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Thursday, May 17, 2012

what is for 'touching'

At home, whenever there is a talk of a meal  / tiffin there is always the question of ' thottukka  enna ?'  (for the benefit of non tamil speaking, thottukka literally means 'touching') , but it is one of those untranslatable words associated with the way some people eat.

It is best explained in a scene in the tamil movie 'nala dhamayanti'. A customs official opens a jar of pickles and asks,  ' something eatable' ; the pallakkad brahman is mortified; and he  exclaims in a thickly accented english 'no no no no, not eating.. only touching."

It is not seasoning, not garnishing or anything like that. Typically, when you have  curd rice with your  fingers that have just touched a dollop of pickle, well that is 'thottuka',

Some people  call it a side dish. but it is more than just that. it complements the  main dish from taste, texture, nutrition and health point of view.

There is strict code for what can go with what . There is virtually not a single preparation that is complete in itself. What is idli without the coconut chutney or curd rice without a dollop of pickle, particularly, lemon or better still, dry sweet lime pickle.

How can one have adai with sambhar?  For a Tanjavoor brahmin,  it is sheer blasphemy to have adai with anything other than jaggery or butter.

Curd rice being the most important dish for the 'Tambra's has a great many items to go with it. Just the sight of makali kizhangu  kindles one's appetite so much that you end up having double the portion of curd rice; after all you cannot have makali kizhangu without curd rice.

While 'touching' is so important while eating, at times, a simple touch can render a whole meal uneatable.  Here, we come to the concept of echil (avoiding contact with saliva, like while sipping from a tumbler) and pathu (segregating cooked food from uncooked food).

most people can never understand the nuances. But a tamil brahmin can never understand as to

  • how can you  drink water from a bottle or a glass on which some one else  has put his or her lips to ?
  • how can you pass around a cake or a sweet for everyone to take a bite from ?
  • how can you wash the utensils in a sink where someone has just gargled after a meal ?

an american, the story goes, was offered a makke ki roti with saag on top. He ate the saag with  a spoon and returned the 'plate' to his host.