In all my growing up years, even garlic wasn’t allowed in our house. We almost shifted house once because the new Bengali neighbours “fried nasty-smelling fish day and night”. My brother was allowed to have eggs before some crucial exam, more as medicine, to sharpen his memory. Otherwise, Horlicks worked just fine. Then one fine evening, in my first year of college, I had my first smoke, my first drink and my first mutton burra (a few other un-Brahminical sins were committed soon after, no doubt a leg up from smoke, drink and kababs), and loved them all. It was not some rebellious streak, some major statement to make, I was just hanging out with friends. But no ancestors from our villages of Kavecheri and Koduvayur in Palakkad unknotted his kudumi, the Iyer’s customary tuft, and singed me with his powerful curses, no drumbeats or conch shells sounded to damn the fallen. Or if they did, they missed their mark. If I recall right, it was a pleasant evening, comfortably numb.
We pretty much cook anything that runs, swims or flies at home. sadly, it’s difficult to get good beef....
I took to the meats like a cat does to fish. Succulent tenderloin steak, quivering with temptation; chicken a la Kiev, crisp brown outside, juicy inside; patrani maach, all clad and demure; the sushi, still roaring of the sea; the rack of pork ribs, like some ancient music instrument; the silken filigree of a parma ham; the micro-grenades in caviar. This list can go on, and my descriptions could deteriorate, but it is now difficult to live without these animal cuts around me anymore. I did turn vegetarian for a few months a couple of years ago, not guilt-ridden by my lineage but enamoured by some PETA models, but all it took were a dozen Marennes-Oleron oysters on a Europe trip to shake me off from the path of ethics.
I love cooking meat too. There is always this debate with my wife but I really think my dum biriyani is better than her cousin’s. The biriyani project takes a few days to perfect—starting from choosing the cuts, the raan should be of the front legs not the hind as the meat is softer, rubbing the pieces with the marinade till it’s gone into every pore...I will leave it here, for again there is the danger of prose turning purple. We pretty much cook anything that runs, swims or flies at home. Sadly, it’s difficult to get good beef, and the imported stuff is prohibitive, so it’s rare, but in other varieties of dead beasts, our freezer resembles a morgue. But in this age of cholesterol and transfats, we keep consoling ourselves that we are not as cravenly carnivorous as our next-door neighbours who begin their day with a breakfast of frankfurters, salamis and rashers, and end it with rogan josh and kabargah. They are Kashmiri Pandits.
A Palakkad-born Iyer, the author is deputy editor, Outlook; E-mail your columnist: satish [AT] outlookindia [DOT] com