By Nikita Rajwade:
“I don’t like food that’s too carefully arranged; it makes me think that the chef is spending too much time arranging and not enough time cooking. If I wanted a picture, I’d buy a picture.”
Like so many other things in India, food, too, is stereotyped. Punjab is all about Makke di Roti and Sarson da Saag; Mumbai is very vada pav. When I told my aunt that I was moving to Gujarat for my studies, she just shook her head and said- ‘Get ready to put up with sweet dal.’ It’s only after I came here that I realised how absolutely baseless that statement was.
Gujarat is not all about sweetened food, and Idli, Dosa, Sambhar are not all that we serve down South (regardless of which state it is). But it is true that all varieties of food have originated in a particular state, and there are many instances when the food is uniquely a statement of the place where it was first served. Nevertheless, there’s so much more to where the food comes from; so many other dishes that people haven’t yet had the opportunity to taste, and the last thing anyone should do is place food into categories.
One of the lesser-known delicacies from down South is the Chitranna, or Lemon Rice. Apart from being a personal favourite, it is also has one of the easiest recipes, (with a majority of the ingredients being mustard, chillies, lemon, and rice) which makes it a frequently-prepared dish in every home. Although my tryst with Chitranna began at an early age at home, it wasn’t until I was fifteen years old that I fell headlong in love with it, while I ate it at a food street.
What appeals to me the most about this puzzlingly simple-yet-delicious fare is that no one waits for an occasion to prepare it. There’s no fanfare, no banana leaves set out in celebration of a festival, nothing but few people sitting around the dining table, basking in all the glory than only a family can, and enjoying every morsel of the food. That is what, according to me, makes a dish like Chitranna really special. It’s common, just like all of us, the common men and women.
One of the most amazing things I’ve seen is that Chitranna, in spite of being a comparatively lesser-known dish from the South, is being served in a couple of restaurants in even Gujarat. As for me being so far away from home- Well, I’ve found familiarity and comfort and there is nothing that makes me happier.
India has so much diversity that it’s impossible for all of us to speak one language, to read the same scriptures in the same script. And that’s why I think food is the great uniting factor — the one thing that keeps us together all the time. All Indians love Dosa, everybody relishes paneer butter masala, and there is just no concept of where they came from in the first place (not much, at least). It’s the most amazing thing, really, and also the most endearing. And for that one moment, that one second in time when you’re enjoying the food, we’re all one. Not North or South Indian, but quite simply, Indian.