as: Pothi (pack/wrap using semi-burnt banana leaf) and chor (rice). It is a simple and natural way of packing lunch and the burnt banana
leaf adds a different flavor to the constituents inside.
may evoke a thousand different emotions from a malayalee, depending on his/her
current domicile. Let me elaborate on this for the uninitiated.
who lives and works in Kerala, the pothichor is a quintessential part of
his/her life during the lunch time. As usual, Mothers usually pack lunch for
the young ones who go to schools or colleges and for the senior lot, who go out
to work. It’s a daily thing, and it’s been the traditional practice for ages.
group consists of people who were born and raised in Kerala, but had to move
out looking for ‘greener pastures’. The second or third generations of such
malayalees, have always been a confused lot, whether to like or dislike the
traditional malayalee culture. These likes or dislikes stem from the fact that
they are primarily under-exposed to the good things associated with Kerala.
outlook to their roots and tradition play a vital role in how the successive
generations accept or reject the same. Having met a lot of malayalees, both within
and outside India, I strongly feel that the majority in this group love and
accept the malayalee ways. Making yearly visits to kerala with the whole family
especially during the summer vacations, was always something most of them
looked forward to, year after year.
I had to
explain about the different attitudes of the second group because the word
pothichor, could elicit one of these two reactions depending on which side they
lean. It could either be “Nostalgia” or
a long “Ewww”!
pic-blog, is dedicated to my mallu brethren out there. I am pretty sure by the
time you finish reading this, you will miss home, and because I for one,
certainly turn into a nostalgia-lorn kid every time I see a pothichor.
non-malayalees, if you don’t wish to try a pothichor by the end of this blog, then
I haven’t done justice in explaining it to you.
What is so
special about the PACKAGE?
are well known for their folding and packing skills. How else can you explain
the sight of watching young and old men playing cricket, volleyball and even football
wearing lungis? Lungis are colorful fabrics worn by men to cover and protect
their family jewels. It’s held in place by some good folding and strategic
tucking at proper spots. As far as I know, ‘ventilation’ is the ONLY advantage
of wearing this fabric!
folding a fresh banana leaf isn’t easy, as it breaks when bent. So in order to
make it a little malleable, it is burnt a wee bit over naked flame. The burnt
leaf adds on to the flavor of rice and the assortments by giving it a smokey
bbq infusion, desi style! The package always ends up in a rectangular shape,
which is finally wrapped in few sheets of an old newspaper.
matta rice (also known as Rosematta rice, Palakkadan Matta rice, Kerala Red
rice, or Red parboiled rice: according to wikipedia) obviously dominates the
major part depending on the person’s waist size! The koottan (side eats) are packed in smaller plantain leaves and
placed next to the rice. The choices are plenty and depend on your diet.
The usual choices
are thenga chammandi (coconut chutney),
meen varuthathu (fish fry), omlette, beans thoran/mezhukkuvaretty (fry), and kannimanga achar or any uppilithathu (pickle).
Fish fry is
usually matthi (sardines) and it’s the
best source of omega-3 fatty acid. Karimeen
pollichathu (Pearl spot is marinated, wrapped in banana leaf and grilled)
or Konju varuthathu (prawn fry) are
other alternatives. I have never had chicken dishes packed in a pothichor.
first memories of a pothichor has to be associated with the end of the yearly
summer vacations in Kerala.
Back in the
80s and 90s the primary mode of transport to and from kerala used to be the
train. Island express or the present day Kanyakumari express (Bangalore to
Kanyakumari) which used to depart from Bangalore around 9pm back in those days.
We reach our hometown by 2pm the next day. The onward journey was always exciting
The return journeys
from kerala to whichever part of India you stayed, was always sad as we had to
wait for another year to see our extended family, our muthachan and muthashi (grandparents),
ammavans and ammayis (uncles and aunts), and cousins. Almost always the whole
family used to come to the railway station to see us off.
around 1 pm when the Kanyakumari express reached Karunagapally. The brief 2
minute halt was always a chaotic one. Achan
had to put our luggages, a teary eyed amma, Archana (my sister), and myself
into the compartment and then wave goodbye to all those who had come to drop
chugs along and we settle down in our seats. There is a familiar whiff of
pothichor which spreads through the entire train around this time. Our pothichor
was almost always packed by our Ammayi (aunt) with a lot of love and care. We couldn’t
wait to open our packs after we got into the train. Watching our fellow passengers
gorge on their pothichor only compounded the hunger!
In the Oscar
winning movie Forrest Gump, if the title character was a malayalee, he would
say “Amma says life is like a pothichor, you never know what you’re gonna get”.
Every time I open my pothichor, the first few seconds are spent trying to find
out what is packed for me that year. Ammayi always customized the package, I usually
got more of the thenga chammandi (coconut chutney) and chor (rice), since
matthi fry was something I couldn’t palate back in those days. Archana got more
fish, Amma shared whatever she got and Achan got heavier lunch bags to carry every
the malayala thanima (unique), and for me it was the perfect end of a great
holiday with my kith and kin. It felt like I was carrying a piece of Kerala in
a small pack of plantain leaf which you could savour to your heart’s content
and it could get us through our mundane lives in the city until our next
thing about the pothichor is dying its natural death since the arrival of fast
foods and the like. Quite possibly, the younger generation won’t have a clue
why I am rambling so much about a damn pack of lunch for crying out loud! But this
I tell you, if you haven’t tried it yet, please do. I’m sure you won’t regret
have rice and fish curry, but what separates a true blue mallu from the rest, is
that he will add some rice directly into the chatty (earthern cooking pot) and
mix it with the remaining gravy and make small urulas (rice balls) and share it
with his mates!