Saturday, October 17, 2009

Inji Thairu

This is about 'Inji Thayir.' You can spell it differently, like 'Injithayir,' or 'Inji Thair,' or 'Injithairu,' or whatever way. Whatever way you spell it, the name contains the two main ingredients, though the ingredients are three - 'Inji,' the good old, ginger and 'thayir,' which is nothing but curd, as many of you know.

Before beginning to write this post, I did a googling on my subject, to check out whether anyone else in the virtual realm has ever heard of this delicacy from central Kerala. And out popped none other than dear old, Inji ! Way back in 2007, the Ginger Girl had faithfully dug out the humble and simple dish of 'Injithair' as part of a 'JFI-Ginger.' And, then I found not one but quite numerous recipes of 'Injithair,' including one from Ammini Ramachandran.

The methods suggested were almost similar, and the ingredients the same all the time. Except for some interesting suggestions. But, before delving into the differences, let me talk about my version of 'Injithairu.'

The 'Injithairu' that I grew up with was served exclusively during the birthday feasts. Many of you, especially the Malayalees, must be knowing what a traditional birthday feast in Kerala means. For one thing, Malayalees, (most of them, at least) celebrate birthdays on the birth star, according to the traditional astrological system. For example, if a child is born on a certain date, like today, which is October 17, her birth star would be ....' in the Malayalam month of 'Thulam.' So, every year, the birthday would be celebrated on the .... star on the month of Thulam.

These days, most kids have two birthdays. The birth star is often celebrated at home, with parents, grand parents, complete with a traditional feast and a visit to the local temple, in the case of practising Hindus. The date of birth, or the English birthday, will be celebrated with friends. Some kids, like my seven year old nephew, demand a cake and candles for the 'date-of-birth' birthday, with a small party thrown in for his friends !

So, inji thairu has always been a must item for the birth day celebrations in my family. I haven't seen it as a must item for other occasions that call for a sadya, like Onam or Vishu or even the wedding feasts. We can make it, if you feel like, but its not mandatory. But, for the 'Pirannal Sadya,' it is a must.

The method is nothing much to describe. As I have never been good with measurements, please excuse me this time too. Please do not expect conventional recipes from me, as I've warned early on before. Just take a couple of green chillies, firm and deep green, and a piece of ginger. Chop the green chillies into slightly thick rounds, not thin slices. Also, chop the ginger to almost equal size. Then, crush both together lightly with a mortar / pestle, but never grind. Just crush lightly, sometimes, a pinch of salt is also crushed along with chillies and ginger. Transfer the crushed mixture into a bowl, add some curd and adjust the salt. The green of the chillies should be visible. This is served on the left, lower tip of the plantain leaf. (There is an ongoing debate in our family whether the injithairu, puliyinchi and other pickles should be served on the lower part of the leaf or the upper part ! But, more on the placing of food on the plantain leaf later.)

Another occasion when this 'Injithairu' is a mandatory item, is, interestingly, associated with the Sradham, the after death ceremonies according to the Hindu beliefs. After the 'Shraaddham,' ceremony, a portion of the rice made as offering to the departed souls should be eaten by all those who performed the rituals. This rice, which is usually 'unakkalari,' the unhusked rice cooked without straining away the gruel, is eaten with 'inji thairu.' In Kerala, this ritual is called, 'Shesham Kollal,' which means partaking the remaining portions.

It is quite significant that the same dish acquires an auspicious status during the ceremonies associated both with birth and death ! It really tells a lot about the Indian philosophy and outlook of life, I believe. Both birth and death are viewed as part of the same process, according to the Indian traditions. The traditional 'Asuddhi,' (ritualistic status of pollution) ascribed to death is also there for birth as well, though hardly observed these days except in relation to the temple rituals.

So, as someone had commented in Inji's post, this dish is also considered equal to '101 curries.' The referance is to the popular myth of 'Parayi Pettu Panthirukulam.' I might have to dedicate a whole post to talk about this wonderful myth, so here I will only give a brief description. It refers to the travels of a cursed couple, the Brahmin called Vararuchi and his wife who was born of low caste parents. How the Brahimn came to marry this girl from a caste which was situated much lower in the rung of traditional caste hierarchy was the beginning of the myth. Vararuchi, who was one of the wisest men in Bharath of those days, happened to hear some birds discuss his future one day. Being fluent in the language of all living beings, Vararuchi was aghast to learn that his fate was to marry a girl born of a lower caste couple. In those days, it surely mean social ostrasization for him. Fearing the worst, Vararuchi set out to find the girl who was, interestingly, born on that very day. He found the house, and some how or other, got hold of the new born and managed in setting her afloat on a floating barge in a neighbouring river.

Some 16 years later, he happened to be the guest at a Brahmin household. As per his habit, there also, Vararuchi decided to test the intelligence of his host. He put forth some tough tasks for the host if Vararuchi was to accept his 'athithyam,' which included a demand for 101 curries for the dinner. The worried Brahmin host was consoled by his daughter, who prepared just 'Injithair' for the revered guest. Satisfied at his host's intelligent response, Vararuchi was surprised to learn that it was the daughter's idea. He decided to marry the girl. And, on the first night of their marriage, he discovered the truth that this girl was the same one he had set afloat on the river years ago ! She was rescued by this childless Brahmin couple, who brought her up as their daughter.

The rest of the story is long. How Vararuchi and his wife started their life long travels, how 12 children were born to them and how each of them were abandoned and how each one was brought up by people belonging to different caste and creed and finally how all of them recognised each other. Each of these individuals is part of a great lore in Kerala, repeated off and on in every spoken or written discourse.

Well, so much so for the power of 'Injithairu.' And, the differences I found in some of the posts can now be listed out. Inji has instructed to grind the ginger. This I have not seen before. We just chop it do equal pieces. No grinding. Ammini Ramachandran instructs to season the dish with mustard, dried red pepper and curry leaves ! This does not deserve the name, as far as I am concerned ! Sorry dear Ammini, but I wonder in which part of Kerala this dish is prepared in that way. In Another site, 'Khana,' ginger and green chillies are ground in a blender, and again, seasoned with mustard, red pepper and curry leaves.

Interestingly, a journalist friend whose husband hails from Kannur district, used to make a different version of ginger and curd dish which was prepared in Kannur, according to her. She would grind ginger with coconut and just blend it into curd. No seasoning or nothing. But it had tasted divine. This was kind of a staple curry in her husband's home in Kannur, she had said. I wonder if any of the bloggers from that part of Kerala can enlighten me further on this dish.

Well, more or Parayi Pettu Panthirukulam and Pirannal Sadya later.