navya P K

In the old days, house bound women spent hours over a stove so that the family could enjoy delicacies, the kind that their own mothers and grandmothers had made. Thus certain kinds of food evolved into custom, to become an integral part of festivals. Over centuries, forging closeness through food and family togetherness is something women have excelled at.

Twenty eight year old Sameena Adil, a home maker and mother who lives on St John’s Road, believes it is important to continue this kind of tradition. For the past one month, she has prayed and fasted, in between attending to household chores, looking after two active young children, a baby, and her extended family of in laws. On Id day, she joined her mother in law and sister in law in making biryani and their household speciality Kaddu ka Halwa.

In contemporary society, not all women have the luxury of time. When women first started stepping into the workforce in large numbers, a question mark hung over their ability to spend time in the kitchen and provide festive treats, most of which involved hours of labour. Already racked with guilt over leaving their children and working outside the home, some women worked overnight (literally) and continued to produce these specialities. While others opted to cut down, making fewer varieties. Yet others visited places like Subamma in Basavanagudi, which began as a provision store in 1948 and later capitalised, much ahead of time, on the growing need for convenience in the conventional food sector.

The kitchen at Nammura. Pic: Poonam Parihar.

When caterers began to take note of this sector, there was yet another adaptation in how festivities came to be observed. Small family units became major customers for an industry that formerly saw commerce only in large gatherings like weddings. Almas Ahmed of Benson Town, who earlier worked in the software sector and is now a stay at home young mother, says that since Id day usually means many visitors, quite a few families now prefer to have their biryani catered. Such is the demand that there are even specialists for smaller communities within the larger community. Sultana Nizar, a home maker who takes orders, is known for her Bombay Biryani that has fried onions and potatoes, and is specific to the Khoja community of Muslims.

Already racked with guilt over leaving their children and working outside the home, some women worked overnight (literally) and continued to produce these specialities.

As urbanism grew and families became smaller, women kept adapting to the changing scenario while retaining familiar and comforting rituals. Senior citizen and homemaker Vatsala Vittal of JP Nagar prepared Kari Kadabu and Chakli this year too, delicacies that she has been making for decades. “When my sons were younger I used to make more items. Now with my children away and just my husband and me at home, I have scaled down,” she says, referring to her earlier custom of making various sweets and savouries in honour of the elephant god.

 

Living in cities with no extended family nearby, the working woman’s lack of time has often translated into the neighbourhood sweet mart became an important factor in the scheme of festivals. This sometimes meant making do with buying Motichoor Laddoo instead of Besan, or having to put up with Mysore Pak that was not quite like what grandma made. But when extended families are not far off, older women step in to help their young ones. Writer Poornima Dasharathi, who lives in north Bangalore and travels to the central part of the city for work, points out that given the daily grind it’s just not possible to spend so much time in the kitchen. She is glad that her mother and mother in law are around to keep the festive spirit alive.

Nammura prepares around 20,000 pieces of Modaka each day, over a period of three days, for the Ganesha festival.

Changing circumstances have forced people to adjust. But it is clear they do not wish to abandon the rituals they have grown up with. Which is why the commercial business of traditional food has not only grown, it has also expanded to bring back delicacies that are no longer made in most home kitchens.

The preparation of Kadubu. Pic: Poonam Parihar

Krishna Hegde, owner of the phenomenally successful Nammura which was established in 2002, claims a customer base that keeps growing each year. This ‘Kitchen on Wheels’, located in JP Nagar, is said to be the first of its kind in south India selling traditional food items by weight. Hegde believes that the success of Nammura lies in the fact that he does not believe in tampering with traditional recipes and that the food is just like what you would make at home. Not to mention the economical prices. According to Hegde, Nammura prepares around 20,000 pieces of Modaka each day, over a period of three days, for the Ganesha festival. Given the success of this kind of retailing, similar other establishments have since sprung up, such as Ace Iyengar in nearby Jayanagar.

“We could actually experience the entire process of cooking. As a child, seeing my grandmother and elderly women in the family grate the coconut and jaggery and prepare the stuffing, which in itself would smell delicious and mouth watering, seeing the steam rice from the pan as the Avai Kolukattai was being cooked, the anticipation, that it cannot be touched till the naivadyam is completed.”

While it is heartening that traditional festive fare endures, there is also a certain sadness that the experience of families getting involved in the preparations is dying out. Soft skills trainer Deepa Vaishnavi, resident of Banashankari, remembers a time when, “We could actually experience the entire process of cooking. As a child, seeing my grandmother and elderly women in the family grate the coconut and jaggery and prepare the stuffing, which in itself would smell delicious and mouth watering, seeing the steam rice from the pan as the Avai Kolukattai was being cooked, the anticipation, that it cannot be touched till the naivadyam is completed… all this was a joy in itself. Today, the process is missing and hence the joy too.”

Perhaps. But think about it. Given the many cultures and communities that are now part of this city, you can eat just about anything from every part of this diverse country right here in Bangalore. And it’s all just like you would get in a home. Haleem. Karanji. Moong Dal Halwa. Sheer Kurma. If these fabulous treats were restricted to each community, how many of us would get to taste them?

Special thanks for Sameena Adil and Vatsala Vittal for sharing their recipes.

Sameena Adil’s Kaddu Halwa
White pumpkin 1big one, Sugar 1 kg, Milk 1 litre, Khoa ½ kg, Dry fruits 100 gm and a few tsp of ghee for sautéing
Peel and remove the seeds from the pumpkin. Wash and grate into long strips. Boil with milk and half of the sugar till soft. Add the remaining sugar and the khoa. When the water has been absorbed and the mixture is fairly thick (do not let it become too dry), sauté the dry fruits along with two sticks of cinnamon and two to three cloves. Put this into the halwa. Close with lid and keep for five minutes under dum.

Vatsala Vittal’s Kari Kadabu
Chiroti Rava 1 cup, Maida 1 cup, Ghee 2 tbsp, Refined oil for frying For the filling: Raisins (small) 2 tbsp, Cashew nuts (finely chopped) 2 tbsp, Copra (grated) ½ cup, Sugar ¾ cup, Khuskhus 1 ½ tbsp, Cardamoms 8 to10
Make the filling first. Using the mixer, make a coarse powder of the sugar and grated coconut. In half tsp of ghee fry the cashewnuts lightly, till light brown. Keep aside. Lightly roast the khuskhus and powder the cardamom. Add all this to the sugar-copra mix.
Put the rava, maida, and 1tbsp of ghee into a bowl. Add enough water and knead to a dough. To this dough add half tbsp ghee, knead again till it becomes soft to the touch. Keep the dough covered with a wet cloth.
Take small portions of the dough and roll them into thin puri sized rounds with the help of some dry maida. Put one tsp of the filling on the lower half of the round, and fold the upper half over it to form a semi circle. Seal the edges with water and trim with a pastry cutter.
Heat the oil in a kadhai. Deep fry the kadabu till they are light brown in colour. They will puff up like puris. Remove, place over paper to remove excess oil. When cool, store in an air tight container.
Makes 20 to 25 small kadabu.

About Theresa Varghese 20 Articles
Theresa Varghese is a independent writer and ardent baker who loves all things to do with food.

2 Comments

  1. and the entire stretch of Madhava Mudaliar Road (Frazer town) that has worn a festive look every evening for the last couple of weeks selling samosas, biryani, rolls, dates and other such delicacies

  2. Having recently visited vasavi stores in “thindi beedhi” vv puram and subbamma’s angadi (also called srinivasa stores?) in gandhi bazaar, i was happy to be able to savour all the festival delicacies prepared authentically. would recommend it to anyone passing by that side – if you havnt already!

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