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‘We all connect emotionally with food’

It takes four months to get Vijay Sethupathi to do this interview. At first he’s shooting back-to-back for Kavan and Vikram Vedha. Then, he is at Dindigul, shooting for Karuppan. I finally speak to him one evening after he finally leaves the sets.

Sethupathi says conversation about food transports him to his childhood, when his amma would force him to eat spinach. “I was not a fussy kid and had a good appetite. Only, I was not happy to eat keerai and vegetables. But when my appa was around, there was no way we would refuse to eat. So, she would deliberately serve us more vegetables when he was home.”

He adds that his father never admonished him for flunking exams, but would chide him if he did not eat vegetables.

The actor says his mother is an excellent cook; her best dishes are idli with coconut chutney and a thogayal made of ridge gourd. He calls them devamritham. . “She was especially popular among my friends for her muruval dosai. Amma makes the best coffee, with its bitterness intact. I love it,” he states.

Vijay Sethupathi says that until the age of 10, he used to spend summer vacations at his grandmother’s place in Rajapalayam. “She would make kozhi kudal kuzhambu, which was out of this world. Today, not many in the family follow her recipe, as it involves a lot of work. The taste of the ulundhu kali, which she used to serve with gingelly oil, still lingers.”

Another ritual that the actor vividly describes is the way his grandmother used to mix leftover rice. “She would mix the rice well, then add chopped onions and salt. It would be served with either thogayal or karuvaadu. It was a simple meal, but was like amrutham.”

When he was in school, Vijay Sethupathi says he used to get just 10 paise as pocket money; he could not afford to go to the school canteen with this. But, he could get javvu mittai, kelakka, elandhai pazham, podinelli and seeni kizhangu. “I used to share my lunch with friends, but the lunch one particular friend used to bring was my favourite. It was plain rice mixed with coconut oil and salt, with a blob of thogayal as accompaniment. I used to find this unusual, but tasty.”

Vijay Sethupathi’s tryst with cooking began when he left home to work in Dubai. It was during his bachelor days that he learnt the basics and went on to become an expert in preparing biryani, puli kuzhambu and sambar. “I prepare my style of biriyani by sautéing sliced onion, tomato, green chilli, ginger garlic and add required water and rice. If I end up adding a tad too much of salt, I used to add curd to balance it.” Apart from cooking, the star says he loves to create a new dish by combining four or five existing ones. “I mix sambar, thogayal, poriyal and rasam in the right proportion, and create a new dish. My children love my curd, karaboondhi, murukku, onion, green chilli, pepper and salt combination.”

Though he loves to explore various types of cuisine, while travelling to different locations for shooting within India, Vijay Sethupathi says he is non-fuzzy and can manage with just curd. While in Dindigul, on the sets of Karuppan, he happened to taste Kanji made in a household in the vicinity of the shooting spot. “It was a gruel made with rice, milk, garlic and moong dal. It was a healthy meal and so flavourful.”

Most of the actor’s overseas travels have been to attend films festivals in Norway, South Korea and Berlin. For Rekka, he travelled to Bangkok and Krabi in Thailand. He’s cautious about exploring unfamiliar cuisine though. “Usually, I prefer Indian food; the rare chances I take with local food sometimes end in disaster.”

His favourite street food joints are in Saligramam, and he continues to frequent them even today. Be it parotta and kari kolambu or peppery fried rice, he has his favourite spots. Also the molaga bajji with a unique blend of masala available in Rangarajapuram is an all-time favourite. “During my initial days in the industry, I used to frequent a tea shop in Saligramam, and the black tea that anna used to make, with a dash of lemon and a hint of ginger, used to energise me. I have had up to 10 cups a day there on particularly stressful days.”

As someone who grew up eating healthy, native food, Vijay Sethupathi is concerned about the safety of the food we now consume. “When my parents force-fed me healthy food, they were confident they were giving me the best. But now, when I feed my children, I am not sure if what I am giving them is safe. Politics and pesticides are destroying our food culture. The food we eat is our identity. The youth of the nation must save our food culture and traditions. If not, it will affect future generations.”


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Printable version | Jun 17, 2021 2:17:10 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/vijay-sethupathy-gets-nostalgic-about-his-childhood/article17576550.ece

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