Food

Kanji, not as you know it

A board at an outlet that serves kanji in the city   | Photo Credit: Thulasi Kakkat

For most of us who don’t have delicious home cooked food to look forward to and little cooking skill to fall back on, deciding what to have for the next meal is a struggle. Not for lack of choice mind you, more likely because of it. Having to balance the needs of a rumbling stomach with health implications and rapidly depleting account balance throws up a daily conundrum. In these moments of despair (yes despair, who wouldn’t eat biriyani every day if they could?) comes the realisation that a healthy, cost-efficient, and highly overlooked alternative exists – the humble kanji.

Tucked away in plain sight in different parts of the city are establishments that serve the hot gruel to diners, either as a specialty or as part of a regular menu. One such is located on C.P. Ummer Road, onto which Pullepady bridge descends. As unassuming as the gruel it serves, the unmarked shop, next to a motorcycle workshop, can seat only about five people, though that does not stop customers from dropping in for hot porridge.

Viswanathan, the owner of the shop, says the simplicity and the ease of preparation of kanji is what led him to offer it as lunchtime special. “I used to run a small restaurant nearby, but when it got difficult to manage, we switched over to providing traditional breakfasts in the morning and tea and snacks in the evening. Since we had nothing to do for lunchtime, we decided to make kanji and serve it with payar and pappadam. It has its takers among office goers and autorickshaw drivers also frequent us for lunch.” While Viswanathan admits that the sale is not spectacular, all the kanji they prepare is consumed.

Loved by some and reviled by others, the porridge is nevertheless ingrained in our lifestyle. For Praveen S., a media professional who has had kanji for breakfast for years, it is now something of a necessity. “I have regular kanji, without any add-ons, and it has served as a healthy and nutritional breakfast that I find hard to replace. However, I have never had kanji from a shop, or even another house. Perhaps it has to do with the taste and consistency that you get used to.”

This feature of the porridge, its association with home, is both its strength and undoing. While people are willing to consume it at home, providing it as an option at dining establishments is proving a tough sell. Case in point, hunting for a couple of places of repute that served the broth was met with downed shutters and comments from nonchalant passerby about how kanji on its own is not sustainable.

That said, hotels across the city still offer the porridge as an option on the conventional menu with other items. Anil T.P., who runs a small eatery behind the High Court, explains how kanji has been served for dinner at his restaurant since his father’s time and though the movement is slow, it still has a few regular takers. “We only make about three kilos of rice worth kanji and that has not changed despite seasonal shifts and customer preferences as the people who order it are regulars. To be honest, providing multiple helpings of kanji and payar for Rs.25 is not very profitable.”

For Paulson Thannipilli, who owns a mobile store in the GCDA Shopping Complex on Shanmugham Road, the porridge is a way of having a filling yet balanced meal. “The good thing about kanji is that it does not leave you feeling stuffed like rice does. Since it is light, I realised I was eating only what I needed and felt a lot more energised.”

And that in itself is the story of kanji. It is probably the best option for most of us to cover a meal a day, but is still neglected in favour of fancier, unhealthier, and more expensive counterparts.

That is not to say the hot porridge of cold mornings and fevered nights is on its way out. Perhaps it is just better enjoyed in the welcoming environs of home, plain and wholesome.

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Printable version | Apr 22, 2021 11:48:37 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/Food/kanji-not-as-you-know-it/article7188422.ece

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