Here’s something to tickle your foodie brains - see if you can identify the very familiar food that finds itself into every Indian home for any special meal. The clues:
- It stems from the Hindi word “to lick”
- Found in almost every color and consistency
- Can be made of anything - from shrimps to dates, from sesame to fenugreek
- Your Grandmother probably made the best variant, and you still haven’t found how to get it just right (this is from my various failed experiments to recreate the magic of my Ammamma’s kitchen)
- Never mind the theme – this little addition peps up any party; whether you want a coastal seafood journey, or a vegetarian snack party – some avatar of our superhero dish brings out the best in every dish on the table
The humble Chutney that is a part of every Indian household across the length and breadth of the vast Indian subcontinent is the hero of our discussion today, folks!
|Picture courtesy www.morethanjustcurry.com|
From the coconut chutneys that grace the South Indian breakfast tables, to the fiery chutney that uses fermented fish and “bhoot jholakia” (the hottest chilly in the world!) in a Nagaland household; from the sweet and spicy mango chutney of the Gujarati feast, to the pungent radish Chutney with typical Kashmiri flavors, Chutneys instantly perk up any ordinary meal with its burst of flavors.
Chutneys originated as a quick fix to dress up a humble meal. But it also had to do with elongating the shelf life of perishable seasonal fruits and vegetables. In geographical conditions that sometimes became hostile, the Indian homemakers found ingenious ways to make seasonal produce last for weeks, sometimes months together by pickling, or curing them. These ingredients were then freshly ground, pounded and mixed together to form chutneys.
Chutneys also allowed clever cooks to bribe the palate a little – take for example the dried shrimp chutney in Kerala homes. In many Kerala homes that are non-vegetarian, a fish dish is the only way to coax family members into a satisfying lunch. But In the event the fish monger was a little late, or greedy, or the lady of the house was just feeling a little under the weather, she would just grind together a little dried shrimp with tangy raw mango and coconut, throw in a few curry leaves and ginger for flavor, spice it all up with a few whole red chillies – and voila! The shrimp chutney would bring a smile to the fussiest little eater.
And who can forget the spicy, flavorful garlic chutney that Vada Pav lovers swear by? I remember walking miles with a friend to find THAT particular street vendor whose chutney brought tears to the first time taster (some may claim they are tears of joy, but trust me, it’s the chilly), but once you got the hang of it, you couldn’t imagine a vada pav without it!
Sometimes, we are awed by the little flavor bombs that get placed, quite unceremoniously and without aplomb, next to its more illustrious main dishes. And when describing it to the less knowledgeable, we explain, with much pride and association, how our humble Chutneys fill our senses with flavors and tastes that stay in the mind for a long time.
P.S. I have started the new year with a promise to myself that I would do stuff that makes me happy - so please say hi to my new venture with some like minded friends - More Than Just Curry - we are gourmet food tour curators... read more about us at www.morethanjustcurry.com or visit out FB page for a little more insight.