Cuisines from around the world are available to our palates today and yet, each one of us, even the most experimental foodie, has that one particular meal we cling to. Call it your "favourite dish", your "comfort food" or your "go-to meal", but what makes it so good that we never seem to tire of it? Of course, it tastes great but these "swear by meals" earn their badge of honour for more than just satisfying our palates. Beyond the ingredients and masalas that make these meals special, it's the memories attached to them. We have 3 foodies tell us their favourite dish and recollect the memories that made them special.
Pabda Macher Jhol
The signature Bengali dish, pabda macher jhol with rice, is celebrity fitness trainer Sucheta Pal's go-to comfort meal. After being freshly caught, pabda is immediately cleaned and marinated in turmeric and salt, informs the celebrity fitness trainer. After this, it is fried in mustard oil and the residual oil is used to create the mildly-spiced curry. The thought of this curry with hot white rice makes Sucheta salivate instantly. She says, "Being a Bengali, nothing excites me more than fish and when cooked in mustard oil it takes me straight home." Being born in a Bengali household, Sucheta says "we are born eating fish" but this meal holds a special place for its memories. "I clearly remember it being the highlight dish on my fifth birthday."
Recollecting fond memories from back home, she says, "My dad used to go straight to the fisherman and buy this freshly caught river water fish. Dads have their way of showing love and this was his. He did this every single day of his life. He woke up at 4 am to get the best fish for his daughters. His love combined with my mother’s cooking skills have made this meal my absolute favourite."
Her cousins back in Kolkata are well aware of Sucheta's love for pabda macher jhol. So much so that each time she visits, they have a healthy competition among them to feed Sucheta the biggest fish. "If the fish is large enough for the tail to protrude much beyond the plate's circumference then it was considered a win," she says proudly.
For food traveller, show host and musician Rakesh Raghunathan, the earliest memory of food being made at home is of puliyogare or tamarind rice. The cooking of this south Indian dish, a favourite for many, involves several components that include rice, aromatic spices and nuts. It's the complex process of making this dish that intrigued Raghunathan. Not only did it go on to become his comfort food but also the inspiration behind the blog Puliyogare Travels that he runs with his wife.
Beyond the flavours, it's the conversations that happened during the making of this dish that make it so memorable for Raghunathan. "When I was a kid, my mom and grandma would tell me stories about the kind of delicacies they ate during their time, while they mixed the rice with their hands. So, it was about conversation, love and sharing that same food that was common to both their times as well as my childhood. I still remember the stories my grandma used to tell."
While he hasn't dared to tweak the original recipe, Raghunathan has often experimented with its presentation. Puliyogare is usually eaten with moru kuzhambu which is a buttermilk-based kadhi and some papad, but when Raghunathan curated Annam to Arancini, a food festival, he gave the dish a contemporary feel. Instead of deconstructing or introducing new elements to the recipe, he placed the rice in an arancini-styled stuffed ball. Served on a bed of moru kuzhambu, it was accompanied by papad on the side and garnished with some edible flowers.
For more meals down memory lane, watch Amma Superstar on Living Foodz every Tuesday and Wednesday at 2.30 pm. Catch the repeat telecast every Tuesday and Wednesday at 5 pm and 8 pm. Chef Pallavi Nigam Sahay traces meals down memory lane with her guests as they cook their favourite dish and share the special memories attached to it.
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