The Spice Journey

Photo Credits :

Shanthi Munisamy

Writer :

Shanthi Munisamy

29th December, 2018

‘A pinch of this and a dash of that with a touch of love’ is the perfect equation to make a spice powder, traditionally hand blended and pounded in a mortar and pestle.

There is a very special mixed blend of spices called podi (‘powder’). The trick to perfection is to have a knowledge of spices and the uniqueness each of them bring to the mix. Like a ‘pinch of salt’ the knack of knowing how much to roast, rest and blend comes only from practise. Every household have their own recipe structure, different in taste and its use. They range from Rasam Podi, Sambhar Podi, Mulagai Podi, Kootu Podi, Kaarai Podi all used for specific kind of recipes.

It is an essential in every Tamil Kitchen shelf, cities or village households, where you could find them stored in an air tight container.

This kind of special spice powder mix is difficult to achieve and hence with shop brought spice mixes, there is no complete satisfaction with the make, with the ingredients used or the freshness.

When bought outside, they are ground and packaged large scale on big machines due to which they loose the essential flavours and aroma in the process as compared to the small batches made at home.

I learnt the techniques by observing my mother, aunts and grandmother over the years!

I would relish on the raw spices while watching them and would get their screams whenever I accidently put chillies in my mouth and face the aftermath.

All these years learning by keeping a constant eye on what was going on inside the kitchen, from drying the spices in the sun, to roasting them in the kitchen stoves to perfection, what i remember the most is the aromatic smell during the process which dominated every other smell around. It is this smell I aim for, while blending my spices.

But why am I talking so much about spice, you wonder?

Earlier this year, I missed out on an opportunity to travel to the US (more on that later) but the neatly packed spill proof parcel of the podis started their journey from my kitchen shelf in Bengaluru to the kitchen shelf of an Airbnb in Menlo Park, California where the rest of my team from Aravani art project travelled to for a month-long stay for one of our biggest project.

My relationship with cooking is extremely sacred and meditative. I enjoy every process involved and put in a part of me in every cook. Realising the distance my love had traveled that month, my happiness knew no bounds.

Hence strangely, though physically not present, my spirit traveled abroad.

There are very few places in the world that give us the sense of home. I knew the packed spices would make them miss home a little lesser, for the month they were there and it would make me overcome the realisation of the missed opportunity smoothly.

About that, it all started when Aravani Art Project was invited as a team to paint the Facebook headquarters earlier this year.

Thus started the first of the processes of getting a passport, filing the application and the ultimate, visa process.

“How much is involved for me to just travel…”, I wondered.

This story deserves another blog piece, but it concludes in me and Purushi not obtaining our visas after several failed attempts, hence not traveling to the US.

Disappointed at first, I was really happy sending off two trans sisters to our collective dream of travelling to the US.

I cooked through it all. Cooking, served as my unknown strength and stress reliever in times I needed the most.

Oh what a sense of fulfilment the traveling pack of podis gave me.

I spent the month in India, reminiscing, cooking and painting my thoughts away.

Now, that I look back at the gone year and what all it offered to me, one of the things it gave me is this. A beautiful relationship with fresh spices, produce and knowledge of the land I belong to.

It made me understand the true sense of happiness and how events are just momentary. Now, I offer you below a piece of my heart!

Ingredients :

  • 1kilo of Guntur red chillies (Donot settle for any other variety)

  • 1kg of coriander seeds

  • 1/4kg of Chhana dal

  • 1/4kg of Toor dal

  • 200grams of jeera

  • 300grams of black pepper

  • 100grams of turmeric pods

  • 200grams of meethi seeds

  • And a packet of Asafoetida(magic)

  • Dry roast all the spices separately till it starts releasing oil, light brown and aromatic. Let them cool to room temperature. Now hand or mixer blend these spices together to get a coarse texture so the spices maintain some crispiness.

  • This recipes can only be perfected if the ingredients are fresh and aromatic. Even Google will not be able to tell you how to identify that!