conjuring up the curd rice

In Food on February 23, 1992 at 4:59 pm

‘Curd Rice’ evokes a certain inexplicable emotion in the south part of India like no other rice dish does. One has to get under the hood to discover the physical relationship between rice and beholder. The process of savoring it is indeed much greater than the product itself! If relishing is greater than the relish, we have zoomed in on the right dish.

A good amount of buttermilk (‘moru’ in Tamil) is first added to piping hot steamed rice. The ratio according to some experts in this field is one-is-to-one. Traditionally plantain leaves have been used with much success as mixing plates but not so much as holding plates. Technological advances such as stainless steel plates were introduced in the 60’s and have gained immediate acceptance worldwide among the “moru sadham” populace as they could help in the mixing and holding. ‘moru sadham’ loosely translates to ‘curd rice’ in the tamilnadu part of the south India.

The traditional plantain leaves however offers an interesting challenge which can be met with some techniques advanced by field technicians. There is tremendous “run” of the buttermilk which should be curtailed at once to avoid ruining the tablecloth. Although traditionally, one has squatted on the floor, one can foresee the elevation of the status of the plantain leaf from floor to table soon. An 8″ dia. pappadum or ‘appalam’ as it is called here, can come to the rescue to contain the hasty ‘run’ of the buttermilk.

The pappadum should be crushed in the hand and immediately sprinkled around the “running” buttermilk. This arrests the spread of the buttery menace at once. More crushed pappadum can be added and a small berm shaped out of the soggy mess. The increasing pore pressure from within this coffer dam of sorts should be kept in mind and a hasty meal is required to counter any circumferential rupture. The mix can now be moulded in the hand and quickly taken up to the mouth. The head should be bent low and held close to the plantain leaf so that falling debris does not ruin the tablecloth, sleeved bush-shirt, angavastram or even heaving exposed belly.

It should be noted that the buttermilk has a knack of seeping through the moulded ball and cascading down the arm.


Various remedies have been suggested to counter such an unexpected and untimely cascade. Due to the explicit nature of some of the testimonies provided, the author deems it necessary to censor the topic of tongue-arm interactions in this fine discourse.

Certain detours are made between the pappadam crushing motions arresting the separation of the runaway ‘moru’ from the said ‘sadham’ and the ongoing clock-wise crushing of the ‘sadham’ component into the ‘moru’ in a rhythmic and quick ritualized fashion:

A steady stream of buttery-milky fluid is poured on to the said ‘sadham’. This could have been an earthy bhartha serving his bharya in the good old days! Or commonly a male volunteer on those festive mass gatherings where you squatted in rows, ‘nana leaves edging cheek-to-jowl while many a quiet romance blossomed between squatters in adjacent male and female rows.

And while the steady stream was pouring onto the ‘sadham’, the busy recipient is engaged in multi-tasking: alternating in split-seconds between catching a cupful and slurping it away, containing the runaway ‘moru’ and cupping the palm for more fluid lest the provider goes away and gingerly dipping a forefinger into that ‘thokku’ in the far left corner, transferring more morsels into the mouth with the pappadam….another dab at the ‘pullikacchal’, an exotic ethnic creation…

Finally, heaving a great sigh of relief after the energetic ordeal and casting a gleaming eye at others in utter bliss the satisfied recipient proceeds to untangle legs, if in the traditional position, and walks towards the faucet, returns with an enigmatic strut of satisfaction while dabbing the edge of the mouth with that angavasthram and then quickly spotting his next hop, advances towards the betel-nut table…


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