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This year’s Deepavali is upon us. Though Covid is looming, this Deepavali promises a more prosperous time ahead. The gloom is almost gone and we are ready to celebrate as we used to — with new clothes, firecrackers and food.

In the past, idly was a Deepavali indulgence for the poorer lot. Middle and upper class households would see murukku and adhirasam being made several days ahead. One in five households would sport a grander look – the daughter of the house would have brought her newly-wed husband home.

In villages, white rice would enliven families.  In Madurai and Usilampatti regions, Deepavali and Pongal banquets were called ‘Nalla naal kanji’ (auspicious day food) during which families feasted on food items made of rice.  There would at least be one sweetmeat. Mutton would be a compulsory item among meat eating households. Today, biryani has replaced that tradition, largely.

Deepavali would start with the taste-challenging lehiyam.  It was a stomach-churning, bitter-sweet concoction based on a secret recipe that mothers wouldn’t reveal to us. But, today, even the lehiyam is delivered along with all the sweets by shops. In cities, sweets are ordered. In smaller towns, people go and buy from shops. That’s the only difference. Very few make Deepavali sweets and snacks at home.

In cities, sweets are ordered. In smaller towns, people go and buy from shops. That’s the only difference. Very few make Deepavali sweets and snacks at home.

But the gourmets and beginners have always taken delight in cooking for Deepavali. Women’s magazines would routinely publish recipes. Meenakshi Ammal’s cookbooks are still in print – they have been publishing for 75 years now.

Cook books did not mean amateur writers. Famous writer Ku Pa Rajagopalan’s daughter Ku Pa Sethu Ammal was among those known for their cook books. His contemporary Prakash ran a mess in Thanjavur. Most publishing houses still publish cookbooks – the trend persisting is collections of regional cuisine recipes such as Chettinad food.

Men have not been laggards in gourmet cooking either. S Tamilselvan has written cook books targeting men. The writing and content is such that many things that cookbook writers take for granted are clearly explained from first principles. For instance, the book would start with how to do basic things such as making ingredients and what goes into them. How to make rasam is explained.

Nanjil Nadan, a Sahitya Akademi award winning writer, has written about the cuisine of Nanjil Nadu, the Kanyakumari region. S Ramakrishnan has written against junk food that he considers a social malaise. Ashokamitran has weighed in on food. Writer Ka Na Subramaniam was particular about which restaurant served what. In an essay on the drink that cheers, AR Venkachalapathy has written that there was no coffee in the pa

Ashokamitran has weighed in on food. Writer Ka Na Subramaniam was particular about which restaurant served what. In an essay on the drink that cheers, AR Venkachalapathy has written that there was no coffee in the past.  

The Center for Science and Environment has published books such as Business of Taste and First Food.

Just like everything else today, the source of information for food too has moved to social media. YouTube is the default source of recipes for everyone. While talking on the phone, we can keep the YouTube recipe channel open and cook now.

Interactivity is the name of the social media game. Recipe-driven experiments with food make for popular videos on YouTube.

Cook With Comali (Tamil for joker) is popular on Vijay TV. Not to be outdone, Sun TV has Vijay Sethupathy anchors a cooking contest called MasterChef.

Rahul Gandhi patronized non-celebrity cooks from a village. The video went viral on YouTube.


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