Mourning over Karacha Maavu Dosas—A Moment of Vulnerability (Plateful of Memories #1)
My mother is an excellent cook — she can look at ingredients and it would turn into simple comfort food and royal meals. She tastes something new and would recreate the dish—street food, fusion food, international, no bar. Millets that don’t yield to any force surrenders in my mother’s hands. Growing up with that level of excellence and intuition in cooking has passed on me to me without my own knowing—I make my way around the kitchen trusting my intuition and remembering how the kitchen should smell at different points of cooking a certain dish.
Mother’s food is hard to recreate—call it nostalgia, kai manam (literally translates to ‘the aroma of one’s hand’ or the special flavour that a person’s cooking has), or that memory’s taste. She makes the same dish differently every time and yet, it would still be the same. Her mood’s her food though I can’t remember a time when she has ever made us anything remotely average. My cooking standards are to make my food taste like my mom’s, smell like her kitchen, and serve it with care like she always does. I embody a surprisingly relative ease in the kitchen. Every now and then, I nail a dish exactly the way she makes it and I’d glee up, call her and tell her how that’s one more dish under my belt.
But there is one (of my most favourite) dish of hers that I never ever attempted until yesterday— the Karacha maavu dosa (mixed flour dosa). This dosa is simple, almost instantaneous, needs no fermentation, and extremely delicate. I didn’t even know what went into it until I decided at 29, I needed to learn how to make this favourite food of mine. I love this dosa and grew up my entire life eating it, day or night. I never asked my mom what goes into this dosa, never tried to analyze its flavors, I just ate it and that was that. But sometimes, you just know it’s time.
I was somewhat excited, even. I reached out to my mother and sister on my family messaging group and got the recipe. I made the batter, tempered it, waited out the time it takes for the batter to magically embody the dosa gods, while making some tomato-onion-coconut chutney. This was going to be a moment , my moment— my very first solo karacha maavu dosa. I didn’t have high expectations for it as it’s usually hard to nail the simplest dishes. It was going to be average at best but nevertheless I pursued. And when the dosa kallu (the flat and round griddle usually made out of cast iron to make dosas) was hot, fuming, and had some oil smoothed on its surface, I began to make the dosas.
The first one stuck to the kallu. The second one was mushy. The third one, the fourth one, the fifth…none of them came out looking like the dosa should. All I was left with was lumps of cooked batter and while I pride my round, regular dosas, karacha maavu dosa is an entirely different ballgame. I was hungry, angry, exasperated. I was spoiling a good memory I have from my past. I knew I wasn’t going to be the best, but not even being able to flip the dosa was not sitting well with me. I texted my sister and as I started to give up and moved to regular dosa batter, she called me through video conferencing.
Like older sisters do when you can’t call your sleeping mother in India in the dead of the night, she asked me to show the consistency of the batter, the heat of the dosa kallu, the oil I was using—everything checked out. She then said, ‘alright, make the dosa now, and fix the video on the dosa.’ Spotlighting my dosa on the kallu as I went about the steps I’ve seen my mother do a million times in my life, she kept following me…until I started to try to flip it; she then asked me to pause. Clearly, when you’re hungry, time is a different concept. I didn’t have the patience of 20 more seconds that the karcha maavu dosa needed…just 20 more seconds than the regular dosa. I flipped it and the dosa turned out like it was supposed to. My dosa gods were pleased and my mother probably had a happy dream in that moment. My sister cut the call and I continued making them dosas (I only ended up calling her later after I finished my meal). When you land one dosa right, you need to keep making more of them.
And that’s when it happened. It hit me out of nowhere and over the slight fumes of the dosa kallu where I was now allowing my dosas their 20 more seconds to glory, I wept. I definitely didn’t know why I was crying initially, just that I needed to cry. I kept crying the entire time I made the rest of them, auto-pilot kicked in from all those years of helping my mother pour these dosas from when I was younger and that’s when it hit me.
These were not happy tears. These were not ‘dish-unlocked’ achievement tears. This was in its own weird way, a moment of incredible loss and mourning. This dosa is particularly magic that only my mother could create and I didn’t want to break it down into ingredients and practical steps of cooking. I didn’t want the glory of this dosa crossing over into my adulthood. Knowing that I could make this dosa on my own threw a sharp light at my childhood and adolescence where I’d never gone hungry, when I always had three fresh meals a day, served with the care and love of your parent. My father, sister, and I are remarkably hangry people and my mother’s first response to diffuse a brewing argument is, even today, “Nee saaptiya? (did you eat?)” Making my first karacha maavu dosa right means mourning all those moments from my past I took for granted, never to be retrieved or relived, and a look at myself thirty or fifty years down the lane at having to keep making it on my own. Alone.
I know my mother will make it for me the next time I meet her, that the magic woudn’t subside. But when you live 8000 miles away from your loved ones, it makes you yearn for the simplest pleasures. Having to wait two and three years for that is really painful. Ask any immigrant and they’ll tell you the pain of not finding that same dish abroad, with the same kai manam as your mother or grandmother making a dish for you with love, everydayness, and an expertise we otherwise never acknowledge.
I switched off the stove, served myself some of my tamarind-based chutney, and looked at my dosas. I took a bite out of it. While I am a good cook (thanks to my matriarchs) and nail complex dishes on first try, getting the simplest, plainest, and most beautiful dishes like the karacha maavu dosa is a big deal to me. I sat on my bed in silence and ate it as the sun set until there was nothing left on my plate. A little smile escaped my lips at the memory of home and kitchen smells and my inquiring mother who speaks a particular love language of my matriarchs — “Innoru dosa saapudu.”
“Eat another dosa.”
Note: This is a piece particularly dedicated to my mother, grandmothers, and sister who always make sure you’re never hungry, send you out of the house with no ‘I love you’ but with a fully-packed tiffin box of food. I’ll cook for you the next time I see you.