Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Sweetness

On Sunday night, we had been to a Gujarati and Rajasthani Special Dinner Buffet at a restaurant. Needless to say, I ate till I was fit to burst and enjoyed every mouthful.

What strikes me as unbelievable, even to myself, is that being such an avid food lover, and a person who is always looking to taste new things, I had never had a complete Gujarati meal, ever. Dhokla, yes, Gujarati snacks, oh yes of course. But a Gujarati meal? Never. So this was something new to me, and I loved the taste, especially the sweetness in all the dishes.

I have heard people say disapprovingly about Gujarati food - "Oh, but everything is sweet!" Well, everything is not sweet, as in completely sugary, but the dishes do have a distinctly sweet element in them. I can understand if people do not like it, but I, personally, quite enjoyed it.

Actually I have heard people complain about sweetness in food quite a bit. A Delhi friend of mine, working in Pune for a while, complained to me that the chicken preparations in Pune are sweet. I have heard people shake their heads disapprovingly about Bengali food and say that they add sugar to everything. I don't know about the chicken of Pune, but I have eaten Bengali food a number of times in my friend's place, and I have enjoyed it every time.

But what surprised me, was when someone, a few years ago, complained to me that Karnataka food is sweet.
"Sweet?" I said, "I don't think so."
"But you add jaggery to everything!"
"Ah, of course, but that is just a tinge of sweetness!"
"But it is sweet!"

Ah well, I guess what is normal for me is sweet for this person! And then I observed the food that my mom makes. Yes, that slight element of sweetness - is it there, is it not there... that mild. But it makes so much difference! I remember once when my mom was away and I made the huLi, and I tasted it to find that it was not satisfactory. When my mom came back, I said, "Amma, I have forgotten something! Not the tamarind, the salt is okay, the khaara is okay, but something is missing!" Mom tasted a bit of it and said, "Bella!" (Jaggery). I quickly added a teeny tiny piece of jaggery to the huLi, mixed it and tasted it, and lo, it was perfect! The sweetness is so mild that you cannot really make out its presence, but it does make a difference.

A good friend of mine, let us call her K, was my hostelmate when I was doing my post-grad in Tamilnadu. She married a man who worked in Bangalore, and came to live here. In one of her conversations, she told me, "Shruthi, you people add jaggery to everything!"
This conversation was old now, for me.
"Yeah", I said wearily, "just a little."
"But it is definitely sweet. I don't like it, really. There is no point going out to restaurants in Bangalore, I'd rather cook at home!"
In the same situation, I know people who would have said, "Baaaah! How can you eat such food?" But K is a decent and sensible sort, so she said, "Shruthi, how could you manage eating the food in Tamilnadu?"
"I had no choice! You can cook at home, but I couldn't do that, I had to eat in the mess!" I said.
Then I decided to be more gracious. "Oh, perhaps adjusting to no sweetness in your food is easier than adjusting to sweetness in your food, who knows?" I said.

Well, something that I don't even notice in my food, is such a deterrent for someone else!

BUT. Stating that "Kannadigas add something sweet to everything" will be a false statement. Even though S~ and I are both Kannadigas, and from comparatively similar families, our food is quite different. My mom-in-law doesn't add jaggery to any dish. It took me a very long time to pinpoint what the difference was. As always, we tend to find most comforting what we are basically used to, and so I still prefer that imperceptible tinge of sweetness in my food.

Food habits - fascinating, aren't they?

17 comments:

Mama - Mia said...

ooh you did go for that food fest? Hubby being pseudo- Gujarati and a firm believer of nothing is too sweet was dying to go!

but sat being the blog meet and sunday another kiddie bday party we were too pooped and stuffed to attempt a dinner out!

plus the worry about how authentic will it be in banaglore was another question! :p

too bad we missed it! glad you had fun!

cheers!

abha

SloganMurugan said...

Wonder what they will say about the Sambar at udipis in Mumbai then.

Altoid said...

:) I love the huli-uppu-khaara-sweetness(from jaggery) combo. Gojjus and Hulis get kicked up many notches just by a small piece of bella, alla?

~nm said...

I am on the other category of people who do not like to mix sweet with salt. However little sweet muhy be added but its enough for me to figure out.

My MIL has this major grudge against me just because of this reason. For E.g. She likes to add some sugar in arhar daal and I always take out my portion before she does that.

To each his own is all I can say :)

Dhanya said...

I am from Kerala and I have also felt that the food in karnataka is sweet. Initially we used to think there is something wrong in the Sambar from hotel. It took us a while to realize that it's the jaggery :) I guess it all boils down to what we are basically used to..

Veena Shivanna said...

Shruthi, That was a nice post.. Incidently had posted a pic on my photoblg(http://optimistmysorean.aminus3.com/image/2008-07-14.html) which I had taken when I attended a Rajasthaani wedding. Abba, it was a food festival in disguise.
About the sweetness in the khaara food, I am for it. Specially the Rasam and the idli sambar wala sambar. I just love it when its lil sweet and the sweet in it adds more taste to it. Though none of my families(both at Mysore & in Bangalore) uses jaggery while cooking, I somehow have developed this liking towards the sweetness in the food. Probably the taste of Dharmastala/Hornadu saaru :-)

baayalli neeru is definite..

Anonymous said...

I can't imagine "Gojju" without Jaggery ...

Anitha.

lakshmisha said...

at home, they never put sweet into the huli and sambar, but i have seen this done at all the darshinis and hotels.. mainly run by mangalore side people. yes.. i heard all my Tam friends complaning that kannadigas put sweet into all adige.. i have always said that at home we do not do this.. but they never accept.. u know tams...:))

Swati said...

ahh..where was the food fest ?

manasa said...

I can't eat saaru and huLi without a bit a jaggery and salt/khara. All 3 are equally essential for balancing.

Anonymous said...

Agreed, a little bit of bella(Jaggery) brings out the complete flavor in all the dishes. My Mom(and now my wife) always use bella so I know what it means to not have that precious piece of ingredient in the food. :D

Good post, sweet as bella! :)

Vish
NY

PeeVee said...

I think amma not only adds a pinch of sweetness to something salty, but a pinch of salt to anything sweet!

It adds a new dimension to the taste and that tiny pinch of something a little foreign makes you appreciate the main taste more. It's like life, you know.

Yeah thank you, thank you. I know I'm a budding writer *bow*

PS: This post was by far the blandest one of yours. But that's OK, will take it with a pinch of salt. :P

Abhipraya said...

Yes, I too have friends from outside Karnataka who complain about the sweetness. It never occurred to me till they pointed it out. At home we had two kinds of cooking, on dad's side we had jaggery in everything and mom's side cooking was always spicy :) So now when I cook at home there is both.

Where was this food festival? Is it still on?

Rohini said...

Ugh! Don't get me started on Gujju food. Was in charge of Gujarat for three years and travelled there a LOT. Ate so many of the darn thalis that I won't mind if I never see one again...

PAPPU CAN DANCE said...

I am not a great food buff, however i believe that if the authenticity the food is maintained then sweet or not the food will taste gr8

Neha said...

Hi Shruthi,

I read your post on 'PG aunty'.
Will it be possible for you to give me her no/address?
I need a place to live.

Thanks,
Neha

Bhupi said...

what a subject...i can go on and on, on this bcoz i love to cook and eat...

TASTE is something which is unique for every tounge. This everybody knows. One thing ppl don't realise is every hand has it's own taste. Two ppl cooking same dish with same ingredients will also never have same taste.

So if I make dal in north (without sweet) and I make dal in south (with sweet) then they are 2 diff dishes and should not be compared.

So liking or disliking a dish depends on individuals taste bud and not how a dish is prepared.

And the funniest thing, sometimes ppl will not realize a dish is sweet until somedy tells them there is sweet in it :)

Waiting to try some Kannadian food...never got a chance to do that yet.

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