“Arthamulla andha naal samayal” is a compilation of articles written by N.K. Shanmugam under the pseudonym of “Chakkramallur Dhatchayini Ammal” and published in an erstwhile magazine called “Dhina mani kathir”. These articles were derived from old books and notes found in the author’s private library. There are interesting anecdotes and stories under each chapter and a variety of recipes, as they were followed at least 50 years back. Some of them have remained invariant through the years, while many others have disappeared. The narrative style is endearing and gives you a feeling of watching a black-and-white Thyagaraja Bhagavathar movie, songs and all.
Each chapter stresses on how food was used as a source of health. There are also interesting facts associated with each dish. For example, the first chapter that describes “Thaalitha annam” (“fried rice” in modern parlance) talks about the 8 faults (“dosham”) involved in cooking rice:
- Askritham: where the starch is not removed. This leads to indigestion. Unfortunately, riced cooked in a cooker without removal of supernatant starchy water suffers from this “dosham”.
- Pichalam: Overcooked rice: leads to ulcer (modern science claims that overcooked rice has high glycemic index and can mess up your sugar levels).
- Asuthi: rice contaminated with insects, worms, dust and hair. Leads to indigestion.
- Kuvathi: “karukkarisi” I have no idea what this means, if someone does, please clarify. Leads to indegestion.
- Sushmitham: Incompletely cooked rice: Leads to blood disorders.
- Thantham: burnt rice: Leads to nerve disorders.
- Viruupam: dry rice (“viraitha saadam”): Indigestion
- Asuthumam: Old rice: Leads to diahhorea.
The book also lists 50 varieties of rice that were eaten in the past: Iluppai poo samba, kanaga samba, kamba samba, kaadai kazuthu sambaa, chinna samba etc. People ate a specific type depending on their work. For example, people with little physical labor and activity were not allowed to eat kanaka samba and kamba samba as they were too rich, but ate chinna samba, sirumani samba and seeraga samba. Phycial laborers ate mallikai sambaa, paalanchamba etc.
A brinjal based recipe is described as follows:
Manalvaari kathirikkai, neer kathirikkai or karpura kathirikkai can be used for this dish. Pluck the brinjal on its 40th day and cut it lengthwise. Cut onions into long pieces. Take a kadai with ghee. Add the onion pieces, turmeric, salt and red chilly. Add the brinjal to this and cook until tender. This item can result in body ache.To prevent it, add a few drumsticks to it while cooking.
There are other interesting recipes – “curry ma” to be used instead of coconut in vegetables, six varities of Pongal – ordinary pongal, horse gram pongal, urad dal pongal (supposedly beneficial to pubescent girls), tur dal pongal, green gram pongal and inji kanji.
People even made sweet vadai as follows: to 350 g of urad flour, add 20 bananas, grind and deep fry in ghee.
There are non-vegetarian items as well – but they were not applicable to me and so I skipped those.
What I did try was the Bejavada kicchidi. This came out fantastic. This was traditionally eaten with “pacha pulsu” it seems, but I made it with Kadhi (not from the book). A very satisfying meal on a dull, wet day.
If you can read Tamil and are interested in cooking healthy, erstwhile food, buy this book. It only costs Rs. 50 and is totally worth it.
Acknowledgement: To my husband who has an eye for interesting books.
Publisher: Narmada Padhippagam, 61/7 Rajabathar street, Pondy Bazar, T. Nagar, Chennai 600017.