One day, my brother, who was perhaps seven or eight at that time, stuck a hand-written note on the kitchen wall to voice his protest. The note read: "இட்லி தோசை ஒழிக" (No more idli, dosai.)
Every time we get together, the family has a good laugh recalling that. He vehemently argues that it was my father who put the thought in his head and that as a good kid he carried it out. We laugh about that too. Interestingly enough, he is now a dosai expert, and his kids love, love, love his dosais!
Idli and dosai were all what most of the kids in that part of the old country ate back then. Or, uppuma. That was the culture.
Bland, salty, savory is the tradition, not only in the old country culture but in old cultures practically anywhere on the planet:
“The idea that children should have bland, sweet food is a very industrial presumption,” says Krishnendu Ray, a professor of food studies at New York University who grew up in India. “In many parts of the world, breakfast is tepid, sour, fermented and savory.”Years ago, I told my grandmother that in her cultural context, idli every morning with yogurt is the healthiest way to start the day, and no wonder the old cultural belief is that idli plus yogurt is the best food even for the sickest patient.
Children begin to acquire a taste for pickled egg or fermented lentils early — in the womb, even. Compounds from the foods a pregnant woman eats travel through the amniotic fluid to her baby. After birth, babies prefer the foods they were exposed to in utero, a phenomenon scientists call “prenatal flavor learning.”What an easy excuse then for chocaholics: "hey, it was my mother's fault that she ate all that chocolate when she was pregnant with me!" ;)
Actually, chocaholics don't need to blame their mothers at all:
Sugar is the notable exception to “food neophobia,” as researchers call that early innate fear. In utero, a 13-week-old fetus will gulp amniotic fluid more quickly when it contains sugar. Our native sweet tooth helps explain the global popularity of sugary cereals and chocolate spreads like Nutella: Getting children to eat sugar is easy. Teaching them to eat slimy fermented soybeans, by contrast, requires a more robust and conservative culinary culture, one that resists the candy-coated breakfast buffet.What we eat, especially when we are kids, is so much culturally determined. Almost always, that also sets us up for the rest of our lives, unless we consciously make choices about what we eat. Cultures are conservative when it comes to breakfast. Whatever one gets used to becomes the daily breakfast routine. Why?
People are at their most vulnerable first thing; the day has not yet properly begun and breakfast needs to be safe and reassuring. It is the most conservative meal of the day in all cultures, says Kaori O’Connor, an anthropologist who has written a book about the English breakfast. “We have fusion global food. But in all cultures there remains breakfast. It’s a sacrament with which you begin the day. You can go wacko later,” she continues, “but you want to start ‘right’ whatever that may be. You want to gird your loins; you’re emerging from sleep…You want to know that you’re getting a good start.”We like that re-assuring rote in the morning.
When I am in the old country, I enjoy my favorite breakfast items there: Poori with potatoes, and idli with vadai. Whoever invented these combinations deserves a bright star named after them!
Daily life in the adopted home is a routine that fits my dull and boring personality. No idlis or dosais. No packaged cereals, no donuts, no nothing. It is bland breakfast day in and day out, and I am happy with it.
I don't post any protest signs in my kitchen! ;)