Spice, Sambar and Her

Ammuma had the knack of pushing food down our throats, it is just a typical characteristic of a grandmother. But what ammuma would always prefer making would be a spicy dish , if you are lucky you will get some pal payasam or kadala payasam.

She had an arsenal of spicy and zesty food recipes ranging from her humble plate of chundal to her meenvaruthathu. The sound of the fish being fried in oil not only reverberates through the corridors of her house but also stands out despite the hustle-bustle in Alwarpet Street. I am convinced my maternal side can handle almost any fiery dish and not show a reaction to it, only because of ammuma’s cooking. Acha who has been married for 23 years now is still trying to figure out how amma could handle the spice and not reach for the water bottle,while acha would be panting in despair, searching for a chocolate or anything he could grab for a relief, his forehead would be covered with a layer of sweat despite being in an AC room. Regardless of all the drama, and his homeostasis giving a clear indication that his hunger is diminished. He would still go for another round of her delicacies.

However, her modest sambar is, by far, the best she has made. She has the perfect ratio of vegetables in it. If she makes a chicken gravy along with it, then that’s a jackpot. Ammuma’ Sambar could probably bring anyone to their knees, one reason is due to her spice but it also puts your body in overdrive and prepares you for an experience. Your nostrils attempting to open up a little more just to take in the aroma, which starts the mouth-watering process. Your eyes trying to understand her play in colours and the touch of extravaganza it adds to the meek sambar. Your tongue getting itself ready for a royal treatment especially when you are down with a cold. And when you eat her sambar rice, you would just want to close your eyes to take it in. When I get the goosebumps, I always assume it to be my body’s way of thanking me and also informing me that the spice would be hitting me anytime now.

I have only asked ammuma once why does she prefer making spicy dishes more, when her payasams and other desserts are equally delicious. Holding her favourite maaza juice in one hand, and other hand on her hip, she said “Isn’t it better than the Sambar your amma makes from some Mysore Dal”. She later said that one day you would figure it out. And took me to the dining room for having the cake she had brought. Sambar according to her, was a little on the spicy side. Does her preparation of sambar or any other dish show her fiery spirit or her desire to be unique from the rest? I haven’t figured it out yet.  Despite all her dishes, it was that Sambar I fell in love with. It’s surprising on how I have photographic memories of me relishing the sambar in a steel plate resembling a papadam with ammuma just sitting next to me, with a small smile on her face.


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