When I used to visit my grandmother’s house in Kerala when I was younger, I thought everything always stayed the same there. Old people stayed old. Nobody left. Nobody new moved there. Everybody did the same things everyday. I think that for a long time, things were the same there.
Suddenly, maybe ten years ago, things started changing, and then they changed very fast, as they did all over India in the ferment that followed economic liberalization. Signboards appeared on the front of our neighbors’ homes one after another, as families sold them to shops and restaurants. At the end of the street, next to the little temple, two tall apartment buildings came up where there used to be a warren of poor Brahmins’ homes. A mall came up nearby, and there was so much traffic, I couldn’t read in the front room anymore for all the car horns and the dust. All the young people who had grown up on the street left town for work and for marriage, and they went all over the world, to Dubai and Bahrain, to the US and UK and to Africa.
I used to wonder how people coped with this change, faster than anything I had seen in the US. Wasn’t it alienating? Didn’t it make people anxious? Scared?
I think part of the reason that people are able to cope so well is something I notice the longer I live in India — which is that even as so many things have changed, many things stayed the same, providing some measure of continuity between the past and the present. Eating habits are just one example I have seen of this, although obviously the story is more complicated than just that people eat the same things they ate before.
Anyway, today, since I’m always thinking about change and adaptation in Chennai, I wanted to share a recipe for a snack I have whenever I visit my grandparents in Kerala.
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Recipe for Pazha Bajji (Banana Fritters)
For the batter:
1 cup chickpea flour (besan)
1 – 2 tbsp rice flour
A pinch of salt
A couple of tsp of sugar (a little more if the bananas are not very sweet)
Cut a plantain in half and then lengthwise, or cut along the bias to make 4 – 6 large pieces from each plantain. Dredge the banana slices in the batter and deep fry them in oil. I prefer a neutral oil like vegetable or sunflower, but coconut oil gives it nice Kerala kick. This is a great tea-time snack. Sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar or with honey, I’ve had this as dessert at a Thai restaurant.