Posted in food as therapy...

Biriyani Vs Thayir Saadham

Biriyani is soul food for connoisseurs of food not only in India but throughout the world. Touted the ’emotional food’ of the masses. Purportedly food popularized by the Moguls who invented it accidentally adding Indian spices to Kashmiri Basmati rice cooked with juicy mutton/meat marinated in herbs, Biriyani catered to rich man’s platter for centuries. It is only in last few years that the biriyani reserved normally for feasts, has come within common man’s reach with outlets selling it street to street with all possible variations one can imagine. Finally the dreamfood of meat lovers is affordable with the arrival of the broiler chicken. Loaded with ghee and spices and dripping with greasy oil, heavy meal meant for hard stomachs, biriyani is not exactly your health food on the menu. Overdoing biriyani is harmful to one’s health and there can be no two opinions on the same.

Thayir saadham (curd rice) on the other hand is the polar opposite. Cool on your tummy. Bland. Probiotic that aids in digestion and absorption of minerals and other nutrients, no south Indian meal is complete without thayir saadham. Although a particular community has branded it as theirs, the fact is that there is not a south Indian who does away with thayir saadham when he/she has not consumed meat with the meal. Curd does not sit well with meat, and curd with fish for instance can lead to food poision. This is the reason meat eaters prefer buttermilk to thayir saadham. Supposed to be the super brain food, I cannot though figure out how those who claim exclusive properties to thayir saadham have not still produced the Korean or Japanese or Chinese range of intelligence so far! Apparently the centipede and millipede and snake eaters win hands down when it comes to IQ! Some brainfood here!

So, it is not merely biriyani, even thayir saadham is overrated. If the ‘Rajas guna’ of the biriyani is indeed the reason for physical violence, then the ‘Sattva’ curd rice is only too capable of passive aggression that has been the characteristic trait of some Hindus for centuries. You don’t have to weild the sword like the moghuls and draw blood every time. The very opinionating nature in some is disturbing.

Men who work in tougher conditions involving physical labour need their quota of protein that can come best only from meat. Those who work indoors with not much of physical activity can forego meat for their own sake. Geographic conditions too dictate our food habits. High fat food is a must for those living in cooler climes. Availability of food used to be a primary factor in determining our dietary customs until very recently. Camel meat and milk were staple food for nomadic tribes of Africa and Arabia. Where agriculture flourished, vegetarian food habits developed with the harvest of food grains. Where maize cultivation was suitable like in Africa, corn became staple food. Islands had fish eaters. As we all know, the universally recommended diet is Mediterranean with its rich olive and cheese blocks and a fair share of fruit, nut, fish and meat. The Japanese formula is Sushi and the Mexicans spice it up with their herbs. The Chinese wash down the fat in the food with their herbal teas.

Personally I prefer saatvik food for health reasons. Easy to palate for a homemaker like me. Insufficient for a hardworking man like my spouse. Meat is a must in his daily portions. So that does make a man more aggressive or less intelligent. Each of us is bred with a different metabolism that may determine our energy levels. In my opinion, we must never disturb that equilibrium but must do with what works for us. Moderate meat consumption complemented with fruit bowls and sprouts/cereals may make for ideal balanced diet.

There are gentlest meat eaters I have come across in my life and violent vegetarians. One thing I can observe is that, the meat eaters have undoubtedly better stamina and libido compared to vegetarians. The nonvegetarian platter is more balanced than a vegan’s or a vegetarian’s. The nutrition content in vegetarian menu is skewed and most of us vegetarians including me lose out on essential proteins and omega fatty acids from fish. Plant substitutes hardly prove to be sufficient. Good number of kidney patients and liver cirrhosis and intestinal cancer patients are vegetarians surprisingly and not alcoholics or voracious meat eaters. So that must have a point for us. On the otherhand when we consume light food and our metabolism is evolved differently with less fat in our blood stream, our memory cells could work sharper. This is merely scientific evidence. Excess fat can make one lethargic.

A north based friend would say, biriyani or any meat diet carried the soul of the culled animal with it. So do leather boots and bags and belts. But the irony is that the friend’s family is into money lending business that is ruthless and preys on the poverty and helplessness of the borrowers. So this is what I call passive aggression which is worse than physical violence.

Biriyani today faces the flak because it is now identified with a community that is considered anti-Hindu. I am not biriyani lover either even if I can cook up a sumptuous and droolworthy biriyani adhering to health standards even if I am vegetarian by birth. Biriyani tops as the numero uno favourite food of my family. Whoever is against it has not yet savoured its flavours including me.

Neither am I for mushrooming of the biriyani joints in nook and corner of our country. Biriyani is on its way to become the national food or staple food of India and it is ringing alarm bells naturally. The health of our younger generation is at stake. Frozen meat pumped with chemical preservatives is used in tons to turn out huge mounds of biriyani to cater to the tastebuds of crores of our population. It was never this way until a few years ago when biriyani meant only ‘bhai veetu kalyanam’ or ‘ramzan.’ In those celebrations/festivals, no frozen chicken or mutton was used for biriyani. The meat cut was fresh with mostly animals sacrificed for the occasion. The proliferation of meat habits points to explosive growth of poultry industry, nothing more.

Thayir saadham is gentle on our stomach. For summers, every single day I have only the ‘baghalabath’ with grated cucumber and carrots and coriander in it. It is our family’s favourite too, as much as biriyani is. It is always our family lunch box food.

On meat eating days, my family have plenty of buttermilk to offset the spice consumption. In winters, I forsake curd rice and settle for stews and have buttermilk in the place of curd rice because I do not want to miss out on the spice in the chill weather. If it is not curd, it is always buttermilk for us. To my knowledge, this is how meat eaters consume curd/buttermilk. Who says they do away with curd totally. What is ‘raitha’ then. Having a divided family on many matters helps me in contemplating different perspectives.

Even north Indians round off their roti subzi meal with a little ‘dahi chawal’ after ‘dal chawal.’ The arabs buy curds (labaan) (both thick sour curds and the bottled buttermilk) in buckets literally and consume it alongside meat including that of camel. Compared to arabs, thayir or curd consumption in India especially among south Indian Tamils is dismal actually! So much for thayir saadham! Only difference is, the arabs consume tubs of yoghurt (unsalted/plain) straight away without having it with rice like we Indians do. Yoghurt both plain and fruity are popular throughout the world including in south east Asia and America and Europe. But nobody spun a tale on curd rice the way we south Indians do. Research departments in American universities picked it up because the research students there and the faculty are Indians and more specifically south Indians/Tamils!

Well there is an intermediary food called KAAAAARA KUZHAMBU !! I am slave to that! Call it Vatha kozhambu or Kara kozhambu, my vote is always for that and my signature foods that I am good at include this kara kozhambu made with tamarind extracts and red chili powder. Hot and steaming, nothing like our kaara kozhambu with dollops of gingely oil floating on top! Spicy and alluring! Sambhar too belongs in this middle range along with other vegetarian stews like Koottu. Most underrated are these day-to-day cuisines of ours. Much as my biriyani is popular with family and friends, my bisibela bath and baghala bhath too are equally rated! Not that i am a gourmet chef or foodie. Just a regular housewife who does nothing out of the ordinary.

I can agree with discussions of biriyani so far as it is limited to our health aspects. Once you bring in the religious philosophy alleging characteristics and properties to it, you violate a Dharma in the process. One man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist. Whoever said, ‘kondral paavam thinnal pochu’ in Tamil. World operates on this conundrum.

Why do some of us feel the compulsion to judge everything and everyone. Why can’t we let anything be.

I do not know how far it is true that Biriyani existed as Mans-oden in Nala’s cookbook ‘Paka Darpanam’ but we all want to perfect our recipes like ‘Nalabhagam’ don’t we. Fellow hindus are now onto to ‘Jhatka’ in the lines of ‘Halal.’ Some ambition here.

I love my vegetarian Lebanese, Egyptian, Turkish, Arab, Italian, Mexican, Chinese, Malay food as much as I love my vegetarian Indian platter. I am keeping my options open and I am willing to experiment and grow, not limiting myself to hypocritic notions and boundaries. Pleasantly surprised to discover vegetarian Georgian cuisine in the shadows of the Ural. My meat eating husband loathed the honey and chocolate dipped meat and turned vegetarian during our tours abroad. There can be no single way of defining food or labeling food. Ingredients like spices and meat and vegetables can be treated in entirely different methods of preparation. Even the cooking ways are different from baking and boiling to tandoor/grilling to deepfrying. Variations even by slightest degrees produce entirely different dishes as we know. Food too is innovative in every step. First of all let’s stop sermonizing and learn to imbibe the best from others.

So why is biriyani the emotional experience and thayir saadham, not? Because once you try to attach the puritanical strings to it and try to own it, it loses it lustre. You make it communal. Food is first about sharing and caring. Biriyani excites a man’s all five senses: visual, aural, nasal and spiritual not stopping with tingling one’s taste buds. Friends and family have confessed to mood upliftment with Biryani. If there is not something matching biriyani in desi cuisine, invent it! Because the biriyani addict-crowd swells by the minute! You just can’t be sitting there in the high stool of your kitchen counter judging without sampling.