Today is Sunday and like other Sundays, the menu at home is obviously Chinna Vengaya Sambaar. If you do a quick survey of Tambrahm households on their Sunday menu, I am sure it will be Chinna Vengaya Sambaar in more than 75% of households if not 100%. Chinna Vengaya Sambaar occupies such a pride of place in a Tambrahm menu.
I am unable to recall when this started at our home actually. Hailing originally from Kerala, Chinna Vengayam was not that popular a thing initially in our house. But when we moved to Trichy in Tamil Nadu, the liking for Chinna Vengayam and the protocol of making Chinna Vengaya Sambaar every Sunday started and it continues till today. Interestingly after marriage, the tradition has continued. At the in-laws’ house also, Sunday meant Chinna Vengaya Sambaar. So that helped. Soon I realized, it is not just our houses, but almost all Tambrahm houses, the situation is the same.
To some extent, I can understand the reason. Sundays are weekly offs and everyone is in a relaxed mood. On Sundays, Bengalis indulge themselves in delicacies made out of fish. Non-Vegetarians usually make it special with chicken or mutton dishes. For Tambrahms who are vegetarians, Chinna Vengaya Sambaar is that special thing.
In fact, it starts with breakfast itself. At my house, usually, Sunday mornings are reserved for Idlis with Chinna Vengaya Sambaar which my Amma will make early morning itself so that it can be used for breakfast. Normal Sambaar’a vida, Vengaya Sambaar’na, and Amma will make more so that for breakfast we can have Idli and Chinna Vengaya Sambaar, for lunch Chinna Vengaya Sambaar and Potato Kaara Kari and then in the evening some Sambaar Vadai.
It takes more effort to make Chinna Vengaya Sambaar than other Sambaars as you have to peel off the small onions one by one during which you may end up weeping copiously. My neighbourhood mami used to do that on Saturday nights itself while watching her usual Tamil serials. It will be difficult to tell if the tears are due to the serial or Chinna Vengayam. But the good thing nowadays is that supermarkets and South Indian stores sell ready-made urichu vecha Chinna Vengayam. So, it makes it easy to make the Sambaar with lesser effort.
Now coming to Idli with Chinna Vengaya Sambaar, there is a nuanced difference. If you take Idli and eat it with Sambaar it is Idli-Sambaar. But if you dunk pieces of Idlis in Sambaar, keep it soaked for some time so that the Idli pieces absorb the Sambaar, and then eat, it is Sambaar Idli. In Trichy, our pakkathu veettu mama would insist that the Sambaar Idli as above should be eaten after pouring dollops of ghee on the top. He used to insist that it is like ‘Sorgathukke poyittu vantha madiri irukkum’. You can guess that this mama belongs to the Saapaattu Raman type, the one who has taken birth in this Bhoomi only to eat.
When Idli and Chinna Vengaya Sambaar are on the menu, mami will keep a few additional yedu of Idlis than normal. Mamas and in fact everyone tends to gobble up a few extra Idlis than their normal quota when served with Chinna Vengaya Sambaar. Usually, the quip of mamis – ‘Konjam paathu saapidungo, weight control’e illai falls on deaf ears when it is Idli with Chinna Vengaya Sambaar. Similarly, she will keep one extra tumbler of rice for lunch when Chinna Vengaya Sambaar is there. As one mama famously said, “Engaathula Chinna Vengaya Sambaar panra annikku eppozhuthume traffic jam than – between kitchen and dining table!”
Connoisseurs of cooking and eating, which in effect means all Tambrahms are aware that there are two popular ways of making Sambaar, namely Podi Potta Sambaar which takes less time and effort and then the more popular Arachuvitta type. This takes more time and more effort. But it is tastier. In the rankings of different types of Sambaars, there is nothing to beat the Arachuvitta Sambaar. Make no mistake, as far as Chinna Vengaya Sambaar is concerned, there is only one type that is acceptable which is the Arachuvitta type.
Another major issue in Tambrahm households is the issue of ‘Thottukka Enna?’ for anything. Ask any mami, she will tell you the mental frustration and torture she goes through in deciding what to make as ‘Thottukka’ for tiffins. I had written about this in detail in my earlier article – “Thottukka Enna?”. If you have not read that before, please do read here. On a day when the mami makes Chutney for Idli, the mama will ask – Innnikku Kadappa illiya?. The day she makes Kadappa, the son will ask – Innikku Chutney illiya? And the day because maybe some guests have come, when the mami makes Chutney and Kadappa, the daughter will ask – Innikku Molagapodi illiya? But again, make no mistake, the day Chinna Vengaya Sambaar is made, the mami doesn’t have to go through any torture like this. Everyone in the family from the mama to the Ambi will happily eat whatever tiffin is made with Chinna Vengaya Sambaar.
Not just at home. Chinna Vengaya Sambaar is so popular with customers, that caterers who supply food on daily basis to mamas and mamis these days will ensure that on Sundays, the menu includes Chinna Vengaya Sambaar. When I checked last, the catering mama told me that on Sundays, the demand goes up by more than two times because Chinna Vengaya Sambaar is on the menu.
In Chennai, I have seen that people used to line up at the Original Ratna Café because they provided small buckets of Chinna Vengaya Sambaar along with water on the table irrespective of whatever you order. Even today, Ratna Café is pulling along based on the reputation it built on the taste of the Chinna Vengaya Sambaar.
Similarly in Mumbai, for bachelors, one of the favourite food places was the “South Indian Concerns” in Matunga East where they use to serve tasty food at reasonable prices. If one of the highlights of the place is ‘Ela potta saapaadu’, and the other was the Chinna Vengaya Sambaar. It was very difficult those days to get a seat on Wednesday nights and Sunday afternoons when Chinna Vengaya Sambaar was on the menu. By the way, in Mumbai where I live now, Chinna Vengayam is called “Madras Onion” thanks to its popularity among the Tamils.
The other aspect of Chinna Vengaya Sambaar is not just Idlis, it goes well with everything. Whether it is Dosa, Adai, Vadai and what not, if they are accompanied by Chinna Vengaya Sambaar, their taste gets elevated.
Chinna Vengayam is the perfect example of “Murthy chinnatha irunthaalum, Keerti perusu” Though smaller in size, Chinna Vengayams beat the Periya Vengayams hollow in terms of popularity. However, despite this popularity, one doesn’t understand why you call a stupid guy– sutha vengayama irukaan! Anyone?
Pic Courtesy: Sandhya’s Cookbook page.