GOURMET FILES Vasundhara Chauhan

Tastes ‘just like Grandma’

Fenugreek leaves. Photo: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar  

I don’t have a problem with bad spelling and mispronunciation. How can I, an Indian born and bred, be expected to know whether it’s tor-teeya or tort-illa, that one could be a corn flatbread in Me-hico and the other an omelette in Spain? Or that both could be either? They’re not from our language, not even from English, our foster-mother tongue. Can they say sambar or daal? But some food words have become so Indian that maybe it’s time we got them right. If peeza’s here can paella be far behind? The confusion between pa-ell-a and pa-aiyy-a should be fun.

But I have a problem with pretentiousness. This particular conniption is brought on by an article in a Delhi daily describing a party that was so la-di-dah that they served “canopies and champagne”. Really? Meaning the marquee was made of lasagna cooked al dente, which was dismantled and served to guests? Or did the writer mean large lollipop-like confectionery? My mind is imagining all kinds of edible canopies, in the style of Hansel and Gretel’s gingerbread house. A writer should have known better. Restaurant menus flaunt food that tastes just like Grandma, meat of boy kids, “battered” prawns and “spitted” meat. I wonder whose grandma; whether girl kids are less tasty; what the prawn did to deserve battery; and whether spit is the new tenderising marinade. The cooks and managers are floating freely and fearlessly, with neither police nor PETA on their tails.

Some of this is honest ignorance, some affectation. Like ’erbs. The French have to say it that way, Americans have different rules, and we think it’s impressive. And ‘crispy’? Is plain and simple ‘crisp’ not crunchy enough? There’s none so deaf as those that will not hear. They correct brus-ketta to brush-chetta, Gouda to Goo-da, espresso to expresso, serve ‘carmel’ popcorn at the multiplex… As DD says, “it grates my nerves”. I can almost feel my fingertips being done.

Anita insists she’s heard people at cocktail parties compliment the hostess for her horse’s ovaries. Do they not see the letters that spell hors d’oeuvres? Maybe the canopies they’ve consumed have slurred their speech. They too should know better.

But there are some bloopers by people who can’t know better. An old friend’s mother, who made appams and stew at least once every week, had a young cook, fresh from the backwaters, called Appu. His favourite actor was Raj “Bimbar”, which was how he always pronounced it, with an additional consonant — maybe as a linking sound. So it should have come as no surprise that whenever he was told to start preparations for appam batter, he asked “and stool-curry?”

Another misnomer is “kasturi” methi. Every cook I’ve had has said it and in vain I’ve corrected him: Kasur is a place in West Punjab famous for its “Kasuri” methi, dried fenugreek leaves. “Kasturi” is musk, a strong smelling reddish-brown substance secreted by the male musk deer for scent-marking, and used by humans in perfumery. I don’t think I want my methi paneer to be reeking of musk — I prefer Kasuri methi with its characteristic fenugreek flavour, not as grassy as the fresh leaves, and available year round. Soaked and rehydrated, Kasuri methi adds flavour, not bulk, and I find it a big help when summer’s seasonal vegetables have been done to death.


Serves 4

3 tbsp Kasuri methi

2 tbsp vegetable oil

2 large onions, grated fine


3 tbsp tomato purée

½ tsp red chilli powder

Pinch sugar

400g paneer, cut into cubes of 1½ inches

In a strainer, rinse kasuri methi. Soak in a cup of warm water and set aside for about 30 minutes. In a medium frying pan, heat oil, add onions and salt and sauté till light brown. Squeeze out methi leaves and add to onions; fry on low heat for 5 minutes. Add tomato purée, raise heat and simmer till oil is released. Add red chilli powder and sugar; stir for a couple of minutes. Pour in a ladle of water, wait till it becomes hot, then add paneer cubes. Stir occasionally and as soon as the paneer is coated with the masala, turn off the heat.

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Printable version | Oct 22, 2021 12:58:06 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/Vasundhara_Chauhan/tastes-just-like-grandma/article5096167.ece

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