On the Spice of Life – The Story of Paruppu Podi Past

{Paruppu podi, paruppu means dhal and podi means powder in Tamil. It is also called Spiced Dhal Powder.}

Amma grew up near border of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. So, she spoke both Tamil and Telugu fluently. We celebrated festivals of both states. Her cooking also had influences of both states. I grow up hearing about gongura pacchadi and pulusu that Amma had grown up with.

From my childhood, I ate paruppu podi. Thatha, Appa and Amma would make it together. It used to be Appa’s job to buy the different ingredients (red chilli, black pepper, different types of lentils etc) . Thatha cleaned and sun dried the ingredients. Amma fried the ingredients to perfection. Appa helped Amma run each of the ingredients through the dry mixer/grinder. He would keep asking “Pothumadi?” (Which literally meant “Is this enough?”) Amma would inspect inside the dry mixer/grinder and based on how coarse or fine that mixture had been ground too…. she would ask Appa to either continue or stop.

When I was very young, it was Thatha’s duty to run the powder through the sieve and place the sieved paruppu podi in a dry container.

As years passed, and I grew up, I noticed that Amma would sneer at Thatha for sneezing when he did the sieving. Appa wouldn’t sneer at Thatha…but his body language told me that he didn’t approve of Thatha’s spilling even a bit of the precious paruppu podi when the transfer happened to the dry container.

To prevent Thatha from sneezing and getting sneered at, I volunteered to do the sieving and storing job. This wasn’t an easy job. As I sieved the powder, I would feel the urge to sneeze. But, Thatha (when Amma’s back was behind him), would shake his head vigorously. All that vigorous head shake meant was “Don’t sneeze. You are going to get in trouble with her.” I mastered the skill, over the years, to hold the sieve further away from my body (and nose) and complete the sieving without a single sneeze. When I was nearly done sieving without a single sneeze, Thatha would look at me very approvingly and give me a thumbs up.

Then, I had to carefully, transfer the paruppu podi to a dry container without dropping even a bit. I realised very early on that this was an impossible task. So, I decided to learn from the best. I followed Appa’s example. I first did the sieveing and ensured that the sieved powder feel on a large sheet of paper. Then, after the sieving was done, I held up the paper and dropped the paruppu podi carefully into a dry container as Appa looked on approvingly.

I grew up during rather simple times. Nobody praised me openly. Nobody said “Great job!”

Appa and Thatha’s approving looks and thumbs up was all I got. Well, that, and lack of Amma’s sneers. That was a high enough bar to live up to.

For many months the family would enjoy the paruppu podi mixed with hot rice and ghee (clarified butter) or sesame oil.

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