I do not know when I became a Foodie. I do not recall being overly passionate about food as a child but I have distinct food memories. I sometimes think food philosophy and passion is ingrained in one’s DNA and surfaces at some point in life. My first association with food is my name ‘Annapoorneshwari’, which is the name of the Hindu Goddess of food. Annapoorneshwari means’Feeding one and all’. To this day, the temple of the Goddess Annapoorneshwari in Horanadu in Karnataka in South India provides breakfast, lunch and dinner to every visitor and is the single largest provider of free meals’ Annadanam’ in India.
I was born in a Kerala Brahmin family which upheld culinary tradition to its extreme. I come from a family where the men folk were so exacting about the plate of food that was put before them that the women folk quaked in fear and stressed over each meal lest plates were thrown in fury. My earliest association or memory is my dad extolling the virtues of my grandmother’s simple cooking with produce fresh from her garden. My grandfather, C.H. Subrahmaniya Aiyer was a renowned and busy Advocate in Palakkad who loved his food and my grandmother Annapoorneshwari (I was named after her) or Annamal as she was called by everyone was such an industrious lady that she grew all her vegetables in her kitchen garden. She had cows and her thirteen children of whom my dad was the youngest son only drank milk produced by the cows they reared. Left over milk was made into yoghurt, butter, butter milk and ghee. She used the cow dung to make her own bio fuel ‘varati’ and as manure for her vegetables. The only vegetables they ever bought were carrots, potatoes and beans which she could not grow in her garden. My maternal grandfather G.Parameshwara Iyer was also a keen gardener and grew lots of vegetables, fruit and spices. To this day, the garden in my mother’s maternal home in Trichur has many varieties of mango trees , citrus, pepper vines, custard apple and many other herbs and spices planted by my grandfather. There is a mango tree in our Trichur house which bears a variety of small tangy and fragrant fruit and it is called ‘Chandrakara’ and believe me ‘The Mambazha Pullisseri’ made with Chandrakara mango is the tastiest Pulisseri I have ever eaten. My mouth still waters and I still smack my lips with the memory of that taste.
My dad was a tea plantation executive and we had cows and grew a wide variety of vegetables in the kitchen garden of every estate bungalow that we lived in. We made our own yoghurt, butter and ghee and used the cow dung as fertilizer. Life was simple in those days and there were zero food miles. I can proudly state that I am keeping the tradition of growing vegetables . I have successfully grown some vegetables in my garden and have displayed some pictures of them. There is no greater joy than growing your own organic vegetables and cooking with them. I also make my own yoghurt.
My mum says that she struggled feeding me as a child until my dad fed me with a bit of fish. She says I was hooked on ever since and every time fresh fish was brought to the house my eyes would light up like a cat’s much to her chagrin. My mother very much wanted me to follow her food habits and be a staunch vegetarian like her but alas Dad’s influence prevailed. I think this did me good as I started boarding school at 4. My first boarding school was Brylynn nursery in Ketti valley in the Nilgiris. The school was a preparatory school run by a lovely Anglo Indian couple called Mr & Mrs. Hammick. Their school was named Brylynn after their two daughters Bryony and Lynda. My dad enrolled me as a non vegetarian and broadminded that he was, did not bother that it was beef that we were fed. My mum still remembers coming to visit me at lunch time one day and I burst into tears as soon as I saw my parents. My mum had to feed me the rest of my lunch as I sat huddled on her lap with my arms tightly around her neck. She said she fed me the remains of my lunch with absolute disgust as it was rice with a very thin gravy and bite size pieces of green beans and beef with the fat still attached to it. I was in Brylynn nursery for eight months after which I started from class 1 in St. Hilda’s School in Ooty, a boarding school for girls in which I spent the next ten years of my life.
Well, St.Hilda’s . I have a lot of food memories of Hilda’s. This will require another chapter which I will surely add soon for the reading pleasure of all my fellow Hildites. I think my food fantasies started here because we were perpetually hungry. We were not allowed tuck (a rule I complained about a lot when I was in school but really appreciate in retrospect as it banned us from snacking and we gave full justice to our meals). I wish I could implement that rule at home now. The cooks in St.Hilda’s were probably trained during the British Raj, and we were introduced to a whole lot of English food. Beef wellington, roast potatoes, rhubarb crumble, blacmange, grape mould, stew, steamed pudding, bread and butter pudding and marmalade to name a few. I love marmalade to this day because of St.Hilda’s.
Ten full years at St.Hilda’s and then a few years of nothing significant to write about as the pursuit of academics continued , two years of Higher Secondary school in Vidyodaya, Chennai, three in Stella Maris College, Chennai and another two as I did my MBA in P.S.G. College of Technology, Coimbatore.
I went on to pursue my career and the next remarkable culinary experience that I can write about is about my stint in Malaysia. Malaysia, did wonders to my appetite with devastating effects on my figure. Malaysians have the amazing ability to eat what they what and still remain fabulously thin which unfortunately I could not . I piled on so many pounds after my stint in Malaysia which I am still struggling to get rid off. I have a lot of Malaysian favourites. I love Teh Tariq, Roti Canai, Nasi Goreng and Malaysian fried sea food.
I moved to Bahrain after Malaysia and the rest as they say is history. In 2005 December, I embarked on a new food adventure, not alone, but with my partner in crime, my husband, Shiv. Every culinary onslaught ever since has been with him and I enjoy every moment of cooking, eating and entertaining together.