One of the things that I should learn from my Nani ma (mum’s mother) is the way she eats. She’s extremely disciplined in almost everything, and especially when it comes to food. You can spread a luxurious buffet in front of her and she would still choose her simple food, and her native grains. That’s the kind of self-control she has.
Nani ma would add a few tablespoons of milk in her tea; she would make her food and eat it right away. There’s no system of refrigerators in her world. She would hardly use it. Her food is that fresh.
You know in the world where people have full-time jobs, a refrigerator plays a vital role. And why not. They believe that no food can go stale in the fridge. They are meant to keep food fresh and nutritious. But, somehow, my 70-something Nani ma doesn’t seem to be impressed with this technology. I would like to mention here that Nani lost her husband (my Nana ji) almost 40 years ago and has raised five kids alone; struggling her way to settle each one of them. So you’d rather not talk about money issues, work pressure and a tough life. Nani has seen it all. And yet, simple and fresh food has been her mantra in her house.
When I got to spend a few days with Nani in her kitchen, the last time I was in Jaisalmer, I was amazed. I had to note down a few things that she followed. You see, I was no more a kid but a 30-year-old grown up woman who is still trying to find her way to work in the kitchen. There are these two worlds in front of me: the modern, American-inspired one and the traditional world of my mum. So, what did I manage to learn from my Nani in that cold month of December? I secretly noticed her with a corner of my eye.
First, keep the stove, the kitchen floor, counter and the sink neat. She would constantly wipe it clean with an old fabric, even if it ticked 12 in the night, to make sure that the place where she cooks is spick and span. There’s no quick setting that she does. Second, stick to the local grains. In her case, bajra (pearl millet) scores the highest. Nothing comes out of a plastic packet but fabric bags and tin/steel boxes. Yes, the choices can be rather limited, but she’s too busy to look at the food trends to change her kitchen staples.
She loves ginger and black pepper in her tea and believes in keeping herself hydrated with loads of water. She would always eat on time, and get on with work. If given a chance, she would never sit in a bed corner, gossip or only make speaking ill about others her job. But, she would keep moving. Climb up the stairs. Sit on the floor and eat. Take on those heavy bags on her shoulders instead of looking at someone to help her with puppy eyes. That’s not my Nani. She’s someone who gets up early and watches CNBC to check the status of the stock market and the prices of gold, fuel, grains, etc. Yes, that’s the woman I’m talking about.
Here’s the highlight, the one thing I want to share with you guys. She would finish making her rotis, and never keep the dough for later. According to her, a roti kept for a few hours on the kitchen counter is better than the dough kept in the fridge. No wonder my mum has followed the same thing in her entire life (though she does store it during the daytime and uses it by dinnertime), and this habit has come to me as well.
Why it works for me, you may ask. Well, I cannot eat a heavy meal and stay outside the kitchen the entire day. Which is why, I keep reaching out for that roti ka dabba (roti box). My mum used to make a batch of rotis (about six whole-wheat rotis and two bajra/pearl millet rotis) and store it for later. It’s the best thing because when you have those little hunger pangs, you can just grab this box. It’s either some homemade mango pickle rolled in a roti or bajra roti with kadi (recipe in one of my previous posts). Which reminds me, have you tasted thandi (dry) bajra roti with homemade butter (makhan) spread and tiny crystals of sugar lightly sprinkled on it? Boy! I could die for it!
Nani ma prefers making her rotis when winding up the kitchen in the night, and having them with tea in the morning. These leftover rotis (I have seen people only giving these away to street dogs) are nutritious for you, but not that dough that you might keep for two-three days or even a week, in the fridge.
Back in Bangalore, when I used to live a student’s life, there was a local guardian of mine (Deepa Kaki) whom I frequently visited. She would ask me the special home dish that I would want to eat, and all I would say is leftover roti (thandi roti as we call it in our language) with kadi (spiced and cooked buttermilk). I used to crave for my mum’s roti ka dabba, and to see those thandi rotis covered inside a white mulmul fabric. My heart literally poured for them. Burgers and fries? No, thanks. Thandi roti is my quick go-to meal any given day.
Before I end this post, I would like to mention that one thing Nani ma would always reheat: her homemade ghee (clarified butter). She would want me to do the same when I was there inside her kitchen. “Heat up the ghee up on the hot griddle (roti tawa) that we’ve just taken off the flame and then use it,” she would say. Which went like, “Ghee tapaye daal,” in our local Marwari language.
And just like me, my dad is also fond of these thandi rotis (made in the morning). That’s one of the common things we have.