At such a time of lockdown during coronavirus outbreak is when we get to appreciate the sheer brilliance of our ancestors. How they made the best use of the limited resources they had, on preservation, and sustainability. Instead of stocking up our shelves and refrigerators, or panic buying perishable goods, it would do us good to go old school and not let food go waste. Looking on the brighter side, this can be a time to take a trip down the memory lane and dust up some forgotten practices.
Pazhankanji or pazhinji (colloquially) is a bowl filled with nostalgia for Kerala. Heavy breakfast and a staple meal consumed by farmers, one that was served to pregnant women to help them deliver healthy and plump babies, it has now become a rarity and there are enough reasons to why. Pazhinji was made using surplus cooked rice which was left to ferment overnight by adding water at a time when there were no refrigerators. To this fermented congee, one would mix in multiple sides as per choice, but some of the classics are ‘karuvadu’ (dried anchovies), ‘odacha kappa’ (mashed tapioca), ‘achaar’ (pickle), ‘meen porichathu’ (spicy fish fry), ‘kanthari mulaku’ (bird’s eye chilli), ‘katta chammanthi’ (thick coconut chutney) and onions that are sautéed in the leftover fish oil. It would be an injustice to not mention shallots (sambhar onions), pappadom (papad) and a day-old fish curry. It is almost like making your own meal.
If you thought cold breakfast was not a part of our culture, think again. The beauty of pazhinji and its companions lie in how they exhibit preservation in their own way, be it dried fish, pickle, or the method in which it is made. The practice of preserving whatever little was leftover is there across India and not just in Kerala - as ‘Pazhaiya Sadam’ in Tamil Nadu, ‘Paani Bhat’ in Jharkhand, ‘Pakhala’ in Orissa, ‘Poita Bhat’ in Assam, ‘Panta Bhat’ in Bengal and many more.
Whether you are working from home or making use of this time for that break you deserve, try and experiment with whatever little you have. Right now, sustainability is the key to survival and why look for new techniques and ways to implement it when all we have to do is look back into the past, to our magnificent culture.
(The author is a food blogger and culinary enthusiast)