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The Ensemble


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I was about 9 then. I hurriedly finished my lunch with freshly prepared Avakaya and rushed to the river bank behind my house. My friends were waiting for me.
“What took you so long?” asked Adilakshmi.
I said “Avakaya”, with a blissful expression on.
“With Mudda Pappu*?” asked Balli, a lot of happiness with a hint of jealousy was written all over his face.
“Yesss” I said as if I won a prize in school.
Such is the taste of Avakaya that it makes everyone feel excited.

It is always a moment of celebration during the summer when nanna used to get fresh juicy mangoes from Nuziveedu especially for Avakaya. My grandmother would sit in the courtyard mixing the mango pieces and all other ingredients to prepare the magic. My brother, sister and I used to hover around watching the entire process with total awe.

* Mudda Pappu - A traditional lentil preparation made with Red Gram.

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Nagavalli, me and Balli were sitting next to each other in my courtyard savouring our supper. My sister and brother sat in the opposite row discussing something amongst themselves while eating. The menu that night was simple and straightforward - pappu (dal), magaya and curd rice.

Balli loves the tenka (the shell) in magaya. He likes to keep sucking the juice out of it while having the curd rice.
While he was in his own dream world sucking the tenka, Nagavalli began disturbing him with questions related to the next day's school and homework. He lost his cool and shouted at her and while doing so, he clenched his fist with tenka in it.

Juicy magaya gravy coupled with curd had made the shell very soft and with the pressure applied, it shot out of Balli's hand and went like a missile and landed right in the middle of my brother's plate.

There was silence and shock on everyone's face for a min and then a commotion followed. Balli was running all over while my brother was chasing him. That is one incident I always remember when I see a mango shell in Magaya.

The sun dried mango pieces, the spices, the seasoning and its aroma, everything together makes Magaya an instant favourite of everyone. I rarely have seen someone not liking it as a pickle.

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Bellam Avakaya

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"Ask for Bellam Avakaya. Trust me it will be sweet". Gargi was advising Kartikeya, my youngest grandchild.

"But Avakaya is spicy, let us try sugar", whispered Shruti with a fake expression on her face.

"Arre, Bellam Avakaya has jaggery. It is sweet and a little spicy at the same time. It is very very tasty". Gargi was a bit frustrated as Shruti was not letting her influence Kartikeya.

She looked at Kartikeya and said, "You are not my brother if you don't ask for Bellam Avakaya". She turned to the other side with folded hands indicating her stand sternly.

Kartikeya was super confused, he joined the breakfast table late and even before he could realise why, the sisters were making the pickle choices for him.

A moment later, he pleadingly looked at Gargi and said "ok". Gargi swiftly turned to him with an ear-to-ear smile and shouted loudly "Grandma! Karthikeya is asking for Bellam Avakaya! That is his final choice it seems".

Now a little backdrop - Gargi and Shruti went into an argument on what to eat with Upma. Gargi wanted Bellam Avakaya while Shruti wanted just sugar. I intervened and asked them to wait till Karthikeya joins and then whatever he chooses would be final. They had to agree.

Now I know who is a better lobbyist among my grandchildren!

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Bellam Magaya

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"Children, finish your breakfast", I was rushing my grandchildren as we planned to go out that day. Gargi was being fussy for a while as she was not getting what she wanted.

I went close to her and asked, "what do you want?".

"Bellam Magaya", she said.

"With chapati?... ok", I obliged.

What I saw next was very interesting. She religiously separated all the mango pieces by wiping those clean with her fingers and then applied the remaining oota or Gravy all over the chapati. She then rolled the chapati and began to enjoy it. With each bite, I could see happiness doubling on her face. "she loves her food", I said to myself.

"What are you going to do with the mango pieces?", I asked.
She said "curd", gleefully. "Put some curd in my plate", was her demand. Then came the real surprise, she put all the mango pieces in curd, let them soak for a few seconds and began to bite each one of those.

I always used to think that I experiment with food, but Gargi is taking it to another level.
Bellam Magaya can do that to you. Once you fall in love with it, you would want to have it with any dish

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Vellulli Avakaya

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Gangadharam is a super fan of Garlic. His favourite indulgence was munching the Garlic pods in Vellulli Avakaya with Mamidikaya Pappu (mango dal).

Such was his love for garlic that my mother reduced the quantity of normal Avakaya and increased Vellulli Avakaya whenever she sent pickles to us. My father made it a point to fetch high-quality Garlic for the pickle from Vijayawada.

"So much for the son-in-law?", I used to tease him. He enjoyed the attention but definitely lesser than the taste of Vellulli Avakaya.

"You try Vellulli Avakaya, my mother-in-law prepares it very well. And you know, Garlic is very good for your heart", was his standard pitch to any guest to our house. There were times when he repeated the same pitch to the same person more than once and was duly made fun of.

But that didn't deter him at all.

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Allam Vellulli Avakaya

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It was only after I met Renuka, in Hyderabad, I got a glimpse of the quirky tastes of Telangana.

We were on our way to the tailoring class. And, on that fateful day, I forgot my lunchbox!

The ever sweet Renuka wholeheartedly offered a portion of her lunch to me.

I found a familiar texture of red juicy pickle in the box. "Nice, it's Avakaya." I said to myself.

But wait, it had a pleasantly pungent peppery aroma written all over! "This smells different", is what I thought.

The very first morsel I tasted introduced me to a whole new world of dynamic tastes of the land. I loved the tanginess of Garlic while at the same time, I was enjoying the earthy spice of Ginger as well. Never have I imagined my favourite Avakaya can have a terrific spin of this sort.

After lunch, Renuka and I had a long conversation about its preparation, storage and her stories associated with food.
The pickle's taste lingered all through the day.

Trust me, try Ginger Garlic Avakaya and you would love the experience.

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Velaga Pachchadi

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It was during our stay in the rural areas of Kurnool when I developed a special interest in Velaga Pachchadi.

It is an allrounder when it comes to taste. It is sweet, spicy, sour and tangy - all at the same time.

Until I met Obavva, my then domestic help, I never had Velaga for breakfast. Obavva taught me the recipe of Vadas with alasandalu (black-eyed peas). And it is then she told me how they would taste wonderful with Velaga Pachchadi.

She was spot on. The combination was out of the world.

Velaga is a wild fruit. Not very common in urban areas but was widely available in the forests of Kurnool. Obavva, her daughter Shanti and I used to go for a morning trek into the jungle and pick Velaga fruits from there.

When we were lucky, we got our hands on Jungle Tamarind (or Manila Tamarind) and walked back happily munching it.

The very experience of picking the fruits from their natural habitat and going through every step of pickle preparation was something I cherish a lot.
And the icing on the cake was the wonderful taste of Velaga Pachchadi.

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Srijanani, my daughter, is someone who loves to experiment with food and combinations. Her favourite is the Gongura pickle.

She herself used to get Gongura from the market, carefully pluck the leaves out of the stem and get everything ready for me to prepare the pickle. Srikanth, on the other hand, was never much into the pre-preparation effort but was prompt to eat once the pickle was ready.

Some days she used to mix Gongura with Kandi Podi while on the other days Nuvvula Podi used to be the combination. Surprisingly all her combinations used to click.

Such was her fondness of Gongura that she used to invite her friends to our home and let all of them experience her combinations.

And at the slightest hint of resistance from anyone, she used to hit back saying that Gongura is a rich source of iron, vitamin C and antioxidants - no wonder she chose home science as her career path

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Tomato Pachchadi

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Tomato is another pickle I got introduced to only after I came to Hyderabad. It was Renuka, again, who introduced me to this gem. I sometimes regret not meeting Renuka earlier!

The ease with which it blends with any dish and then enhances the overall experience is something you should savour. Be it any breakfast item or for that matter Fried Rice, Tomato gels well with everything.

Tomato Thokku, as she used to call it, was the mainstay in all our outings. The love with which she used to prepare, permeated into the taste. She used to carry a big steel tiffin box with all the food; snacks packed separately. She made it a point to stuff kids with food during those trips. They did nothing but play and eat.

Needless to say, children loved her and her tomato pickle so much that they made it a de facto food item in all their meals.

I am sure, you too would do so once you taste it!

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Allam Pachchadi

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"What do you want to have for the breakfast, children?" I asked from the verandah of the kitchen.

My grandchildren were playing in the courtyard under the mango tree.

"Pesarattu with Allam Pachchadi!" shouted Karthikeya.

I quickly opened the refrigerator to see if the batter was available. Left a sigh of relief when I realised it was there - I make it a point to be ready with all the batters when children come down for holidays. You never know when their expectations change!

"Done!" I said in a loud voice as if I was equally excited. Karthikeya was visibly happy. Gargi was happy too. It was Shruti and Maitreyi who wanted something else.

"No, let us try something else" mumbled Shruti. But that was audible to me.

"So, what else then?" I asked.

After a little murmur, the two girls decided to have Idly and Wada. Gargi was happy with this choice too! Realising that his only 'big' support is slipping, Karthikeya began to plead with Gargi. But in a short while, he realised that it was going to be a lost battle, so said "I would agree for Idly and Wada only if you serve with Allam Pachchadi".

The girls agreed and everyone went back to their fun while I walked back to the Kitchen, Gargi followed me. I said to her, "See how versatile Allam Pachchadi is, You could have it with literally any South Indian breakfast and any dal item".

"I can have it with sandwiches too!" Gargi said with a gleeful smile.

"Yes, dear you can have it with anything", I gave her a peck and began my work.

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Balli was the perfect example of someone who boasts about everything. He always wanted to be the hero at everything.

My brother is a calm going person who generally doesn't interfere in anybody's life. The only 'entity' in this entire world that could rattle him was Balli. He never liked Balli's over-the-top self propaganda. He used to ignore him, mostly, but this one time he lost it completely when Balli began to boast that he could eat very spicy food. My brother challenged him to eat a pickle without adding ghee to it. Balli being himself, added a degree to it and said that he would have it 'as is' without even mixing it with rice - I think my brother secretly wanted him to say that.

With a wicked smile, my brother ran into the kitchen and brought a spoonful of Pallakaram and asked Balli to eat it. Balli had no idea whatsoever of its taste and went ahead to put the entire spoon in his mouth with a boastful expression. All of us were waiting with bated breath to see what happens next. In just about a few moments we could see tears rolling down Balli's cheeks while his eyes turned red. He was running all over the courtyard mindlessly searching for something that could 'save' him. After a bit of struggle, he found a bucket full of water and settled there. We all had a hearty laugh that day at Balli's expense.

Pallakaram is a delight for people who love spicy pickles. The subtle underlying flavour with a spicy facade makes it a brilliant combination.

Tell you what, even if you do not enjoy spicy food, I would recommend trying Pallakaram with a couple of spoons of ghee with Hot Rice. The ghee quells the spice while enhancing the flavour.

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Palla Gongura

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Balli, Kashappa and I were playing in the courtyard of my house.

My mother walked out of the kitchen and said,

"Rey Balli, I made a new pickle. Would you like to try it?"

Intrigued with the word 'new', he asked "Which is that pinni (aunt)?

"Palla Gongura, a combination recipe with Gongura and Palla Karam!" she said with a smile while walking into the kitchen to get a spoon of pickle for him.

The moment he heard the combination with Palla Karam, Balli did not think even a second before galloping to his house.

My mother, who totally forgot the Palla Karam incident between my brother and Balli, walked out of the kitchen and was surprised to see him nowhere. Meanwhile, Kashappa - who already knew the story from us - and I were rolling on the floor, literally.

Annoyed at us, my mother walked back into the kitchen with a visible streak of irritation on her face.

Putting Balli's fear for Palla Karam aside, Palla Gongura is one of the most brilliant pickles I ever had. It is sour and tangy with a decent amount of spiciness. Try it with ghee and you would thank me for the suggestion.

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Ananthanarayana, my sister's younger son, is a big-time foodie and loves to cook. For most of the evenings, during his stay, he was my assistant in the kitchen.

One evening, he gave me a total break from the kitchen with a promise that he would prepare a 'traditionally modern dish'. "Quite a funny phrase" I felt, but left the kitchen for him.

While he was busy in the kitchen, I relaxed a bit listening to my favourite Carnatic classics. And, in no time I heard his "dinner time!" call. Everyone, including Srikanth, promptly turned up to the dinner table immediately. Probably, the phrase intrigued everyone.

What he served then literally lived up to the name he gave. It was a spicy, sour and tangy rice dish with an equally interesting raitha. Everyone finished their portions calmly enjoying every morsel of the dish.

"How?", I said.
"Chintakaya, nothing else", he said. Looking at our perplexed faces, he got into details like how he prepared a variation of fried rice with Chintakaya pickle as the main ingredient and other herbs. "That's fine, but raitha?" asked Srijanani. "That is Chintakaya as well!" he said. "I just added some powdered sugar and some masala powder".

It left me wondering how food is such an amazing thing. A beautiful traditional taste like Chintakaya was made even more interesting with a small amount of creativity.

Take my word, go ahead and try it. Chintakaya is very traditional yet very flexible because of its interesting balance of tastes.

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Palla Chintakaya

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"If Chintakaya is magic, Palla Chintakaya is on the next level." said my brother while looking at Balli with a funny expression.

Everyone still remembers the incident around Palla Karam and Balli.

"Come on Anna, it has been 5 years since that incident. How long would you tease me?" Balli said. Kashappa had a broad smile listening to it.

"You know what, I enjoy Palla Karam now. No more afraid of it!", said Balli.

"Rey, even after these many years, you still remain boastful." My brother said while patting on Balli's back.

"But listen to me, Amma prepared Palla Chintakaya, have dinner with us and stay back. We shall spend the evening as you are leaving for Vizag and I to Vijayawada." my brother said.
"Wow, new friendship is brewing here!" said Nagavalli and I in unison.

Balli obliged and said "Palla Chintakaya brings us together" with a wink.

All of us had a great time eating food together and pulling each others' legs.

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Usiri Avakaya

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Although I had Usiri Avakaya many times till then, it was only when I shifted to Kurnool with Gangadharam that I began to develop a special love towards it.

I would give the total credit to Bhramaramba garu, my then landlady in Kurnool. For her, food was divine and her primary ingredient is oodles of love. She had a special appreciation for Usiri Avakaya. She used to say that it improves digestion and keeps our liver healthy.

I still remember the times when she used to take me to her garden from where we used to pick fresh Amla from the trees, bring them back home, clean them and meticulously go through the whole process of mixing spices, marinating and storing them in clean air-tight containers.

An interesting thing I learnt from Bhramaramba garu is that she used to begin each meal with Usiri Avakaya - even if it was just a tiny morsel. She says that it acts as a great appetiser.
I think she was right.


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Dabbakaya played more than the role of a pickle in my life.

When Gangadharam was working in the remote areas of Kurnool in the scorching sun, Dabbakaya and Curd rice helped him to keep his tummy cool and composed. It was playing the role of nutritionist for me then.

When Srikanth, my son, was unwell with viral fever and was finding any dish bitter, it was only Dabbakaya whose taste he liked. The Vitamin C in Dabbakaya helped build his immune system. So, it played the role of curer then.

When we used to go out during our childhood, my grandmother used to pack Dabbakaya in the old-styled brass tiffin boxes with rice or chapati. It played the role of a good food companion then.

I think I can go on and on with its health benefits.

But let me tell you this, it tastes out of the world. It has this amazing tangy, spicy taste coupled with an apt amount of sourness to make it a brilliant addition to your favourite pickles. Trust me, try it!

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"Our ancestors knew that marination is the only way they could preserve certain fruits for a long time", Murthy sir was speaking about food and culture in our 6th standard social studies class.

"Take the lemon, for example; they are marinated so that they could be used any time of the year", he continued.

I was lost by then; I began to imagine myself enjoying the fabulous taste of Nimmakaya pickle with curd rice. Summer afternoons are filled with amazing stories from amma while she used to feed us, siblings, with that amazing combination. She used to say, it would cool our tummies.

While the taste was playing through my mind, I began to feel the fresh 'aroma' from around the corner! For a second, I felt my imagination was getting too good as I could smell the pickle.
Amazed at my newfound ability, I came out of my imagination to share it with Pannagaveni, my bench mate. But what I saw got me into my senses, quite literally.
Pannagaveni, probably, felt there was no value in investing time in imagination when there is a chance of indulgence. She was blissfully enjoying curd rice with Nimmakaya pickle from her lunch box while watchfully listening to Murthy garu!

Though I felt cheated, I did not waste time cribbing about that and joined Pannagaveni without a second thought.

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"Isn't that incredible how a terribly bitter seed when fried and mixed with spices, results in a very aromatic and nutty flavour?", Srijanani was on a song that day. It does happen with her at times when she gets both emotional and philosophical at the same time. The best thing for anyone to do would be to listen to her because she speaks sense in a poetic manner.

"We should appreciate the first ones who realised the taste and flavour of these seeds", she continued. "How could they even imagine adding this bitter taste to Mango and come up with a pickle as tasty as Menthikaya?"

"Amma, I guess she is hungry," Srikanth remarked lazily. "I agree with him" Gangadharam joins Srikanth.

I think, amongst all of us, it was Ananthanarayana who was listening to her indulgently. Because I could see the emotive reflection of every word she spoke on his face. "hmm, foodies" I said to myself.
"I agree with you. The very aspect of experimenting with various flavours and hitting the right sweet spot mesmerises me." Ananth chimed in, finally.

"It is getting very heavy, let us break for lunch" Gangadharam dropped the anchor and concluded by saying "You know what, I understood that these two are dying to eat Menthikaya today. But, I think they could have made the request a bit simpler!"

"Gangadharam at his best." told myself while dragging Ananth with me to set up the lunch table.

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Pulihora Avakaya

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"Grandma, did you mix Pulihora in Avakaya?" Gargi asked with a bit of concern and confusion.

I did not get what she was saying, so asked "did not understand what you said dear, can you explain in detail?".

"No Grandma, I heard you saying to Amma in the morning that you would serve Pulihora Avakaya for lunch!" she said, maintaining the expression of confusion and concern.

I laughed heartily and took her on my lap and explained "No my dear, Pulihora Avakaya is another type of pickle. It has smaller pieces of Mango and as a final touch, we give it a good seasoning which is very similar to what we use in Pulihora. So that's how it got that name".

"Oh, I see!" she said with a huge relief on her face. "Then I shall also try it for lunch. But you need to serve me more than others", she took a promise from me.

Pulihora Avakaya indeed is a very interesting take on Avakaya. With its unique seasoning and tiny pieces, it easily can become a part of breakfast or a meal.

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Palla Usiri

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“Anything that has Pandu Mirapa* as an ingredient, it reminds me of my friend Balli”, with a smile I remarked while speaking to my grandchildren who were afraid to eat Palla Usiri thinking that it would be too spicy.

“Was he also afraid of Palla Usiri Grandma?” asked Karthikeya. “Oh, those stories are legends. It will take a long time if we start now”, I said with a pretentious nonchalance. That generated curiosity among them. Gargi and Shruti began pestering me to tell those stories and soon Karthikeya joined them. I let them request me for some more time and then began telling the stories while feeding them in turns. Each episode of Balli’s stories made them roll on the floor and Karthikeya, especially, was all over the place.

In about half-an-hour I exhausted all stories and so was the food in the bowl. “Is Palla Usiri also that Spicy Grandma?”, asked Karthikeya. “You tell me, you have been eating it for the past some time”, I asked him. With perplexity written all over their faces, they asked in unison “Did we eat Palla Usiri till now?”. “Yes”, I said “How did it taste?”.

“It was sour and a bit spicy”, said Gargi. “No, it was sour and tasted good with ghee. I did not feel it that spicy”, said Shruti. Karthikeya was still scratching his head in disbelief that he ate Palla Usiri and did not complain about spiciness.

“Palla Usiri is a beautiful mixture of sour and spice. If you mix it with hot rice and ghee it tastes really wonderful”, I said walking towards kitchen to wash my hands

* Ripened red chillies

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Usiri Pachchadi

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“There you go!” said Bhramaramba garu with an expression of contentment. She seems to be happy with the texture, colour and fragrance of the thokku (par-pickle) she prepared.

She looked up and said, “Take a couple of scoops into a fresh bowl and season it each time you feel like eating Usiri Pachchadi!”.

I was thoroughly mesmerised with the way it turned out. She carefully picked Usiri (amla) from the garden, ground them roughly into small pieces, added salt, turmeric and let the mixture gently dry under the sun.

“It smells great!”. I was really inspired by its unique aroma. “I am going to prepare it tonight itself! Gangadharam would love the taste”, I said to her with an excited smile and rushed to my room. By dinner time, I did what Bhramarambaru said. Although Gangadharam’s reaction was just one word “Brilliant”, a lot more was written all over his face.

I ran to the terrace where Bhramaramba garu was relaxing post-dinner with her son and husband. In a flash I stood in front of her with a beaming smile and a thumbs up gesture. She might be expecting me as she reciprocated with a hearty smile - a rare but a refreshing one nevertheless.

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Nallakaram was Obavva's speciality.

During one rather chilly winter night in the Kurnool district, Obavva made a good campfire beside our house. While kids were jumping around the fire, Obavva was telling me how food could be used to cool or heat up our bodies. She was telling me that some food items are winter specialists, some are summer specialists while there are others that could be had round the clock in any weather.

Obavva's father was a Siddha (a traditional system of healing) practitioner. All her remedies revolve around food.

"Take, for example, this weather. It is very chilly and there is a possibility of people getting affected by cold and fever. So, in this weather, we need to have something like Nallakaram which generates some heat to withstand the situation". she continued "If you add a bit of Garlic to it, then it helps build immunity as well".

There is so much practical knowledge with everyone, we just need to have the intent to grasp it.

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Kandi Podi

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After our engagement, Gangadharam began visiting us. On one such visit, my mother asked him "What would you like to have dear?". Gangadharam shyly replied "Gunpowder!".

I did not understand the head or tail of that reference. But my mother went back into the kitchen nodding and smiling to get the so-called 'gunpowder'. I was super curious to know but was not interested to express my curiosity in front of Gangadharam - "can't come across as naive", I said to myself.

I hurriedly followed my mother into the kitchen and was amused to find out that it was Kandi Podi they were referring to. "Why on earth that name?", I wondered.

It has been so many years since then, but I still could not figure out the origins of the name.

Nevertheless the interesting name, Kandi Podi has always been a favourite dish of mine. Hot Rice and Kandi Podi with ghee is a combination that brings back memories of childhood.

The times when my grandmother used to grind Kandi Podi in the backyard, using the traditional wooden pestle and mortar, while my mother used to take care of roasting the lentil and other spices.

Us kids had only one job then. Sit around and eagerly wait for the preparation to be ready.

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Karivepaku Podi

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"Always maintain a small kitchen garden wherever you go". My mother was preparing me for my marital life a few weeks before the wedding date.

"Try growing a 'curry leaves' plant, a few seasonal vegetables, green chillies etc. in a small area. When you fall short of vegetables you may just pluck a bunch of curry leaves and make Karivepaku Podi. Otherwise, you may use it daily in your curries or rasam or sambar". She continued for some more time with a lot more such tips.

Of the many things that she shared with me, the concept of Kitchen Garden stuck with me. I always made it a point to maintain a few plants in whatever available space around our house. Once we moved to Hyderabad, I had the luxury to maintain a bigger garden.

We had a decently big Karivepaku Tree and it made my life easy on many occasions. It took a small while to pluck leaves, clean them and prepare Karivepaku Podi which was a favourite of kids. They loved to have it with rice and Idlis.

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Idli Chutney Podi

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"While I serve you hot breakfast, you guys talk to each other. I will not take much time", I was not expecting them to appear at the breakfast table so early!

"Hey, let's sing songs", said Karthikeya. "No", Shruti and Maitreyi said in unison. "Let us share interesting Tidbits!" says Shruti. Maitreyi agreed.

Gargi was least interested in the conversation as she never liked the gap between making up her mind to eat and actual eating. She spread her left hand over the table and lazily rested her head on it. When the girls did not get any response from Karthikeya, they turned to her and she responded with a Thumbs-up.

"Alright," said Shruti, "Let me start. You know Idli was first mentioned in a 10th century Kannada book!"

"Eh, is it not in Tamil? Idli is a Tamilnadu breakfast item!", asked Gargi. Her interest grew as the topic was food.

"No, the actual dish is not even from India. It was from Indonesia. Our Idli is a modified version of something called Kedly", said Maitreyi. All the girls burst into laughter hearing the name 'Kedly'. I was amused by the information the two girls have - 'books!' I thought.

"I know something", claimed Karthikeya. Everyone looked with curiosity. "Grandma is bringing Idlis and she is serving them with Idli Chutney Podi".

"That's not even fair, that is not a tidbit" shrieked Maitreyi. "Did you know that before I told you? I was the one who told you first that she is serving Idli Chutney Podi, so I am correct", he said while taking his first bite.

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Nuvvula Podi

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During our stay in rural Kurnool, I became friends with Sumathi, the daughter of a local sarpanch. She was a very kind and benevolent soul.

Trust me, her food tastes too were very gentle and uncomplicated, so to speak.

She taught me a variety of shades of Nuvvula Podi. With Garlic, with Jeera and so on. She had a story for each of those varieties and why and how she chooses a variety based on an occasion. I was really surprised to see a mere 17-year old girl speaking like an experienced cook!

But then, to be a great cook you need to know how to appreciate and respect food besides being creative. And for that, age is certainly not a yardstick.

Coming back to the topic, one of Sumathi's Nuvvula Podi recipes happens to be my favourite. It has a very tender aroma that lifts you up. And when you mix it with rice and ghee, it gives you an aftertaste that leaves you craving for more.

Sumathi used to call it 'magic'. So, yes Nuvvula Podi has some magic that makes you crave more.

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Palli Podi

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Ananthanarayana and his love for food is something I told you a lot of times. ‘Food Fusion’ as he loves to call his experiments are not just random experiments but well-thought combinations that will leave a pleasant aftertaste. He gives you a reason for every combination.

‘Nutty Professor’ is the name he gave to Palli Podi. He says that if mixed properly it can enhance every other dish's taste. Though his main ‘eating pattern’ is mixing Palli Podi with hot rice and ghee, he does also like to mix it with multiple other things. Sometimes he sprinkles it on Saggubiyyam Vadiyalu and on other times he might be mixing it with Gongura Pachchadi and enjoys it. When it comes to Dosa, he mixes Palli Podi with ghee and smears that paste on Dosa while it is roasted. Try it, it tastes mesmerising.

His Food Fusion has no boundaries. So much so that once he made a salad with Capscium, Sweet Corn, Olives and Jalapeno. He then added a dash of Olive oil and sprinkled Palli Podi on it. The taste was heavenly. “He is right when he says it mixes well with anything”, I said to myself.

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Kobbari Podi

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Srijanani, my daughter, was a fussy eater till she began going to school. My sister’s visit during a summer vacation triggered a huge change in her eating habits. As it was summer, I was feeding my daughter with curd rice the most. And she used to resist a lot. My sister saw all this and said “Children love food that looks and tastes interesting”. She took it upon herself and duly brought some changes to Srijanani’s eating schedule and food items. She made her food colourful and made the entire activity of eating a big fun.

One of the interesting changes she made to Srijanani’s meal was the addition of Kobbari Podi. I still remember the expression of delight on Srijajani’s face when she had Kobbari Podi with ghee and rice for the first time. She was gleeful. Never have I seen her eating so quickly and merrily. I thanked my sister to my heart’s content.

From then, Kobbari Podi has become a mainstay in Srijanani’s list of acceptable food items. She was having it with rice, idli and dosa. In fact, she went to an extent that she used to make a flavourful paste by adding hot ghee to Kobbari Podi and have it with even Chapatis!

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Sambar Podi

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Bhramaramba garu taught me the preparation of Sambar Podi. Apparently, she learnt it from her family friends. The beautiful aroma of the Sambar Podi sets the tone of the meal even before the preparation is complete.

It literally reduces your effort of imagining the final outcome during the prep time itself, just because of its aroma.

When Gangadharam was posted in Israel for 6 months, I packed all the podis and preparations in air-tight containers so that he doesn't have to run pillar to post for his food. And, I carried some more when we three visited him during the summer.

The ease with which I could prepare Sambar with literally zero effort makes me love my Sambar Podi even more.

Gangadharam was narrating a funny incident about how he mistook Sambar Podi for Koora Podi and used it in a curry and served it to a local colleague. They, nevertheless, enjoyed the taste as it was so very interesting.

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Rasam Podi

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Rasam podi is a cousin of Sambar Podi. Purists might not totally agree with me, but I love to put it like that purely owing to the fact that they make a busy person's cooking activity very simple. And, both are used to prepare a liquid dish!

All said and done, Rasam podi with the perfect amount of spices is just the right kind of dish you would like to have before you switch to curd rice and conclude a typical Telugu meal.

Srijanani's phrase for the Rasam Podi is 'The Tani Avartanam', the most delightful stage of a Carnatic music concert. She says that Rasam plays that beautiful role of sustaining the spirits that are already set by the other dishes in a meal. Just the right kind of food that doesn't spoil the after tastes of other dishes while maintaining its own stature.

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Koora Podi

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Koora Podi is something my mother prepared for me when I got married. Along with a steel box full of Koora Podi, she also handed me over a slip with its detailed recipe. I wasn't so keen then but that slip taught me something which eased my workload and made my day on numerous occasions.

Take brinjal, ladies finger, bottle gourd, ridge gourd or anything. All that you need to do is to add this Koora Podi and it results in a brilliant taste.

I used it on many occasions when I was hard-pressed for time with two young kids and while Gangadharam was working literally round-the-clock.

I used it on my long trips to North India. Gangadharam and I used to carry a small camp stove on which we used to cook any locally available vegetable with Koora Podi and enjoy the meal.

My son Srikanth used it when he was on an inter-university exchange program and travelled to some remote places in the North-East.

Having said that, you don't have to be hard-pressed for time or travel to remote places to use Koora Podi. Those were its benefits in extreme situations. But, it has one other great benefit - it makes any curry tasty. So, go ahead and try the influence of Koora Podi.

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Gummadi Vadiyalu

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Gummadi Vadiyalu deserves a chapter for themselves in any recipe book. Such is their taste that anyone who is organising a function or a get-together insists that the cook adds them to the meal. No two ways about it.

My grandmother was a big big fan of Gummadi Vadiyalu. Just a hint of heat, she would summon my father to get a Gummadikaya (ash gourd).

A big process follows, soaking urad dal for a few hours, grinding them with chillies and salt. Then mixing the batter with long slices of ash gourd - it all made a great spectacle. Never understood why, but we all kids used to sit very calmly around her and intently observe every step of the preparation without causing any disturbance! I think that was the only time when we would be so calm and focused while doing... nothing!

She would make small cakes and dry them over a thin cloth for 3 days in the hot sun. And the very night when she declares they are 'dried and ready', they would be fried and become a part of our meal.

They have a standout taste while at the same time they never disturb the core flavour of the dish you have.

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Pottu Vadiyalu

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"With great patience comes great taste", Ananthanarayana gave his own twist to this Spiderman dialogue.

"Whose patience is that and which is that great taste?". I asked. "And by the way, I ran out of my quota of patience today, so do not expect it from me", I said with a semi-serious face.

"Don't worry pinni (aunt), patience is all mine and pleasure would be yours", he said while taking a bow.

"You are a drama master", I said. "Tell me what are you going to do", I continued.

"I dehusked the minapa pappu (urad dal) last night. I am going to make Pottu Vadiyalu now". He looked happy.

"I will help you", jumped Srijanani. Ananth happily agreed and they both sat together and went about preparing the Vadiyalu and dried them in the sun.

Needless to say, the fried Pottu Vadiyalu add an elegant taste to our food. They taste especially well with curd rice!

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Chitti Vadiyalu

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It was when we were in our fourth class I think, we got benches to sit in our classrooms. We used to sit on mats earlier. Honestly, I felt benches made us more drowsy and lazy. Suddenly, we all began to sit with a slouch while resting our hands on the desk - always finding an opportunity to sleep.

In the middle of this change, Balli found one more convenience. He can happily munch away the items that he carries in his knicker pockets! Earlier it was so tough for him to extract those munchies from his pocket while squatting on the mat. Now it is a cakewalk.

And, on this fine day, while our Maths master was writing something on the board, we all started hearing a rhythmic sound of grinding. It drew the master's attention as well. And all of us could figure out it was Balli. He was in his own world looking up at the thatched roof while munching the Chitti Vadiyalu from his pocket one by one. He was totally lost.

"Thud!" the duster zipped past Balli's ear and made that sound against the wall behind him. While all of us were laughing, Balli was the only one who reacted as if a bomb dropped next to him. The next the minute master's hand was twisting Balli's ear and he started shouting. We had great fun that day.

Chitti Vadiyalu are really very very interesting in their size and shape. As big as a nut, a handful can fit in your pocket and you could munch them happily for a while. Or they can be an addition to your meal or you could add them to any of your dry or semi-dry curries. Slightly soggy, they would become when added to a curry, but they would give a very nice twist to the overall taste.

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Saggubiyyam Vadiyalu

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It's Renuka again, my local recipe master in Hyderabad. On that day, she came with a brass box of a really big diameter. I blurted out "What is this?". I never saw such a big box.
"I got you something to munch akka!" she said while opening the box. The box had large circular white-coloured papads which had a great aroma. "Saggubiyyam Vadiyalu!" she said while making her eyes big with an expression like "what do you think?".

I reciprocated with the same enthusiasm and thanked her a lot. They had a crunchy texture and very different taste. How come I never had anything like this till now, I wondered.

"How do you eat these appadalu Renuka?", I asked.

"Vadiyalu Akka. You can have them as a snack, or just munch them with each bite of your meal. You can eat it in any manner and at any time".

"Lovely!" said Srijanani "I shall have all of them. You get more for Amma and others pinni (aunt), these all are mine now". She ran with the box into her room.

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Biyyam Pindi Vadiyalu

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Summers were all fun for us children in my hometown. Apart from all the play and adventure, one thing that I loved was the variety of food/snacks that we got to eat. My grandmother was a champion at feeding us.

Of everything that she cooked for us, Biyyam Pindi Vadiyalu stood out for me. I could have them as a snack or as a side dish and of course I could also use them in my barter deals - especially when I am dealing with my friend Balli. He can trade his life for Biyyam Pindi Vadiyalu.

The moment he realised my grandmother’s plan to cook Biyyam Pindi Vadiyalu, he used to rush early in the next morning to my house and help my grandmother in all the preparations before Sun started hitting hard. And then, my grandmother would be carefully making beautiful spirals with the dough on a thin muslin cloth laid out on a wooden cot. Those were the only times when my grandmother used to enjoy the company of Balli. She would sing, tell stories and also let him sleep on her lap while Vadiyalu dried in the sun. She very well knew his loyalty lasted till she gave her fried Vadiyalu, but her love never knew bounds.

He used to stay back and have dinner with us those days and used to narrate tales of how he helped my grandmother and how they made the Biyyam Pindi Vadiyalu. All while holding a vadiyam as a vishnu chakram in one hand taking tiny bites out of it as he went about his stories - fun memories!

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Challa Mirapakayalu

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During our stay in Kurnool, I began to learn to love food - largely because of Bhramaramba garu, our landlady. She used to be very measured in life. Even her food was so balanced and satisfying. She had a reason for choosing to cook each and every dish. If she made Mango Pappu, she ensured she served Avakaya. She says, they both balance each other's taste and give you joy. I agree.

She once took us to Banaganapalli where they had their farmlands. The town is world-famous for its unique variety of mangoes. They grew chillies, some vegetables and of course, mangoes. We walked through the thota (garden) and picked a bunch of everything. On our way back she spoke at length about various recipes.

Once we reached home, she made me clean all the green chillies and gave them a nice slit on one side. She then marinated them in curd and said "Now we shall leave them alone for a couple of days."

After a couple of days, she drained the chillies and set them to dry in the sun. On a fine day, she calls me and says "let's have lunch tomorrow, bring Gangadharam along with you". That was her usual style of inviting - a lot of love hidden under a tinge of authority!

She served Mango Dal, Avakaya and fried Challa Mirapakayalu. Then she says "Gangadharam, you know nothing about enjoying food. Do as I tell you". Gangadharam nodded in agreement with a smile. "Put a morsel of Mango Dal in your mouth and then take a gentle and small bite of a Challa Mirapakaya and let them melt in your mouth. Do not forcibly chew!" she commanded. Gangadharam did exactly the same with a smile plastered on his face. I stopped eating and kept looking at him. I never saw him that happy while eating food!

I'll ensure he feels the same every day, I thought intently.

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"Appadalu should not be dried in the scorching sun. They just need a gentle dry", My grandmother was educating me while asking me to move the traditional wooden folding cot, on which she placed all the appadalu, into the shade.

"Why is that so?", I asked.

"Harsh sunlight dries them rather very quickly and damages the shape. They need to slowly lose their moisture so that their shape and colour are retained!", she explained.

"Grandma, should we put so much effort into preparing something that we finish eating in a minute?", I asked. I was not philosophical at all when I think back. It was a genuine question as I saw her struggling since morning to roll the papads into the right shape and then dry them to meticulous perfection.

"Come here and sit", she called me with a smile on her face.

"Food doesn't just fill our tummies, it gives us pleasure, it relaxes and soothes our senses and at the end remains as a memory forever. So, do not measure it by the time you take to 'finish' eating it. Measure it by the amount of time it stays in your memory. If you want the food to stay in your memory for a very long time, then you need to put in this kind of effort".

My 9-year old mind did not understand the depth at that time, but I loved the way she explained it. The only good thing I did was, I remembered her words verbatim. And they kept on ringing in my head on each instance I cooked a meal.

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