For Food’s Sake!

Love makes the world go around. Foodies would disagree. I am one among them and proudly coming down a line of many foodie generations in my family.

Love can break your heart. Food can mend it. Love can cause heart aches. Food makes you happy. It can remind you of the past and help you keep up with the present. Food can remind you of home miles away or blocks away from your lunch box at work. Food can remind you of maternal affection. It can create memories and friendships unimagined of. Food can comfort the sad, soothe the sick and tame the mad. Food is everything. We foodies, live to eat. Others may beg to differ but we do.

Food is everything.

It all began about 6 to 8 weeks ago when I had been home with a lockdown and my parents decided to order traditional to our culture and to most states on this end of the nation “Steamed rice cakes” known to many by different names depending from where your family roots stemmed and also depending how your family deemed it to be known as. End of the day just “steamed rice cakes “, “plain steamed rice cakes”. Or I thought so.

These steamed rice cakes have been part of traditional events and feasts and are devoured by those who know the value of traditional recipes that have been passed down generations. “ Not something you young generation people would appreciate” , mom would often quip when asked why she didn’t make them herself. Married at 21, and working since 17 she barely had the time to learn from the original mistress of the steamed rice cakes in my family, her mother and my beloved grandmother. So I don’t really blame her. And who could blame anyone when grandmother decided it was best to leave behind a recipe book as encrypted as Jumanji clues with no clear and fixed ingredients and as faded as an artefact from ancient Egypt.

So when the noise was in the house that since no one could make these incredibly plain looking steam rice cakes at home, we might as well have them ordered in from a home run business, I took it upon myself and asked why we haven’t yet tried to make these. After all they are just steamed rice cakes. How difficult could they be. Known as Sannas in short, and made by several traditional methods, some that include home made toddy mixtures and some with a great rise of the ever moody yeast, eaten and seen mostly on feast days to be devoured again with spicy side curries and dishes that were only meant for real feasting. Sannas also has a Wiki page and that’s how popular these “plain looking steamed rice cakes” actually are. So I took up the challenge, like any foodie in the family. In a brief history about myself, I was born a foodie. Legendary stories have been told over the table more often than required that I could barely hold my neck myself to sit in a baby chair but still gaped at the adult food drooling away to glory and making a bounce for it regularly because who on earth likes pasty food down the throat for more than 3 months.  Blech. So picky eaters and foodies make fussy chefs in the kitchen. When I did find some online recipes for sannas I was confused with the fuss it had to make them! And I have always realised, what looks plain and straightforward, need not necessarily mean a piece of cake to make! Case in regard for example purposes only, French macarons. Simple dual sided biscuits with simple fillings. I mean how hard could it be yes? Yet culinary schools have not one but several courses on mastering it and yet among those only few have actually learned the art of making French macarons. And the same fuss over the steamed cakes, I found myself staring one fine morning in my kitchen at the recipe left behind by my grandmother. Coded, encrypted and confusing.

So I seeked out a couple of recipes, methods and techniques and prayed that the weather gods would be kind enough to let my yeast rise in peace and my home made toddy would keep its patience after sitting in a clear jar for almost two days while I excitedly kept disturbing its hibernation every six hours waiting to see if it would show me any signs of life or just lay there. It just decided to lay there, but left an intoxicating aroma unlike anything else I ever smelt before, when it was ready. If you have ever come across toddy in your life, you will know exactly what I am talking about.

The entire process took about 12 hours to be precise which involved procedures of soaking, resting , rising and grinding then finally steaming. I had carelessly not kept this mind and ended up with the grinding procedure at 2:40 am possibly irritating a couple of neighbours around but continued nevertheless. The process of rising after the mixture is ground gave me a sleepless night as I wondered if this attempt like the 3 earlier ones would also fail me, which would mean an utter waste of local ingredients sourced with difficulty during a lockdown and my ever precious 12 hours of wait and effort. Like an expectant mother I kept waking to see if the mixture was indeed rising and much to my delight everything was sailing smooth right through the night. A sleepless night for a restless foodie meant waking up earlier than usual and with great ambition I had hoped to have them ready by breakfast, steaming hot for the parents. However, they chose to have their daily usual and preferred to let the process take its time. “Never rush anything”, mom always suggests. And well again much to my surprise I had nailed it. I couldn’t contain my excitement and forwarded pictures to most of my aunts and cousins who had been informed I was undertaking this challenge of a recipe. A quick thank you to the weather Gods followed, a thank you to those who inspired the recipe and the combination of tips I took from over the internet and finally I mouthed a grateful thank you to the spirit of my grandmother who I am sure was watching over this process, sighing at my clumsiness and possibly proud after the sannas were ready. I perfected them in my own way but they will never be close to the gold level sannas she would prepare for us right through dawn to make sure they were ready for us by breakfast.

What’s funny though, on the flip side of everything good food does, sometimes not everyone will revel in your happiness. Family included. My mother proud as always of my effort, excitedly asked three of our close relatives and darling aunts of mine if they could share their recipes for the same sannas or any tips to make them better. Funnily, one didn’t reply, rather decided it was best to keep mum and let the silence of two tick marks say the rest, while one sent the recipe of the same steamed cakes, clear with ingredients and a short brief of the procedure, however clearly not mentioning these steamed rice cakes were from two states down and completely south on taste , while the last one finally cracked me up with a message that appeared on my phone a few hours later, “Send me your recipe, I will see what’s wrong with it and let you know.” Ridiculous. The guarded aunts could keep their recipes, food will always remain food and for every foodie, beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. Will I share my recipe? A cheeky no.

Nevertheless, we should be ever grateful we still have food on the table we can share with the ones who still wish to celebrate in our ups and downs. lsdpriori


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