'Why Vetta Kuzhambu over Vada Pao'
If Valmiki and Vyasa took Indian Epic writing to pinnacle of glory, if Shakespeare and Milton lent lustre to English Literature, if Lindwall and Miller tormented the batsmen the world over and always haunted in pair, if Gandhiji and Vinobhaji instilled spirituality in politics, Vetta Kuzhambhu and Vengaya Sambar, demonstrate the Tamil Brahmin's culinary skill at its sharpest best.
Vetta Kuzhambu and Vengaya sambar, like Sehwag and Sachin, would always dominate the scene and that is the reason perhaps they are not served on plantain leaves in marital lunches. Any other sambar, needs the support of a thair pacchadi, avial, olan, parrupu usili and karakari, to survive the lunch. Remove the support of the various vegetables save one and sambar would surrender at once - a roaring lion, only when there is a retinue around. Not Vengaya Sambar. It can stand its ground in testing time. When Vengaya Sambar is around, like one's own wife, who would glance at Avial or pacchadi, mere coquettes, though they may have inviting looks?
"In small things we just beauty see,
In short measure, life may perfect be",
says Shakespeare in one of his sonnets, underlying the fact that it is the small vengayam that we are talking about. In Travancore, small vengayam is called ulli or Eerulli. The larger one doesn't deserve a treatise to write about.
Vetta Kuzhambu and Vengaya Sambar can conquer the world with the help of a single vegetable to play a subordinate role, as Kapil Dev played that world conquering game, with Syed Kirmani at the other end. When Concerns in Mumbai served Vengaya Sambar with Potato karakari on Thursdays, a serpentine queue with saliva oozing out, would wait for hours. If no vegetable is available, Vetta Kuzhambu can still hold its sway with the help of a roasted appalam. Sorry my Palakkad brothers and sisters. Our pappadam cannot measure upto the expectations of Vetta Kuzhambu. They are not made for each other. It is always ensnared by the amorous advances of appalam.
I prepared only vetta kuzhambhu and chutta appalam today, a Thanjavur Mami, would murmur in humility, oblivious of the fact that the aroma from her kitchen has already reached eight houses ahead in her Agraharam. Chutta appalam, like chundaikai or karela, can also immerse in Vetta kuzhambhu, reiterating the fact that it is part of the household and not a mere catalytic agent.
And yet, we deny them their legitimate place in marriage lunches; instead we relegate them to the light dinner on the marriage day when all the ceremonies are over and only a few are around. Why treat your best batsmen as tailenders? Is it because all other vegetables have ganged up to isolate Vetta Kuzhambhu and Vengaya Sambar, so that they too are noticed? Would it be a blasphemy if we serve Vetta Kuzhambhu and Vengaya Sambar in saddhies of Sasta preetis, instead of several vegetables and varieties of payasams? After all payasams were dictated by palate and not prescribed by Shastras.
Idli and Mulagapodi are always made for each other. And yet, Chutney and Vengaya Sambar are not looked upon as the 'the other woman'. What more, Vengaya Sambar can also lend legitimacy to Idli and dosai and take them to dizzy heights.
if Vengaya Sambar and Potato Karakari is unparalleled, Koorkai, Chenai and Banana also go well with it. It does not need varieties of vegetables or pathnis as it strictly follows Lord Sriram.It chooses one and remains loyal. However, Vetta Kuzhambhu is too strong a personality to entertain Idli and Dosai. It prefers to stand alone or mingle with a few lesser mortals. It is a little complex personality and yet has popular appeal.
One needs the arbitrating skills of a Solomon Pappaya to decide whether Vengaya Sambar emerges out better when prepared with Sambar Powder or ground coconut and other ingredients. To put in Brahminical tamil, whether Podi potta sambar scores over arachuvitta sambar, if Vengayam is the main ingredient? I am for one, is a protagonist of vengaya sambar, prepared with sambar powder. The vengayam here is endowed with a rare ability, as the overcast sky does to a swing bowler. When ground coconut is used, the sharpness of Vengayam is bludgeoned as the effectiveness of a pace bowler is, in a flat wicket. Fortunately, Vetta Kuzhambhu does not face such a threat from coconut. I may be torn into pieces by some of the well known professional cooks or mamas and mamis from Palakkad for this sacrilegious statement. It is availability that dictates the ingredients and develop the taste.
One major area where Vetta Kuzhambhu differs from its brother Vengaya Sambar is in longevity. As some of its ingredients are basically preservatives, Vetta Kuzhambhu is blessed with a longer shelf life. Vengaya sambar suffers from Balarishtams if not alpa-ayusu.
Vengaya Sambar, as the very name suggests, leans on good quality small onions, for survival. Vetta Kuzhambhu does not need such singular support. It needs varieties of ingredients and deft handling which is available aplenty in Thanjavur and Trichi. ( yours truly is a poor soul from Travancore).
It is not Sandhya Vandhanam or various other rituals that bench mark brahminical eminence. Ability to prepare, enjoy and evaluate quality Vetta Kuzhambhu and Vengaya Sambar that marks brahminical endowments.
Let young mothers and fathers dissuade their children from Pav Bhaji and Pani poori and instead eulogise them, if they show proclivity towards Vengaya Sambar and Vetta Kuzhambhu.