The only early memories I own of pothichor are a misshapen package wrapped in banana leaf and newspaper, that Manichechi brought home when I was younger, with ammumma’s food inside.
Like everything else she cooked, there was as much coconut in the accompanying dishes as there was white rice (read: a LOT). Pink lovelolikka (is that how you spell it) and mango pickle staining a corner of the white rice with a shocking yet warm red. Red chilly chammanthi in very generous amounts. Two different thorans, one always being beetroot, both with lots of grated coconut. A separate tiny banana leaf wrap that you eagerly open to find the insides bathed in fried oil, with pieces of fish fried until crisp and more (well, almost black), yet surprisingly white and soft inside.
Amma talks about choodu pothichor that maaman brought to her medical college hostel from Vakkom early morning before classes, that stayed warm and succulent until afternoon and even up to dinner. She would wait for lunch time quite like Imran Khan did at work for his dabba in The Lunchbox, the anticipation of the banana-leaf parcel tingling her tongue. (And did I tell you she doesn’t care much about food? Oh not yet.)
As I grew older, especially in college, I saw more pothichors brought from home, sometimes for groups of 5 – 10. My own mother never cared about cooking much – eat to live, not the other way around she says. My father, an upholder of the other way around, still holds it to heart and lives a battle.
In circles when people said, “Mother’s food is always best”, I was always the sole one shaking my head. Once a friend said “Come on, you’re just exaggerating, I’m sure your mom cooks well”. The next day, I brought her my mom’s prepared lunch and she didn’t contest me after.
Once while my brother was admitted in the hospital for jaundice, my uncle and I were exiting the ward around 8pm as we saw an aunty eating from her pothichor. My uncle suddenly commented, “Did you see that.”
Assuming he wasn’t referring to the only thing I’d noticed, I cautiously asked, “See what?”
“That woman was eating pothichor.. kothi ayi”, he grins.
In the past one year there has been this mad rush in social media over the nostalgia and memories associated with pothichor.
So a couple of months ago, when my parents were leaving on a train to Thrissur at 11AM, I suggested to Amma, “Let’s pack pothichor for you guys?” I knew she’d be excited, she hadn’t had one in years. While packing, my father said “It’s been decades since I last packed one.”
We packed 2 separately, it was vegetarian with an omelette for each, and they gobbled it up as soon as they got on the train, amma said.
Last week, my parents and I were travelling to Belgaum. Our train was at 12:50PM, and obviously it was time for another pothichor episode. An elaborate one this time.
Amma first fried large kilimeen (pink perch, from Google) with spices. She separately cooked onions with masala and added tomatoes to it, and finally mixed the fish pieces into it. Chammanthi from roasted coconut. I made a double omelette with lots of shallots (small red onions) and green chillies. There was cucumber thoran with fair quantity of grated coconut (by amma’s standards, not manichechi’s), and another kovakka thoran.
Last time, it was achan who did the packing, but he was busy eating Puttu with the fresh fish masala (LIVE TO EAT manifests in opportune moments such as these).
I was already a tad bit hungry but saved the hunger for my long-awaited pothichor. Amma laid out the leaves and I apportioned.
A piece of fish in each, no pickle for Amma, more for achan, no omelette and more chammanthi for me.
(Yes I agree, pothichor without pickle and chammanthi is just blasphemy).
Spicy onion from the fish stuck to my fingers and I licked them clean – yum. Yet I conquer my urges again, for later.
“Should we add another fish piece?” Amma asks. Of course we should.
I wrap them up, two rubber bands each, neat and nicely shaped.
Needless to say we forget them at home and realize on the train by 1:30PM when we’re hungry and start checking bags. There is no pothichor.
We buy a biryani and a Veg Meal at Kollam railway station. I could only be jealous of my father who’d atleast tasted the fish (so much for conquering urges. Live to Eat, guys).
Two others in our compartment also brought pothichors. One of them had fish masala.