ARVIND SWAMINATHAN writes from Madras: While Kiran Rao Batni was lamenting the birth of naan, malai kofta and chicken tikka masala as local food in Bangalore (Anna-sambaar to the American on the BlackBerry) ten days ago, I was silently mourning the death of an unsung ‘zero’ of Karnataka: the kodu bale.
The food fundamentalists of churumuri would like to believe that Bisi bele baath is the quintessential Kannada contribution to cuisine. In rare moments of modesty, they might even grudgingly nominate mavinakayi chitranna as the de facto delicacy.
But permit me to strike a discordant note.
Kodu bale, to my dark, deep fried mind, is Karnataka’s asli gift to humankind—if you leave out Kingfisher beer.
(Together, of course, they constitute the most potent Improvised Explosive Device (IED) invented to soften up targets. Permit me to drop a name. I once gave a box of home-made kodu bales to my then favourite Pakistan batsman Salim Malik the night before an ODI and he quietly did what match-fixers in their moments of madness must have paid him millions to accomplish: perish for zero.)
But we digress.
Something has happened to the kodu bale—as Shamala atthe and Leela dodamma used to make it.
Let’s call it The Great Kodu Bale Konspiracy.
At home, the missus can barely find the time or the inclination, and even when she can, her much-acclaimed culinary skills desert her when she starts rolling the dough for the dark dynamite. The first set turns out all right, golden-brown and perfectly round. It self-destructs in your mouth as if to leave no trace for investigators.
And, also, because you have been panting in anticipation like a hungry dobberman, because you have Vijay Mallya‘s wicked brew for company, it tastes darned divine.
But, like with Sania Mirza, the problem starts with the second set. It’s wayward, erratic, inconsistent. There are lots of double faults. Undettered, the wifey has packed about a dozen or so in a Tupperware® box for the morrow. But the next afternoon, the full scale of the disaster unravels itself: yesterday’s scrunchy runaway winner has become a soggy, rubbery runner-up.
What melted in your mouth last night, now shows no mercy on your ageing molars. It wants you to work at it. It wants you to do a million push-ups with your jaws. It wants you to pull it apart.
Suddenly, your favourite snack has become khara chewing gum. A slave of your palate has become its master.
Out of frustration, I have pursued readymade kodu bales from Kodambakkam to Kuvempunagar, and there’s plenty of it available. From the countless Iyengar bakeries to the Mylapore maamis, from the Shetty angadis in Chamarajpet to from the Wal-Mart of fried stuff, the Thindi Mane. But nothing works, at least not for too long.
Either it isn’t spicy enough. Or the colour isn’t inviting enough. Or the texture isn’t right. Or the shape is disgusting. Or there is a faint rancid smell. Or, the ultimate health warning, the wife detects “Dalda”.
Subversive desh drohis try to push rave kodu bale on me. When chakkuli is being made, a couple of faux kodu bales make their way. But they have no effect on me.
Is this the first sign of OCD, I wonder: Obsessive Codu-bale Disorder?
Goodness gracious me!—I thought I would never say this—but is there something unsurpassable about home-made kodu bale? Is it really true, what Nina Wadia says in Meera Syal‘s sitcom: “Why go out when I can make it at home?”
Because of our time-strapped lives or because of all those executive health checkups, or because we have all been watching food shows where all they make is macher jhol and mutton jalfrezi, has the craft of making kodu bale deserted all our homes, all at once?
Maybe, in the smaller towns and villages, kids want them as much as they do pizzas and burgers. Maybe, mothers and grandmothers still make them the way they used to although I am sure that’s an undeniably sexist thing to say. Or maybe, this is just a personal disaster.
Permit me, therefore, a moment of privacy in public to mourn the death of an unsung ‘zero’.
Photograph: courtesy maneadige.blogspot.com
Cross-posted on Kosambari