December 13, 2019
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IF, in a restaurant, you told me that the chef had pounded the steak or mashed the potato with his feet, I would probably go for a salad. Images of the peeling skin and the repulsive pungency of athlete's feet would haunt the menu.

But I'd drink the wine without question. I know full well that the grapes of the best chateaux are pounded by feet, by harvest dancers in the presses of Bordeaux or Burgundy, but some act of maturity has made me ignore my squeamishness.

The only food I know that flies the flag of being prepared by foot is the Indian loaf of bread, referred to universally in western India as paoon roti or just plain paoon. In north India the euphemistic use of 'double roti ' adding a multi-plier to distinguish it from the thinner, chappati variety, is favoured.

It was a friend of mine, Sam Baria, whose pedi-hygiene in his Kolhapuri slippers was not the best incentive to confidence, boasted that he had got a job with a bakery at night and had spent it running in the same spot, pounding dough with his feet and sweating with the effort .

It dawned. Loaves of bread, western style, the sort you could slice and sandwich and toast, were called paoon, the word for 'feet', because the dough was kneaded by foot. And the villains in our neighbourhood were two bakeries, one Goan, one Parsee, communities selling and eating westernised bread.

For a brief while, the idea put me off my paoon roti . Then life and hunger overcame the inhibition, despite the fact that it was called ' foot - bread'. After all, who knows where the Brahmin's hands have been before he kneads the parathas?

(A weekly column on Indian words in common use in Indian cities.)

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