Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Meal on a Banana Leaf

..Or as we call it in Kannada, BaaLe Ele OoTa, has to be one of the best things in life. Any celebration in South India is incomplete without a sumptuous lunch served on a Banana Leaf. In fact, I admit shamelessly that there are a number of functions to which I go more for the lunch than for the event itself.

The importance of the food in such events, especially weddings, cannot be understated. Food is what the guest supposedly remembers even after he has forgotten the name of the bride and the groom, and how he is acquainted with them.

In fact, the caterer for my wedding had been decided three years before the groom was. Well, what I mean is that my mom and I had been to a friend's wedding, and the food was so wonderful, that my mom took the caterer's card, and when it was time for my wedding, it was this one that we contacted. And the food was fantastic!

A wedding feast is an event in itself. You are usually hungry and tired after talking to so many relatives/friends, whom you get to meet only at weddings. After all the smiling and talking, all you want to do is eat. So when you hear that lunch is ready, you run to the dining hall (unless you are unlucky enough to be closely associated with the couple getting married, in which case you get to eat only in the third pankti(batch) or so).

You sit at the table (it was cross-legged, on the floor, in the days when people were in good shape), in front of a fresh green banana leaf. You sprinkle some water on the leaf and clean it with your hands. Then you watch the food being served - in the preset order, in the preset positions on the leaf.

You wait desperately for the rice and ghee to be served, because only then are you supposed to start eating. Once it is served, you look around you to ensure that the older generation has started eating, and then you delve into the food.

You start off with the Payasa (Kheer), and then licking your lips, you eat the Thovve(simple, thick dal), which tastes fantastic despite how simple it is. Probably just your brain getting the pleasant signal that food is on its way. By that time, they arrive with the huLi (thick sambar with loads of vegetables), and you gobble it up in no time. Before the next item arrives, you have time to eat the mixed rice (Puliyogare, Bhaath or Chitranna), and sample the two different kinds of Kosambari(Mixed, garnished salad). You even taste the Gojju (A thick spicy preparation with a tamarind and jaggery base), and the Mosaru Bajji(Raita).

Just as you stretch out your hand towards the different kinds of Palya (Gravyless, vegetable curries), they arrive with more rice. Close on the heels of the rice comes the Saaru (A kind of Rasam), and you eat it with relish, mixing the Palya, and the HappaLa(Papad) with it.

Once you have savoured that, you sit back and crane your neck to see what the Bhakshya (sweet/s) is. Hurried exclamations to the person sitting next to you, expressing joy(usually) or disgust(extremely rarely) at the choice of sweets. Then you polish off the sweets with relish, and even as you eat them, along comes some kind of a fried savoury, like a Pakoda/Bonda, and you lose no time in eating that too.

In the middle of all this, some of the items make an appearance once again, and you have the choice to eat your favourite stuff all over again, if your stomach permits. Finally the Rice comes along again, followed by curds, which you mix and eat with salt and a little of the pickle.

Then you get up and wash your hands and leave the dining hall. A packet with a coconut and betel leaves is thrust into your hands. You look around for the nearest scapegoat on whom you can dump the coconut, and then do likewise.

Then you go back to the main wedding hall, where you can easily distinguish the guests who haven't eaten yet from those who have. The latter have this smug, satisfied look on their faces. And of course, a coconut in their hands.


Anu said...

Yoooouuuu! What a cruel post to inflict on someone who narrowly missed attending two weddings on her visit to India! Slurrrp, yumm, and sniff!

Harsha said...

I too go shamelessly to functions for the sake of food :D

And back in Mlore(native) during the rathasapthami, I never miss the bale yele oota with all of my friends, it's awesome fun.

And LOL the part abt the caterer getting decided before the groom :)

And always the leaf has its grains in this direction (>>>>), any idea why?

Anonymous said...

wonderful description, shruthi. god bless you for having written this rich post.

i have seen some old people thrust their hands when a dry sweet comes along. they put it in the hanky.

old story that happened in the early'80s. my ajji had diabetes. and like most diabetics, she was fond of sweets. whenever the person serving sweets used to come in front of her, she used to tell him, "diabetes idhe. doctru beda andhidhaare, aadru yeradu haaku parvagilla".

i used to ask her, "why do you have to tell him you have diabetes, anyway you are eating 2."

Shruthi said...

Anu, Ohho.. so sad! :) Don't worry, next time, we will have a special celebration to hail your arrival, and we will have BaaLe eLe ooTa! :)

Harsha, fun to eat with friends, right? Especially when you compete over who leaves the leaf the cleanest :D
I have no idea why the leaf is placed so. I am sure our ancestors will have some theory about it. Any guesses, anybody?

Bellur, thanks, glad you liked it :) Hee hee.. yes I forgot to mention sweet-in-hanky :) I used to do it too when I was a kid. My stomach would be full, but I would want to eat the sweet later. Only difference is that I made my mom hold it :D
LOLing at your Ajji's story :D

Anonymous said...

If Viky sees your reply to my comment, he will tell:
It ought to be LingOL and not LOLing!

Anonymous said...

Amazing though that we sit on those lousy chairs and tables to eat in these functions/parties.

I *would* much prefer to eat a traditional indian meal (served on banana leaf) the traditional way - I hope somebody knows what that it is :-)

Viky said...

Mmmm...fantabusheeshously delicious spread on your banana leaf.

Ever wonder how, when we decide the menu, we spend a lot of time deciding the sweet (ladoo na athwa chiroTi na athwa jilebi na) and fried item (bambaai bonDa / pakoDa / boondi kaLu) but when it is the palya or kosambari, it is dubbed erDu hasi, erDu bisi. And they are inevitably kaDlebeLe and hesarubeLe kosambari and huruLikayi and kosu palya.

And you forgot, that in the midst of all that the bride and the groom make a round of all the tables (nidhanikke ooTamaDi, baki 200 jana kaitidare...adre neevu nidhanikke ooTamaDi).

And the videographer with his flash, in tow.

Anonymous said...

> I have no idea why the leaf is
> placed so. I am sure our
> ancestors will have some theory
> about it. Any guesses, anybody?
You might want to check out a kannada book titled "bhojana paddathi". It should be available in vedanta bookhouse in chamarajpet.

Viky said...

Bellur: I saw that, but let it go. The lady has said that "she was not ready for spellchecking comments", so I guess I will let that be.

In any case, if she gets too techy on that, which I am sure she will - by going into innumerable sites for internet slangs and abbreviations, she will find that she is right, and I have no intention of contesting that.

Shiv said...

Hi Shruti,
Really nice to read ur blog. I pretty much can hear ur voice.
Shivdeep here. Who?
well, ur schoolmate since class 2.

Viky said...

huLi is not italicised. I point this out, because all other vernacular names are italicised.

And I'm sure after you ate, you looked around for your scapegoat - little P :D

Shruthi said...

Bellur, that's why I avoid abbreviations! ;)

Older Bangalorean, heh heh, yeah. Like I said in my post, cross-legged (ChakkambaTle) was when people were in better shape! :) And that seems to be an interesting book! Thank you! :)

Viky, Ayyooo how did I forget "Nidhanavagi ooTa maaDi" (Eat slowly)?? Though it is more of the couple's parents who do the honours, according to my experience!
And of courssse the videographer.. the most irritating part of the whole wedding!
Its ok Viky, you can do your spelling and grammar and italics check to your heart's content :)
Little P? :D Little P is little no longer, and she is better at looking for scapegoats :D

Shivadeep, what a pleasant surprise! How did you find my blog? Welcome :)

Shiv said...

Just happened to find ur blog on orkut.
Now u have one more ardent reader of ur blog!

Sudhakar said...

Sruthi: I'm surprised to know that the tradition is still being continued in Karnataka.. In A.P, even in the villages, buffet system replaced the traditional banana-leaf stuff.. It's really a pain to see elders standing in queues to get the food..

Very nice write-up...

Viky said...

Sometimes couples...sometimes their parents...

No wonder she is. hiri akkan chaaLi... :D

Prashanth M said...

mouth watering post...
damn I've to wait for another 45 days for a baale ele oota :(

Shruthi said...

Shiv, Ah, ok :) Thank you :)

Sudhakar, Oh it is very much there. The reception dinners are usually buffets, though!

Viky, heh heh... right in one way ;)

Prashanth, and I can't wait for the next one - don't know when it is due, either! :(

travel plaza said...

I agree with anu.You had to do a post about bale ele oota. Where am I going to get one now....drool, drool, slurp..How cruel to all us Bangaloreans living outside.
I think the pictures of the oota are hilarious. The photographer manages to capture people with their mouth wide open with a veriety of food making its way into the mouth or some poor soul slurping the huli with gay abandon.

Anonymous said...

Thank god, I read the blog after dinner! :) Those who read it on an empty stomach are sure to curse you.

The worst part of the baLe ele oota in functions is, being videographed.

bellur's ajji's story is really interesting- yes,LOL. I can actually feel the `raga' in which ajji might have uttered this -eventhough I dont know her :)

Supremus said...

Now, this is one "mouth-watering" post allright! Man - I long long long for such food.

"Thovve-Anna" has been my favorite food since eternity - frankly my entire clan could be fed on this for years and noone woudl complain :D - Thovve-anna with some lime and thuppa - ahaa - jeez - I know what I am going to cook tonite :D


Anonymous said...

Slurpilicious, ain't it?

But Udupi-side, they have a different serving order, don't they? I think they start with their yummy rasam. And they have tons of sweets. I always prided myself on being able to clean up the leaf quite thoroughly, but I had to concede defeat at an Udipi feast, where the sweets would just not stop - I think they had nearly a dozen, and quite a few of them mango-based.

My fav part is the beeda - so satisfying! Burp! Oops sorry! :D


PRIDERA said...

I almost had a plaintain leaf wedding lunch as I read through the post. You know what I was feeling a little guilty this morning after I blogged about the Ganesha habba. I felt I was writing more about the food than other things. In fact I restricted myself from going into the details. Thanks to you for dedicating an entire post of festive food... I feel a whole lot better now ... my only complaint is I want an invitation to a traditional wedding now ... eegale :(

Author said...

a good post indeed. Very enjoyable one to read. Not surprised that it came from a food lover like you ;)

Luckily from the place where we come from (Sirsi, North Canara), by defauly oota is served on baaLe ele (ಬಾಳೆ ಎಲೆ). I had one this sunday when we went to our native :)
There is a definite protocol for what food item should be served where. See this link for a detailed map of food items on the leaf. http://thatskannada.oneindia.in/sahitya/nri/vichitranna/110203bhojana.html
I dont think there is any particular reason for the orientation of the leaf but placing the items is based on how often you will eat that particular food item during a meal. A neat application of the classical 'traveling salesman' problem ;)

Interestingly, in places of north karnataka, where banana leaves are difficult to obtain, they use something called 'patravaLi'(ಪತ್ರಾವಳಿ) which are a collection of 'muttuga'(ಮುತ್ತುಗ) leaves stiched together by small sticks. You can seem them sometimes in temples here too.

The serving order varies from place to place and interestingly from caste to caste. The best thing is the observe what the others are doing and following it.

As far as the marriage videos, I love to watch the scenes which show people eating food in panktis but with 'fast-forward' option on the player. It looks absolutely hilarious to see people stuffing themselves with food in ultra-fast pace. Try it.

[Been on a long blogging hibernation. Almost had forgotten my blogger password :( ]

Author said...

Sorry I had not seen the link on your post. The link I gave is almost identical.

Shruthi said...

Travel Plaza, I apologize :)
I really hope you get to eat a good, satisfying meal at the earliest :)
Seriously, the lunch photos are yuck! I always stop eating when a photographer or videographer is around ( though it is so difficult to stop eating that food ;))

Bru, ha ha!! I could also imagine that raaga :D

Supremus, ahh yes, it is easy on the stomach! And add to it just a little lemon pickle.. and... slurp slurp!! :)

Anonymous, ohhh I know... whenever we go to Mangalore, the feast is full of sweets. I am sure there are more sweets than other food items...and the problem is that each sweet is magnificent - you cannot even say, ok, I won't eat that one - because you will be missing something really good! :(
And on top of it, even the other food items are slurpilicious.... I always end up overstuffed! :(

Pridera, same here. I want an invite - right now! Today! And tomorrow! and the day after..... and so on..:)
And don't worry... I totally understand...a festival is as much about the food as anything else! :)

Shastri, was wondering where you were :) Oh yes, I know that plate of leaves you are talking about... did not know the name, though.
Yeah the food, and the order, does vary from region to region, but the first link I give is nearly what the order is at our place.

rash_mi said...

hmmm ... "mouth-watering" ..

btw have you noticed - the way the meal is ended. Some people fold the BaaLe eLe towards them and some people away from them. Some just leave it open :)

Anonymous said...

LoL! very well written!
Just felt like I had a BaaLe eLe ooTa.

Emma said...

Wonderful description, Shruthi. Sadly though I think we are losing out on the fun of squatting on the floor and eating off a banana leaf thanks to the increasingly accepted buffet culture pervading the wedding functions these days!

Shruthi said...

Rashmi, yeah that's true.. I heard that in one particular culture, the way you fold your leaf indicates whether you are happy with the people who fed you, etc :)

Vittala, thank you thank you :) If you are the Vittala I think you are, you have to arrange a baale ele oota for me asap!

Emma, yeah :(. We have now moved to sitting at tables and eating off banana leaves... I hope that the banana leaves are never replaced by plates!

Anonymous said...

God Bless you Shruthi for this sumptuous post. Today is Ananthana Vratha at home and the cooks are preparing a feast (around 30 people for lunch today)...sad part is that I am in office :-(

Shruthi said...

Vani, tch tch.. what a sad state of affairs! Bunk office and go home! :)

Anonymous said...

Mouthwatering..... Thanks for making to have a virtual bale yele oota... One place in Sheshadripur serve almost same bale yele oota in a mess.

Shruthi said...

Shadow, Really? Address please?!

madapura said...

i want to add: Majige Hulli and kootu. these replace the main hulli and are equally welcomed and hogged. Pyasa which is served as the last 'sweet' dish is savoured especially if it is the 'gasgase' variety...enough is slurrped to make the person drowsy.

Shruthi said...

Madapura, perfectly right. I omitted Majjige Huli. Considering that it is one of my fave dishes, that's a real oversight! :) As for kooTu as substitute to huLi, that is correct too.. and sometimes, it is much much better! :)
At our place, Payasa is served towards the end, but eaten first :)

Anonymous said...

I am told that longtime back,there used to be an understanding between the priests and the servers, as per which,priests used to say beda,beda or saku,saku when asked for nth helping and the position of hands over the bale ele used to be such as to appear to those around as if they were refusing it.But the angle of the hands used to be such that, a large gap was left meaningfully, facilitating further servings!
But those good old days are gone,I presume ;(

Anonymous said...


Nice post...

My wife wanted to plant a banana plant in the backyard so that we can have "baLe ele ooTa" whenever we want.

I did not like the "baLe ele ooTa" till I learnt to handle "saaru" or "kheeru" flowing out of the leaf. And again, there are people who serve not looking at the leaf.. so you end up having saaru on paayasa and paayasa on rice etc. This usually happens when the crowd is larger (jaatre, dEvastaana etc) and not on marriage functions.

But, I love "bale ele ooTa" now...
I am sure, I will have lot of them in 2007.

Again, thanks for a nice post.

anumita said...

What a sumptuous post! I wish somebody would invite me for one of these traditional wedding feasts! The only time I went was for a colleague's mallu wedding in bbay where we were sitting on tables and dying, managing the banana leaf and the watery gravies.

Chitra said...

Sighhhhhhhhhhhhh..... foooooddddddd.... :D :D

Shruthi said...

Nagraj, Heh heh.. that is so interesting! It should be as if he refused, but he should get to eat too.. Very smart!

Uunaashe, ha ha, good idea :) Oh as a kid, I had a problem too with flowing saaru. I would build a rice fort on my leaf! Now, of course, I have learnt how to manage ;)

Anumita, I will invite you next time I have a celebration :)
Managing the flowing gravies - you need a special technique :)

Chitra, Join in the chorus!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful write up on the Baale Ele Oota Shruthi!!
T'was really a surprise to meet u at the wedding:0))....

Shruthi said...

Madhu, Thank you :) It was good to meet you too ;) -- And I am sure you guessed that the wedding feast was what inspired this writeup!

Anonymous said...

one just in front of Police Station @ 1st Flr & other opp to Hero Honda show room almost near Shivananda circle.

Shruthi said...

Thank you, Shadow!

Anonymous said...

Yup.. I was sure you would blog, but didn't know you would blog on the baale ele oota.. anyways gud going!!

Anonymous said...

I remember my gran mentioning about how to serve a baale yele oota.

1. Always use a *suli yele* - a yele with the narrow side away from the stem (the tender portion of the yele) and not a yele that is cut in between. Notice that the stem gets thicker and it gets uncomfortable to place the yele and eat. The thick stem may not let the yele rest on either sides of it.

2. The "suli" (the narrow tender end) should always be to the left of the person who is eating from the yele.

3. The reason that the suli is to the left is because the user is right handed (or presumed to be). The wider side is toward her/his right hand so more food can be served there. (It seems like a nice time-motion study has been done)

4. An illustration for (3) are the facts that while items like salt, pickle, etc., that are little in quantity (and less in terms of yele real estate) are to the left, the palyas, kosambaris and kootus are served progressively from the left to the right on the upper half of the yele. In traditions where a few drops of payasam is served as the first dish on the yele, notice it is served on the right lower half of the yele.

This is about what I remember - thanks to the great indian oral tradition. if someone could validate this from available documentation would be great !


Usha said...

wonderful post - can you believe i felt like i was actually eating along with you - ya, it is a shame that this has been repalced with some mixed kind of buffet style dinners in most weddings these days. There is a chat corner, a dosa corner and then a spread on the table .You cannot decide what you want and you are never happy..
Nothing to beat the ele oota.

Shruthi said...

Anon, wow that's interesting! After reading all these comments, I have an urge to go and buy the book "Bhojana Paddhati", mentioned by Older Bangalorean. I am sure it should be a treasurehouse of information! :)

Usha, thank you :) That's true, you know... the dinners now are always buffets. I wonder how long it will be before the lunches are replaced by buffets too. I really hope not - it is such a wonderful experience - the ele oota!

Anonymous said...

Bale ele oota is getting replaced with what I love to call a "Balancing Diet" as one has to keep balancing his/her plate throughout the meal!!!

Shruthi said...

Nagraj, ha ha :)) And I am sure this will help us in dieting too - we tend to heap less food on our plate coz we cannot carry so much food around!

Anonymous said...

Wonder why no one has 'huLi hind'ed in this anyway light hearted discussion!

Included should have been the busy & relentless 'kochak-kachak-kochak-kachak' from the beginning to the end with 'sorrrup-ffbrrup' of saaru/paayasa 'heeer'ing (any better word to 'heer'ing or the accompanying 'ayyyayyyappa' feeling?) with a hearty 'burrrrp' taegu at the end of each course.

Old style chakkambatla is fine except when the lane is narrow, the aachaarru step on your leaf corner sometimes. Don't mind it. Good that they dont have to climb on to the table to serve you! Anyway nowadays, with my hotte unfortunately I cannot see the yele and even if I manage, the journey of neer saaru anna from the yele to by mouth bypassing the inbetweens would render my dress a witness!
And then comes the end of the meal when you have to go and wash your hands and bear the noicy baayi mukkalsing (again what is the word?) even if you were not to mind the walk through 'kocha picha kocha picha kocha'

I like the yele adike part of it though as it is only after a wedding or similar meal I get to eat it. And in my younger days (no pocket money so) a Charminar after the meal.

Sorry folks, facts of life!!! Though I have chosen to be anonymous, some will recognise me. Take a chance, when you are right I will seperately e-mail you to confirm.

Shruthi said...

Anon, whoever you are, I had a strong urge to delete your comment. Yuck! But it won't change the facts ;) What you say is true in a few cases. But the thing is I don't even go to such places ;) I eat only at clean places.. heh heh ..;)
I can take a guess who you are, but it is better for you that I don't come to know who you are.... for your own safety :D

Shruthi said...

Anon, and by the way, about how I can guess who you might be... you must be one of those who always see the glass half empty.. heh heh :D

Anonymous said...

ಬಾಯಿ ಚಪ್ಪರಿಸಿದೆ ಊಟ ಮಾಡಿ - ನಿಮ್ಮ ಅಷ್ಟೂ ಅಂಕಣಗಳನ್ನು ಇಷ್ಟಪಟ್ಟೆ ! - ಅನಂತಾನಂತ ಧನ್ಯವಾದಗಳು. - ರಾಘವ

Anonymous said...

Aha!!!!!! yenu chandavo yenu andavo shruthi avara bale yele ootada varnane. nijavagalu it is a pleasure to eat the food. beligge beliggene ootada description odi ivattu yava invitation illva antha
yochane madde nimmannu bheti adaga i post odirallilla mattu nanna a dinada programmninnda nimma jothe kaleyalu agallilla
adu onde urgent baffe oota madida hage ittu
samporna oota hiriyaru suru madidamele mattu yeluvadu avaru yedda mele yella shistacahrda prakara nadeyabeku alva.
yele ootada advantage andre nivu bereyavara tinda tatteyalli (clean madiddaru) oota madbekilla hyginically good ansutte yeleannu clean agi wash madidre
ivage jana oota shuru madlikke kayalla badisidahage shur madtare adu chennagiralla ansutte
matte siguva bye
bayi chapparisda hage agta ide!!!!!
wonderful post shruti keep going

Bat Mite! said...

Thanks for letting me shamelessly link to your post.
It captured everything I love about 'ellai' chappad.

And yes, it was absolutely incredible as always.

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