Puliyogare Gojju is a tangy tamarind paste that is signature to the Kannadiga community. Mixed with steamed white rice to make tamarind-rice, this is a meal that tastes of home to many Kannadigas across generations. Amulya Shruthi explores what it means to be an independent woman in the city as she attempts to make Puliyogare Gojju in her own kitchen.
The rice has turned out soggy and it seems fitting that I am hunched over my pressure cooker, sobbing into my knuckles so my neighbour won't hear me -- for most recent in a chain of pain, has been this small red box full of puliyogare gojju.
My mother handed it to me before she sent me my way. With both hands, she pressed it carefully into mine; instructing me to store it straight or I'd have oil stains all over my home-smelling clothes.
In it I can already see a generosity of peanuts that only a mother would know to pack; tidbits her child would look most forward to in a puliyogare or a poha. It is as if mothers everywhere had been tasked with condensing their families’ rich culinary tapestries (and love) into bacteria-resistant concentrates.
And everyone knows how mothers love a challenge.
This is probably how, for generations now, unmarried Indians living away from home have been tucking nifty parcels of heavily-packeted-and-rubber-banded perishables, like puliyogare gojju, sambar powder, chutney pudi, bisibelebath mix, vangibhath pudi, the season's pickles, and even homemade ghee, into their luggages before setting out to chase their dreams. Small souvenirs that suggest a bare minimum culinary dexterity, but betray the desire to come home to home at every mealtime.
It has occurred to me, and to every person who has checked in this variety of baggage, that it would probably be easier to recreate these dishes at wherever we are. At first, the hurdle was a lack of access to ingredients. NRI aunts and uncles who went abroad for postgraduate studies would regularly complain about being unable to find items as basic as curry leaves – and just HOW could you make a simple saaru without the signature tempering? But today, as we move into a more open-access global culinary culture, the disconnect comes from a new place: from within.
It is a dilemma that living alone brings. On one hand, being independent and forging one’s own identity in the world, perfecting one’s own recipe for life. And on the other, being unsure of what “independence” really means.
Cooking might be gorgeous chemistry. But a mother’s cooking is an exercise in nostalgia.
To be truthful, I do not understand all the things that actually go into puliyogare gojju. I have only seen the women of my home band together and disappear behind a veil of powerful, pungent smells. The kitchen would emit an industrial din of frying and grinding and laughter that always left the men of the house complaining that they couldn't hear the news. It was a matter of family pride that gojju be made from scratch — no powder being spooned from an MTR packet, no recipe being googled on a smartphone. No convenience taken, no labour spared. And after what seemed like forever, my grandmother, the expert conductor of her magnum opus, would conclude the orchestra by peering over a big wok of slowly-cooling concentrate, and apportion it to be sent to far corners of the city and country. It was a grand harvest whose fruits would be nibbled at in small quantities over days. Mixed with hot rice. Maybe adjusted for taste.
How could I possibly recreate all of this in my tiny 1BHK kitchen with its three pots, microwave, and wasabi paste?
As I cook for myself today, an independent woman making her way in the city, I do enough to take care of myself. I ensure all the food groups are covered. I even make anna-saaru that my grandfather swears tastes exactly like my grandmother’s. On inspired days, I roast papad. I WhatsApp photos of my cooking to my mother who replies with thumbs-up emojis.
But I know this is not cooking. This is especially not my mother’s cooking.
And yet, I, and many like me, will try. We’ll buy stainless steel dishes. We’ll have charred pots of ghee like the ones back at home. And even if we don't know what to do with it, we’ll stock asafoetida among the spices.
And I will continue to look for YouTube tutorials on how to make Puliyogare.
Amulya Shruthi is trying to be a professional describer of feelings. She lives in Bangalore.
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