The taste of Banana
The long banana leaf laid neatly on the table; Palakoora Pappu, Beerakaya Pachadi, Alugadda Koora, Vadiyalu, little salad in the form on onion tossed...
The long banana leaf laid neatly on the table; Palakoora Pappu, Beerakaya Pachadi, Alugadda Koora, Vadiyalu, little salad in the form on onion tossed in curd, curry and white rice cooked to perfection served hot and topped generously with ghee – a simple Telugu meal that ends with Sambar and curd and the desserts like Palathalikelu, Neyyi Polelu, Dry fruit Pootharekulu. This is a small description of Mana Bhojanam, the thali meal at the new restaurant, ‘Babai Bhojanam’ that opened at Punjagutta in Hyderabad under the aegis of C3 Hospitality.
The lunch formula that never fails; especially, when served in the precincts of an air-conditioned restaurant on a hot day. In addition, there is a menu, equally simple with options for snacks that include some innovations like Ulli Bomb, a cheesy version of Punugulu, Kanda Billalu – yam patties; the non-vegetarian Kheema Muttilu, Avakaya Mamsam Roast, reiterating the penchant for Telugu food. The main course and add on dishes try and cover the three regional cuisines of AP and Telangana.
After having lunch at ‘Babai Bhojanam’, I took back with me a happy soul satiated with the humble taste of the home-like preparations and the experience of eating on the banana leaf taking it a notch higher – it also made me think of the amazing role a banana tree plays in Telugu homes, and probably all south Indian homes.
The tree gives one, yet rich crop of banana that is extensively used to make curries in its raw form – my favourite being the one made with boiled banana pieces in semi-mashed form tempered with thalimpu (tadka) that generously uses the urad, channa dal and mustard seeds and dry chillies, with the inevitable addition of curry leaves, chillies and ginger paste added to it, coastal areas make a curry and add fresh grated coconut.
Podi koora, Aratikaya Fry, Aratikaya Masala Koora, Aratikaya Ulli Karam – the list goes on. What is interesting is that the banana flowers too are made into a curry, mostly using lentil (moong dal) and sometimes like gravy, some even use mustard paste for the pungent flavour; however, the process of preparing the flower for cooking is quite an arduous one; an understatement according to my standards of how much labour you can put into making food. In a wishful moment, I hope that the supermarkets start processing this too for wider use.
Ripe bananas are of course relished and extremely nutritious; it is also a compulsory offering during pujas. Once the banana tree is harvested, it is cut, and the leaves are used as plates; the entire branches too are used for decorating houses during special occasions and marriages.
There is also something that hides within the main trunk…the tender portion that is known as Dhoota in the local language. This too makes its way into the baandi (kadai) to be converted into a uniquely flavoured dry roast or even perugu chutney (raita). This too is quite a process; I remember once seeing finely chopped dhoota being sold in the market at Visakhapatnam. Bless the souls of whoever thought of rendering the service.
In short, every part of banana is useful; yet, for some reason, it is believed that a banana tree should not be planted in the front of the house. You must not see it the first thing in the morning, they say. It is usually planted in the backyards. The only reason I can think for someone to have come up with such a rule for the otherwise much-loved tree is to ensure that roving eyes don’t get to see the lusciously green banana tree richly laden with banana bunches – quite an eyeful it is, and can corrupt the cleanest of hearts.
But, most modern Telugu homes do not have to worry about this at all. Since, most of us hardly have a place to plant a banana tree – not in the front of the house, not even in the usually non-existent backyard.