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)