Evening at Zambezi River, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, May 2015
and so does everything around... the situation, the people, the perspective, the needs.... and we too change.... the wise and courageous seek change.. because only change is constant!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

21. Idlee and Paneer

When my colleague asked me about participating in a conference at Chennai, I gladly accepted the invitation. Chennai never was a destination for me. But it was always a place, which showed me the way to other likable destinations like Kanyakumari, Pondicherry. So, though I do not know much about the city, I have special affinity for Chennai. Now Chennai is different and so do I, but I have memories of Chennai which I relish even today.

I like South Indian food and especially filter coffee. That was one of my agenda for the visit. For dinner, I was expecting curd rice. Instead I had a north Indian meal. I was surprised. The waiters were speaking fluent Hindi. When I went on giving him various options for curd rice, he was amused. He said, “Madam, I am serving you the best of north Indian food. Please, taste it, you will like it.” I am not much fussy regarding food, so I easily gave up.

Next morning, there was a typical breakfast of corn-flex, canned juice, bread and butter, omelet, puri-bhajee…. and above that ness café. I was wondering whether I have come to Chennai or to Delhi. I asked for filter coffee. I did not get it for the next two days. Neither did I get Idlee. I had paneer subjee, with typical north Indian menu. …… . Most of the conference participants were from Tamilnadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh. They were not at all complaining; on the contrary they were thoroughly enjoying the food.

The discussion with the waiters and hotel management revealed the fact that the hotel was owned by a man from Patna and all the workers in the hotel were from Patna and Allahabad. I found it very funny. They had picked up Tamil well, and were able to manage with locals. So, in Chennai for two and half days I ate lots of Paneer- as that was present in all food items.

Two months after this episode, I went to Patna. The place I was staying was naturally offering north Indian food. It was not very clean and I did not like the crowd there. I was alone this time and my colleagues did not understand how difficult it is in Patna for a woman to eat alone in a restaurant.

One evening, I was hungry, so went out at about 8.30. Just outside my hotel, I saw a big South Indian Restaurant. It was crowded, but looked clean and decent. I went in and ate food and had one of the best filter coffees. For next three days, I had my breakfast and dinner at the same restaurant. I was in Patna for five days, not only without eating Paneer, but having a treat of south Indian food.

There was a time, when you had to eat locally available food. When in south, I used to consume rice and in north whether I liked or not jilebee and samosa was the staple diet. Each place had its local flavor and eating was a way of cultural assimilation. People took pride in offering local food and you could never get the same taste elsewhere.

With the spread of consumerism and with the impact of globalization, now towns, cities and places have lost their identity. Each city has a MacDonald, Reliance Fresh, Café Coffee Day… and what not. Now all cities look, smell and make you feel alike. I cannot differentiate cities with open eyes… …They have lost their personality.

Paneer in Chennai and Idlee in Patna are symbolic of changing times and lost identities. They underline our craving for ‘other’ - running after those things which we don’t have. It also indicates hurry of forgetting our own treasure. This symbolizes our stubbornness – wherever we go, we carry our world with us, and never look at what could be the other world.

Is it good or not so good – I am not in a position to decide. But I definitely miss Chennai in Chennai and I have to search for Patna in Patna……


  1. Please give me his address.........I will also taste his Ragapatis ………Savita, means minute things also take place very importance in many people’s life ………In normal life we go to restaurant, any ‘gadi’ ….eat something and get away………..we don’t think that kind of ‘ Gadiwal, or ‘shopkeeper’ is………..the extraordinary psychology

  2. This loss of personality of cities is not exactly an effect of globalisation. it is as you said an outcome of trend-following mentality. Having a pizza hut, McDonalds or CCD every other corner is one part of city life...and it could stay upto just that. there would be still a lot of place for udupi restaurents and bhelwalas...
    I like pizza sometimes and i like local punyachi misal sometimes....
    True consumerism would be to have both available....would it still be loss of identity of the city?

  3. i never heard about these such kind of foods before so, i did not know how it was..

    but here in malaysia, we also have our local foods like 'nasi kerabu', budu, 'nasi dagang' and etc..

  4. for ur info, idlee in chennai does not taste so good as in mumbai. i liked the post very much. for that matter, stop searching and u will get everything.

    nutan mehta

  5. ashlesha, yes, this indeed was an excpetional bhelwalah....

    anunjna, if the cities try to satisfy the needs of all the consumers, they will definitely have no identity.... that is the problem with consumerism i believe

    sorry, nadhsamuel, i am not able to explain the dishes...if you have any Indian friends or Indian resturants in the city, you probably would get both these items....

    well, nutan, next time i will have idlee in mumbai too...or idlee too in mumbai...


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