The Intricacies and Pitfalls of Indian Cooking and Mr P!
Mr P was in a flurry. He had a guest G, from overseas, coming for breakfast and he wanted to make an impression. Initially he thought he would make Dosa. Dosas in their simple form are nice, thin, pancakes made from ground rice and black gram made into a paste and fermented overnight.
Mr P’s cook could make somewhat well-shaped and tasty Dosas but unfortunately it was her day off. Mr P could never cook well-shaped, circular Dosas. He would have been happy even if they were not perfectly round but turned out at least in the shape of Sri Lanka or even Australia. Sadly however, Mr P’s Dosas were often the shape of India, America and some other countries of the world including New Zealand, Singapore and Japan! So when Mr P thought about it further he was not that sure about serving Dosa to his guest. Moreover, the last time when Mr P had tried to cook a Dosa all by himself, it had developed an attitude and a mind of its own and had refused to come off the pan.
Finally he had to scrape out bits of sticky mess from the pan which in no way looked anywhere related to a Dosa. In fact it had resembled the humble Upma. With this thought, Mr P’s mind that had been flitting like a butterfly in the garden of Indian breakfast gastronomy, suddenly settled on Upma.
The Upma had become world famous when it had helped Floyd Cardoz in New York, to walk home with the award for Top Chef Master Season 3, of 2011. Mr P in all his humbleness was confident of beating any Top Chef Master in Upma preparation. After all wasn’t it a South Indian preparation and who else could claim to cook it better than Mr P? He also decided to make tea the Indian way to serve with the Upma.
Before continuing with this anecdote, let me impart this knowledge for those who are not aware of the intricacies of Indian cooking. Upma is prepared by adding roasted semolina into the correct quantity of water while it is boiling. The name Upma is derived from two words. The first word, Up for Uppu, means salt or salty. The second word is Ma and you have definitely got it wrong if you think Upma means Salty Mother!!!
The term Ma stands for Mavu which means dough. So together Upma means salty dough and it is easy to guess that salt is a major ingredient. The required amount of salt is to be added into the boiling water before the semolina. Ginger, green chillies, curry leaves and sometimes onions are added to give flavor. In Kerala, plenty of grated coconut is also added.
The traditional Indian way of preparing tea or “chai” is by boiling water on the stove and adding tea leaves/powder directly into that water. Sugar is also added into that boiling water and the liquid is then strained and mixed with boiled milk.
“Easy meal to prepare” thought Mr P and roasted a cup of semolina for the Upma first. He then put a pot of water for tea on one burner and a pot of water on the other burner for the Upma. The cooking went off incident free and the Upma appeared to be alright albeit a little bit sticky.
Guest G arrived on time and Mr P served the Upma and the tea to his guest. We can imagine how lyrical Mr P would have been praising the Upma as a wholesome food and what a winner it was at the Top Chef Master competition.
G put a spoonful of Upma in his mouth. Mr P waited eagerly for a comment and the guest cleared his throat. “Interesting”, he said. G was in a cover-up mode and with a face devoid of any expression, hastily took the cup of tea in his hand.
Mr P tasted the Upma then. It was slightly sweet. But was there any salt in it? No, not a teeny-weeny bit! Nil! None! Nada! The “Salty dough” was totally salt free, unsavory and unpalatable!
“Where did all the salt that I put in the water go?” Mr P wondered. He glanced at G furtively. G had taken a big sip of the tea to wash down the bad taste of the Upma from his mouth….
A tortured look came over G’s face and he gagged…. in an involuntary retching reflex!
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