Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Peer Sahib for lunch

“Ootakke Peer Sahib untu.  (We’re having Peer Sahib for lunch), squeaked the timid Sumangala, my grandmother’s long suffering cook from Udupi, as I walked into the kitchen.  “Wha..?” I asked.  She took in a deep breath, closed her eyes and looked like she was about to pass out.  This of course, was no cause for concern as it was her normal way of starting a new paragraph.

“Peer Sahib”, she said mournfully.  “Chapatiya mele tamta, seeju, ella haaki bishi-bishi maadi koduvudhu, gottillavo?”  (Tomato and cheese on a chapatti)

Ah.  That. “Yes, please!”  I told her.  My super cool grandmother had been talking about making pizza for a couple of days and yay!  She’d finally gotten around to doing it!  Hers was the best recipe in the whole world.  All the quirky things she did to her ingredients made the pizza even better.  She’d grind up tomatoes and onions in the mixie and stir them about in a buttered wok with a bucket of cream and lots of love and affection.  She’d then hand mushrooms, capsicum,  carrots, cauliflower and anything else she could find to the waiting Sumangala who’d sigh and dip them in bisneeru (hot water) for exactly a minute.  “It’s called blawn-ching dahling”, she told me once when I asked her if she was crazy.  “Gets the raw taste out of them da raja.”  Mhaha. 

A generous smear of the sauce went on the pizza base (bought fresh from Vijaya Bakery), three tons of veggies went on top, and finally the piece de resistance:  Good old fashioned Nilgiri’s cheddar.  About three cows’ worth. 

On the verge of collapse, two such pizza towers would be placed gingerly in granny’s aluminium dabba oven that Sumangala would sighingly dust out and place on top of the gas stove.  My brother and I would stake claims on the pizzas we wanted.  The top one would get all melty and yum, while the bottom one would turn black at the bottom and go crrrunchh when you bit into it.  We wanted both, so granny dearest would dispatch us off to the dining table, where we sat twiddling our thumbs impatiently until the pizza arrived. Through granny’s good offices, we’d each receive one half of both pizzas: two quarters burnt at the bottom and two quarters melty on the top.  We’d shriek with joy and tuck in. 

When granny wasn’t making pizza, we’d drag her off to the best pizza place in town then – Casa Picola.  Just the sight of the menu with all those names: Tia, Maria, Julia, The God Mother…, would drive us insane. Uff. The twitchy-nosed French proprietrix would pause by each table to make sure things were okay, while my brother and I steadfastly ignored everything else but the pizzas in front of us. 

But this was in Bangalore on our summer holidays.  Back in Malluland nobody had ever heard of pizza.  “Nge?”  (Eh?), said the shopkeeper when my mother asked for pizza base.  “Illa.” (Well m’dear lady, we’ve run out of stock, but let me place an order with Harrods London, with whom I have a running account with and procure some for you.  It might arrive next month by container ship fresh from London), he said, when we described it. 

Crestfallen, Mommie dearest decided to make do with what Trivandrum could offer then.  She marched into Milma Dairy and asked for cheddar cheese.  “Cheese illa butter unde”, (Ah cheese.  Cheese, you say?  That lovely thing that was invented in a Bactrian camel’s intestine?  Hmmm… Chweeeeezzze.  Käse.  Fromage.   Somebody stop me), said the man at the counter.  We got the message and left.  We finally found some at Jayaram bakery.  Good old best-in-the-world Amul.  

Back home, Amma followed granny’s recipe to the tee.  Err, except for the blanching, the cream, the tomatoes, the asparagus, mushrooms and cheddar cheese that is.  She’d learnt from Mrs. Krishnamurthy next door that a pressure cooker with sand in it does the same thing as a dabba oven on a stove.  “Yaaay”, we said, and ran to the Guptas’ garden next door, where a pile of sand had been freshly delivered to construct a toilet for Anandavalli, their maid.  We rushed back home, sand in hand, to find that Amma had managed to make a white naan like thing out of maida and was piling it up with tomato puree and oooh…! onions.  She then grated the Amul on the top and after a quick prayer to Melkote Selvanarayana, put a layer of sand at the bottom of the pressure cooker, placed the pizza gingerly on top of it on a plate, and closed the lid. 

Amma had to throw away the pressure cooker after that.  “Aiyo, yenk irkra problems onna renda?” (Wo to be in Ingilaand, drrrrinnnking Ingiliss beerr), she asked Melkote Selvanarayana, as she scraped the melted bakelite handles of the cooker off the stove top and retrieved the incinerated pizza from inside. 

We bought a Bajaj round oven after that.  It would heat everything up nicely to about 40 degrees, but do nothing about melting the cheese on top.  “It’s the cheese, not the oven da kanna”, she’d say as pizza after lukewarm pizza emerged out of the oven with intact layers of grated Amul on the top.  We even tried paneer, which, aside from refusing to melt, also tasted like imported pencil erasers without the pineapple flavour. 

Granny’s dabba oven retired in the early 90s, as did our Bajaj round, after a decade of absolute uselessness.  We now a have fancy microwave-cum-convection-oven-cum-dishwasher-cum-three-piece-orchestra-cum-massage-lady that sadly does nothing for me or the pizza.  And as for Pidsa Hut- Gidsa Hut with all their cheese-filled crusts, oregano-girigano, jalapeno-gilapeno and what not, I have only this to say:  

Fbbthbbp. Give me my melty- crunchy, granny-made Peer Sahib any day.