The Tam-Bram Hall of shameful and unmentionable food related words

My vegetarian credentials are well, questionable. Apart from the occasional succulent prawn, the once-in-a-while delectable murgh tikka and the quotidian omlette, I am mostly vegetarian. 7 years in the National capital, with mostly Bengalis for friends tends to, shall we say, expand one’s tastes. Marrying a girl who for most part prefers food that swam in the oceans at some point in its lifetime does not exactly help either.

So with this background, Tam-Bram roots giving rise to a Delhi stem with Mallu branches, I present to you, the Tam-Bram Hall of shameful and unmentionable food related words. This list is inspired by years of watching my relatives make hosts grit their teeth in frustration at this practice of culinary apartheid. Note that these do not include the obvious terms for dead animals. Those are banned, in any case. These are non-fauna related food items that are (mostly) banned in any Tam Bram household. So here we go:

1. Kurma – Koottu is acceptable, but Kurma makes old paatis and maamis squirm. I have once successully passed off Kurma as “Koottu with Cononut milk” in the recent past. The lack of garlic made it easier for me to pull this stunt.

2. Biriyani – The correct Tam-Bram word for rice mixed with spiced vegetables is “Kalandha Saadham ” (Mixed Rice). My younger brother has once got stares for politely enquiring if Biriyani was the same as Kalandha Saadham. Tam Brams who migrated to Delhi in general (and Karol Bagh in particular) have also kosherified the Pulav word. But Biriyani is a strict no-no. Psst Psst. Five Star restaurants. Take my hint. Call it “Hyderabadi Kalandha Saadham” and describe it as “Delicately marinated and baked vegetables served on a bed of fragrant rice”. It will be a sell out.

3. Parotta – Note the pronunciation. Not the Punjabi Paraatha, which is consumed with glee (without onions for maamis and without garlic and onions for paatis). The Parotta, on the other hand, conjures up violent images of unwashed chefs pounding the poor thing into submission using ladles that were presumably used for other unmentionable dishes. Faintness inducing combination of words = Kotthu Parotta with Kurma.

4. Mushroom – This friendly fungus has an unfortunate Tamil name – Nai Kodai (Dog’s Umbrella). Enough said. Banned.

5. Poondu (Garlic) – The mother of all banned food words. This healthy vegetable draws the invisible, yet smelly, Lakshman Rekha dividing the Tam Bram world from the rest of the known universe. (Jains excluded)

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  1. “Faintness inducing combination of words = Kotthu Parotta with Kurma.” – ROFL! spot on!

    And I couldn’t help but be reminded of this quote when I read about garlic – “Sour cream makes it Russian; lemon and cinnamon make it Greek. Soy sauce makes it Chinese; garlic makes it good.” (Alice Mary Brock) πŸ™‚

  2. Shudder, a whole section of my family carefully studies the small print at the back of foreign chocolates to see if they have egg. They of course demolish Indian chocolates with glee because they dont have ingredients lists.

    My dad’s favourite comment for all cookery programmes involving non-south indian dishes:

    poondu, vengaayatha pottu nanna varuththu, 5 nimidam nanna kodhikka vuttu, veiyalle kaaya vechu, kuppai thottiyil podavum.

  3. I thought punjabi parathas were to be had with ghee. you say glee?

    I had a friend who was given a mother of all rides, because she had (supposedly) eaten a muttai bajji.

    vengayam used to also be kosher for most of the days in the month.

  4. @Megha

    For a reason. Sombu (saunf) as a word is not taboo. It is consumed at the end of a meal for digestion. Only its use in regular dishes as a spice is considered taboo.

    1. Just curious Krish…y is use of sombu/saunf as a spice a taboo in tam brahm households??? (Couldn’t find any answers in google)
      Pardon my ignorance but I am not a tam brahm myself but married into a tam brahm household. So I used saunf quite often in my cooking until one day my mil authoritatively as well as diplomatically informed me that appa doesn’t like the taste of saunf…and I am like seriously after vengayam, poondu, garam masala, mushroom, x y z…now even such a tiniest of tiny things (not to mention healthy too) like saunf is not acceptable!

  5. Mahendra,

    List of banned veg items within Iyengar community:

    1. Poondu (garlic)
    2. vengayam (onion)
    3. murungakkai (drum stick)

    and any other item that induced virility.

    The guys were making too many babies even without these items, just think of how much more they could have if they had been allowed to eat these!!!

  6. Soopah!
    Totally different comment now, though related to the quaint habit of some of using ‘acceptable’ terminologies:
    When in the teens (back in the days of the VCP/VCR), I rented a tape of ‘Last Tango in Paris’ and was watching it at home, 10 am on my hols, when my mother came in and sat down beside me. At that exaact moment, Marlon Brando walks over to the fridge, takes out Amul (I thought of it as that) butter, uses it on his girlfriend’s ass and starts giving it to her (sorry for the folks here who can’t stomach this bit of adultery, er, adulthood, whatever!). While I squirm in acute discomfort, Amma looks away and sternly say “Ivvolavu violence ellam vyendam da..ennathu idhu!!” (‘don’t need to see such violent films’) Since then, I always liked violence, never sex! ;-D

  7. Rambodoc that was hilarious – i remember the other word used in Iyengar household to ban certain non speakable things is “achhu pichhu”.

    Krish,

    Vegatable biriyani – karimidu kalanda sadham
    (karimidu is the twisted form of Kari amudu)

    Rasam – is looked upon with a “uhkum” at iyengar households where it should be sathhamudu (again satru amudhu)

    Sambar – no no – Kuzhambu

    Thanni – again “uhkum” – thertham

  8. Vasoo,
    Thanks! I was failing verry gilty for having cracked one of my many nonveg smartass ones in a relatively new place. Aamam, apdi aak-kum!! (hehehee)
    You now make me feel as if I am not that much of a badass! πŸ˜‰

  9. Nai kodai…haha.. Did not know that Mushroom was called that till I moved to Chennai for few months in 2007, and whenever I asked for Mushroom masala in any hotel with my mom’s sister around… I’d get a big stare !!!!

  10. Hi everybody. I’m new to this blog and have found the topics very interesting. I have gone through these hilarious experiences but there’s a very important food item you have missed out. Talk about giving respectablity to an old about to be discarded food item… the good old “Payedu saadam”
    I remember my paati would immerse blocks of left over rice neatly into a vessel of water that would serve as the next morning breakfast. Accompanied with “vadu manga” or “vetha koimbu”, this was a deadly experience. I miss them nowadays. Infact, some die hard “payedu” fans would also drink the “payedu thanni” known for its nutritive properties. Paati…. neenge yenge irukkel.. I miss u..waaaaah!!

    1. @shriram…this sounds like the good ole kanji to me..the all purpose coolant for the odumbu soodu ( read hot body )…without which as per my paati u will burst into flames..

  11. Machan .. Kallakittai !!! :-). I have not been in close contact with my relatives for 2 years and this post brings back some funny memories. I loved the “conjures up violent images of unwashed chefs … “. Ha Ha ha.

  12. right about tam-bram being hypocrites. this tam bram girl i know married a white guy.. and the father of the girl makes him put on a poonal before getting married.. wtf

  13. coriya i totally feel for you. I personally believe in live and let live. I am a Srivaishnava for the record. More specifically thenkalai. But sometimes it is important to let people around you do some silly things. After all we do get a great deal of support from them when we are feeling down and out.

  14. The Saravana Bhavan in Toronto has a “Kheema idli” item on its menu. When I ordered that ,never mind that the Saravana Bhavan is a vegetarian establishment it almost gave my mom an aneurysm. “Kheema-geema ellam mamsathikku dhaan solluvaa. Cha..ezhavu” Although if anything, the particular dish in question probably deserves to be reviled for being just a fancy lipstick-on-a-pig version of leftover idlis.

    Lovely blog BTW. Sho phunny!

  15. Super guys! I kind of missed many of the local tamil lingo in Chennai, since I was born and brought up in Kolkata and had few occassions of akkum akkums.

    Well there were many banned terminologies at our household and a pesudo name too was given for easy usage.

  16. Hilarious!!! My Mum isn’t so strict but my in-laws…… buuaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhh…. Mushrooms,babycorns, even lauki (bottle gourd) is not allowed… ai yai yaa adu shoodra daan sapduva.. wtf

  17. Dear Krish
    Can I expect such a frank / hilarious write up on Kosher / Jain food / Ramalan Kanji too, from you ?

  18. hehehehe hilarious!!!!!good one :)I was born and bought up in Delhi and me being a mix of Palakkad + Thanjavur Iyer had a lovely palakkad slang… after i came to chennai for my engineering, i ve lost it all… and my parents… all they crib about is.. nanna tamizh peshindai.. ippo paaru.. nee peshardai ketta shudral peshara madri irukku. Rowdy Rowdy!! heheh
    And God!!! like u said “conjures up violent images of unwashed chefs pounding …” i still don understand how ppl eat the so called “parrotta” or “Barotta”

  19. He He..!!! Hilarious..!!I think you missed Pudhina, man..??

    It is treated like a poisonous herb.. πŸ™‚ Whenever u say pudhina somewhere, you hear WTF all around.!! πŸ˜€

  20. You vidafied Sorakkai! How could you!! I once had this Tanjavur Mangalam Maami visit me in Florida. Seeing that she enjoyed a continental breakfast every morning, of bagels with cream cheese (yes cheese) and oj, I humbly offered the sorakkai from my fridge instead of the usual pusnikkai, when she insisted on having kootu for lunch. And you can well imagine the response I got “Yengaathule idhe thoda maatom (period). Yean bengalooru katrikkai kadaikarde Publix le!”

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