“Konthey, Dosai vaathu vechurikken, chooda irukku, vandu eduthukko!” – A loving and caring Tambrahm mother’s very usual call to her son at the time of food. The teenage son who is immersed in solving a model question paper (what else) for some entrance exam responds, “Dho vanthutten Amma! Thottukka Enna?” More than the dosai, the “thottukkara item” or the side dish remains the cornerstone of Tambrahm eating and living habits even to this day! Many will go happily hungry rather than eat without the proper side dish. “Pattiniya kedapene thavira, intha dosaiya ketchup kooda ellam thottundu chappida maatten, aamam, cholutten” – familiar line isn’t it??? This is one more aspect of Tambrahm household which has come vamsaa vazhiyaa!!!
In the rigid annals of any Tambrahm family, the “combination” matrix is another knowhow which is passed from one generation to another generation. As per our Nanu Mama’s 3rd law of cooking, “For every item there are many equal and opposite thottukara items in terms of taste.” And there is a matrix with main dishes and side dishes which establishes the hierarchy of preference. So for every main dish you have a “thottukara item” which has been established in terms of the 1st choice, 2nd choice, third choice and then vera ethuvume illaati, what is the last option and so on.
For example, for the most common Idli – the first choice for thottukka is Chutney. And then Saambaar. And when both are not there – you settle for Molagai Podi. If you think it was as simple as that, sorry, Conditions apply. On Sundays there is a mandatory twist. The one and only option for Idli is Chinna Vengaya Saambaar!!! This I am talking of at home on normal days for morning tiffin or night palahaaram. At marriages and functions, it has to be Chutney and Saambaar and Molagai Podi. For children, Idlis with Molagai Podi mixed with Sugar or Idlis with Curd and Sugar (probiotic aache, vayathukku nallathu!!!) As I mentioned, the days when there is no Chutney or Saambaar, hell hath no fury than this. The usually smart ambi that day makes a lot of silly mistakes in Maths. And God save the mama’s colleagues that day at the office. “Ennappa ivalavu carelessa credit/debit entry podare? How can you be so careless I say??” Ore Archanai mazhai thaan! Nowadays, I am told that smart office colleagues call up the mami and ensure that the menu on appraisal days are done with the right combination!
More than the main items, to bring in some variety day in and day out in the thottukara item is one aspect on which our mamis get bugged about. “Ennamma daily Chutneye pannindu irukkiye?” Is a very usual refrain from kids who don’t care about the nuances of a Tomato Chutney Vs Coconut Chutney Vs Green Chutney. And on a Sunday for morning tiffin, if the Idli is not accompanied by Chinna Vengaya Saambaar one can expect the mamas to go ballistic – “Vengaya Saambaar illama oru Idliya?? Ennathu ithu?? Naan Mani’s café la poi chaaptukkaren!” (“Pongolen, enga vena pongo, naana vendangaren. Intha veyyalla samayal panrathukku naan padara kashtam enakku thane theriyum. Ithula Chinna Vengaya Saambaar illena idli erangaatho???” – may be the mami’s answer. But will keep the Tambrahm Mama-Mami repartee for another blog)
One of the important aspects for newlywed couples to reconcile is the “thotukka enna” matrix from both sides. In the first few months, the main reason for fights among the husband and wife is the mismatch and disagreements on the combination. “Engaathula sevaikku mor koottan thaan pannuvom” as per the wife. “Sevaikku mor kootaana?? Sahikaathu. Engamma Chutney thaan pannuva!!” as per the husband. “Engaathula Adai na avial than combination” – Husband. “Engaathula Adaikku vellam thaan thottuppom” – Wife. And like this for all dishes.
Since as a Tambrahm one can be from Tamil Nadu or Kerala or partly here – partly there, the ideal combination is very closely linked to geography of Poranthaam for mamis. This is a classic case of Geography coming in the way of ensuring chemistry between the couple! This disconnect remains a contentious issue in some families for the life time. In fact a known couple ended up in divorce within a few months as the wife due to her lineage forgot to serve Upma with Pazham repeatedly. The husband took to domestic violence every time Upma was made for morning tiffin eventually leading to divorce!
So I feel that during marriage match making, after matching the horoscopes, families should exchange the “thottukka enna matrix” as well to avoid marital tension later. Bharatmatrimony.com and its ilk are well advised to include these very important fields in their data base.
During friendly get-togethers involving Tambrahms during dinner, I have witnessed families engaging in heated discussion about food in general and the combination in food in particular. Which goes something like, “Engathula thayir sadathukku uppilitathukku oorugaai thaan pradaanam.” “Yei, thayir sadathukku pulinji thaan best.” “Ennakku Thayir Sadathukku oru mor molaga iruntha porum.”
As I mentioned earlier, depending upon the history and geography, the combination preferences of Tambrahms keep changing. While there is near unanimity in some combinations, as per me there is one combination for which the jury is still out. That is whether to eat Paal payasam with Pappadum or not. Ungalodu ennavaakum choice???