Only recently, it became apparent to me that memories can evoke strong physical reaction. The incident in question was an innocent visit to a famous restaurant in a south Indian temple town with my family. One of the breakfast items on the menu card read as “Appam with coconut milk – Rs.50/”. Surprisingly the very sight of the name “Appam” lead to instant salivation, proving Pavlov’s theory to be correct!
“Mom, what is it? You are looking dazed!” asked Preethi.
“There is ‘Appam’ on the menu…” I exclaimed with wonderment.
“What is an ‘Appam’ anyway?” asked my husband, who had grown up in the North and therefore, unfamiliar with traditional south Indian cuisine.
In the meantime, Prasanna had googled on his iphone and proudly proclaimed, “Appam is a south Indian pancake… Look at the picture… it looks like dosa…”
Preethi whined, “Oh… No… Not again…. Mom, please grow up…” My children preferred bread or cereals for breakfast, as it is ‘cool’.
My memories stirred. A good four decades earlier, my parents had shifted to a small town on the foothills of Western Ghats. In our typical south Indian household, we were used to the standard fare of idli, dosa or uppuma for breakfast.
My father, an avid foodie, had found a small hotel that was serving delicious ‘tiffin items’. Looking triumphant, my father said, “Children, I am going to get you something special today…”
“Appa, I want masala dosa…” cried my brother. Hotel dosa was considered a treat.
“No my boy… I am ordering something better than dosa”, smiled Appa.
The hotel, also called ‘Kali Kadai’ turned out to be a small place with tiled roof. There was a boiler and a stove on a table at one end of the hall, where tea /coffee were made. An adjacent narrow passageway led to a pantry and kitchen. Main hall had long tables and benches arranged along the walls. To our dismay, the hall was fully packed. Looking at us, the man who was making tea called out for ‘Kalianna’ –the proprietor. Kalianna, very pleased to have city people visiting his hotel, offered us seats in one corner.
“Sir, Are you new to this town? We are happy to have educated city folks like you among us. What will you have Sir?” asked Kalianna breathlessly.
“I heard your ‘Appam’ is very famous…” said Appa benevolently.
“Yes of course…. You will never get fine ‘Appam’ like ours anywhere in this town… Reasonably priced…. Each one costs only five paise… we serve ‘Appam’ with coconut milk and sugar… but, if you so desire, I can give you sambar and chutney…”Kalianna instructed an assistant, who turned out to be his son, to serve ‘Appam’. Each of us had a plantain leaf laid out on the table. Appa sprinkled water on the leaf and cleaned it for us. Hot ‘Appam’ was served, one at a time. Coconut milk was poured on it and additional sugar was kept in a bowl.We had never eaten anything like that – soft and spongy at the center, and crisp along the edges. It was just divine with unlimited coconut milk. We lost count of how many ‘Appams’ each of us consumed that day. Having had our fill, we took a parcel for Amma. From then on, we remained faithful customers to Kali Kadai so long as we stayed in that town.
As I grew up, ‘Appam’ faded from my memory along with various other childhood trivia. Marriage had taken me to north India. With no family member living in the southern states, visit to these parts was not a priority. Nonetheless, after all these long years, the word ‘Appam’ had brought my memories flooding. How strange our mind works?
Presently, my children had ordered ‘poori masala’ and my husband ‘chappati korma’. I couldn’t wait for the ‘Appam’ to be served. At last, there it was, on a melamine plate, single appam with a small katori of coconut milk. What a disappointment? Appam tasted sour and coconut milk was bland.
My husband enquired “How is your ‘Appam’?”
“Hmm… Nowhere near Kali kadai appam… “I sighed.
I was wondering how many ‘Appams’ I would have got for 50 rupees at Kali kadai. Would Kalianna be alive now? Did his son continue to run the hotel business? Who knows?
I believe some experiences are best left as memories, so that you can recall those happy moments at your whim. Deep at the bottom of our being, each of us have treasure chest full of such trivia. Who can deny that small things can indeed make us happy!
26-Apr-14: "Tribute to a Delicious Breakfast" was published on Writershideout.net
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