Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Heritage Comes Cheap?

Whenever there’s a reference to Andhra food, mentions of ‘gongura’ or ‘vankai’ are inevitable. Gongura is a sour, leafy green vegetable and vankai (or vankaya) is eggplant/brinjal/aubergine. Gongura is considered typically Andhra, and many people from Andhra Pradesh consider the eggplant the State’s very own special vegetable and believe they can use it in a variety of ways that others cannot. A friend’s father says tongue-in-cheek that many people in Andhra were named Venkayya (no longer fashionable) after the eggplant! Both gongura and eggplant can be curried, added to dal, ground into chutneys, pickled and what have you, each mode in a variety of ways. I’ve even heard of an eggplant halwa, but let’s get on with what I have to say.

Very often, and more so in a generation which has now reached a certain age, if something had to be dismissed voice and expression dripping with ample scorn, “Aa, gongura! D’you really believe her?” or “Vankai! As if …!” would be the choice of words for many!

I don’t know which came first, the expression or the film song, but if you want to taunt someone saying “What do you know anyway? Squat!” ‘squat’ would translate into “nimmakaya pulusu*” or “vankai pulusu”.

Are there any such expressions in your language? What are they?

It just struck me that something we exalt and proclaim as our own, peculiar to our roots and our State is also the metaphor for something we choose to dismiss. Is it because vegetables like gongura, eggplant and even lime were kitchen garden staples, there for the asking? We didn’t have to shell out anything, or much, for them; we could get some from the neighbour and maybe not have to even give something in return; if we had to buy them, we probably had to spend only a few paise for a bunch as big as a bush. Or is it that they are exalted only now as we leave home and scatter far and wide, routine, everyday, garden-variety vegetables receding into the realms of the rare, prompting us to grow all mushy and patriotic and discuss them in our blogs using terms such as “rediscovery of my culinary heritage/roots/humble Andhra food/quintessentially Andhra” or … well, you get the drift.

I’m quite one of those who has been rediscovering the food I’ve grown up with so here’s a dish with the not-so-dismissable gongura – it’s a favourite accompaniment to mutton and chicken but I decided to try it with eggs. My new early morning gym routine promises to give me the opportunity to take a detour to the market and buy fresh greens regularly and I’m quite thrilled about it.

Here’s what you need for the gongura-egg curry:

Gongura – 1 bunch weighing ½ a kilo (500 gm)
Onion – 1, chopped
Ginger-garlic paste – 1 tsp
Turmeric – ½ tsp
Green chillies – 2, slit
Red chilli powder – ½ tsp
Boiled, shelled and scored eggs – 4
Salt, to taste
Oil – 1-2 tsp
Garam masala/curry powder – 1 tsp

Pick the leaves off the bunch of gongura. Wash the leaves in several changes of water.

Put the gongura in a pan with the chillies, salt, turmeric and red chilli powder.

Boil with a little water till it wilts and becomes a rather unified mess – what I mean is that the leaves sort of meld with each other and it’s just a little short of a paste.

Mash it with the back of the ladle.

In a pan, heat the oil, fry the onion and then the ginger-garlic paste well.

Saute the eggs lightly.

Now add the cooked gongura and mix it well with the onion and ginger-garlic paste.

Let the whole thing cook together for a while.

Sprinkle garam masala on top.


I have to acknowledge three more awards. One is from Lakshmi of Yum Blog, who's given me the Witty Blogger Award and another is from Pratibha and Jigyasa of Pedatha.com who passed on the You Make My Day Award. Siri of Siri's Corner also gave me the Good Chat Blog award. Thank you!

*(The film song I refer to is “Neekemi telusu, nimmakaya pulusu …” – incidentally, 'nimmakaya' is Telugu for lime, and 'pulusu' can refer to the juice extracted or any gravy using lime).


  1. Sra, baga cheparu,anyways just got gongura from farmers market this weekend, will try this recipe out.

  2. You always make a lovely post for us to relish and enjoy..even the red is so enjoyable.. You truly deserve the witty award .. just apt for you :))

  3. no, you can't be dangling gongura like that in front of me - :big nodding of head from side to side:

    in tamizh, "podalangai" is used in a similar dismissive fashion - "aama, periya podalangai"!!!

  4. That was a classic one. Never tried gongura other than chutney. Marked as taste-test.

    I have come here to personally invite you to participate at My Dhaba's Maha Meme - taste-testing for you can cook. Request your help with this Sra.

  5. Hi...
    Love gongura a lot. Looks so good. So mouthwatering recipe.

  6. Hee hee! I like the idea of calling someone a brinjal, think I'll try that today :)

    Gongura rocks! And I really shouldn't be reading this post when I'm craving lunch. Shame on you, Sra for inducing insane hunger pangs!

  7. Gorgeous new look, Sra! Though i am not able to recall similar expressions right now (though am sure there are a plenty), dismissing "your own" is very commonplace. For instance, in India, sometimes when you talk in your Mother-tongue, people (your very own people) might look at you and say "oh, so ganwar" and such rubbish! Ah well, i can still talk in Punjabi and be cool :-D. If "they" don't get it, their problem ;).

  8. Ohhhh you did the header, looks good with your new design
    Gongura had it once when my neighbor gave me a few leaves, didn't know what to do and used it in my dal

  9. sra, do you know Gongura is Hemp in English? Yeah, I was surprised too when somebody told me!:D
    I haven't seen the fresh Gongura, only have bottled pickle, which is sour and SPICY!! Looks great with Egg too!:)

  10. Where can you get gongura in Chennai? Haven't seen in my local store. Love the Gongura pickle.Your recipe looks tempting. Will try sometime.
    As for these expressions, I think there are loads of them in Tamil.
    I used to be amused when people used 'vengayam' for downright dismissal.

  11. LOL... girl, u made my day!!! :)

  12. You are a very witty blogger.. so that was a good choice of awards for you... :) Egg curry with Gongura is very new to me but I like the sound of it....

  13. that's a lovely post as usual, sra! Isn't Venkayya means Lord Venkateswara Swamy! Correct me if i am wrong! I know one expression like, What is this...Vankaya pulusu! I also use that phrase sometimes,he he! The gongula curry is so delicious. And I too love that song, "Neekem thelusu, nimmakaya pulusu..naa daggara saagadu nee alusu". Have a nice day.

  14. 'Daddojanam' gaadu, 'Mudda pappu' koodaa similar expressions kadaa Sra?...:D
    Congrats on getting the very well deserved 'witty blogger' award.

  15. When you say 'paruppu', meaning lentils, in Tamil, it means you think too much of yourself :)

  16. I have only had gonghura in the packaged pickle we get in the Indian store.The egg dish looks lovely!

  17. yenta correct ga cheppavu Sra.. e madhya telugu + english mix matladatam pedda fashion ayipoyindi.. and last time, nenu hyd vellinapudu, ppl were asking like.. yenti inka anta manchi telugu matldadutunnavu?.. US accent raleda ani.. mana bhasha sarigga matldaleni vaadu, vere bhashalu yemi matladataadu cheppu.. great post.. and gongura+ eggs unusual combo.. have to taste it to comment on it..:)


  18. That was an apt award for you!!!

    Gongura was always associated with pickle by me..never ever thought of using it otherwise....

  19. I like Andhra foods very much.Thanks for sahring this.Hope its deferent from other.

  20. hey sra..great post as usual...love gongura...will try it with veggies....

  21. I've had gongura pickle, but that's about it!

    BTW, what is the maximum convexity of your butt now? ;D

  22. In malayalam there's viddi kooshmandam....which literally translates to idiot ashgourd :-))
    Congratulations on the awards....

  23. Sreelu, try chesara?
    Swati, thanks so much.
    Lakshmi, yeah, I think I've heard it on TV!
    VKN, will do, thanks.
    Sukanya, today I gave it to a friend - the first time she was having it, she liked it
    Kaykat, not so much the person as what he/she says! Hope you found something tasty to eat for lunch, if not gongura.
    Musical, thanks. Relating to the latter part of your comment, it's not fashionable to speak in Telugu either (or "own up" to being one), but I'm not one of those types.
    Sandeepa, we DO use it in daal! And yes, I'd mailed you about the header too - the day I did my previous post.
    Asha, really? That's a revelation!
    Srividya, near the markets, wherever they sell greens, I guess.
    Sia, LOL, thanks.
    Laavanya, thanks.
    Uma, thank you. Yes, Venkayya and other Venk-forms are basically the Lord, but my friend's dad was teasing, of course!
    Satya, yes, sudda pappu too! An uncle used to call my brother that as a kid!
    Suganya, I never knew that!

  24. Homecooked, thank you. It looked good too!
    Siri, forget being in the US, I know a lot of people here who have an accent even without going anywhere! I'm not exaggerating!
    Rachel, no, pickle is just one use for gongura, it's commonly used in other ways.
    Private, thanks.
    Rajitha, vegetables ... hmm. Not sure what veggie it can go with. potato, maybe.
    TBC, yes, it seems to have shrunk a bit - went home for a couple of days, and a few said I'd lost. Then at the gym today too, some folks remarked! Yippee!
    Jayashree, I like the word kooshmandam - has a nice ring to it :)

  25. In Tamil, we use words like "vengayam" (onion), paruppu (dal), and pistha. It's pretty funny. Worst case, we start using animals for derogatory purposes. Examples are monkey and donkey... Gongura is one of my favorites!! :)

  26. Well, there's "meathead" and "egghead," each on opposite ends of the IQ range. : D

    Egg curry looks yummy, and the Witty Award suits you to a T.

  27. just bought some gongura today and have no clue what to do with it. thanks for the recipe.

    for the recoed, growing up, i was a mallu who hated coconut with a passion, and people thought it was weird 'cos i'm supposed to have coconut oil flowing through my veins. i'm half telugu and hate brinjals. go figure.

  28. congratulations on your award, sra! i don't know anyone who deserves the witty award more! :) i'm still laughing about the convexity of the butt!....

  29. Hi Sra,

    My this looks delicious -- if only I can find some gongura in the market again this summer. Last year I tried to grow it, with no luck.

    I loved your tale of 'aa, gongura' -- I have heard 'oh, fudge' used in much the same way ;)

  30. What is this...Vankaya pulusu! I also use that phrase sometimes,he he! The gongula curry is so delicious. And I too love that song.

  31. Kalai, yeah, we're trying to find good names for my newborn niece and I was trying to find the meanings of Carnatic raga names - apparently KharaHaraPriya means one who is fond of those who kills donkeys!!! Was reminded of this when I read your comment about monkeys and donkeys - not that it has anything to do with what you said, but it just struck me as funny!
    Susan, thanks. Long ago, I noticed a poultry company called Shri Egghead - Shri/Sri is a common prefix in India.
    Bee, most of us hated vankaya as kids - I think it's pretty much a grown-up, acquired taste.
    Arundathi, thanks. Glad to say it's shrinking, v. slowly, though!
    Linda, good to see you back! Interesting, about the fudge.
    Akademiker, good.

  32. LOL, I am sure we have such terms in Malayalam too... I am trying to remember some examples but failing miserably.. :)
    I've been searching for Gongura leaves ever since I saw Sailu's gongura mutton recipe, and now your egg curry looks delicious too... Can you suggest any substitutes?

  33. Though I am a Tamilian , me and my husband have always seemed to know the school kid ditty - "What is this - Vankaya Pulusu!"

    That curry looks totally tempting!

  34. Vankaya halwa..:)..Egg and konkura combo looks delicious

  35. I always look for gongura in the market, when I find them, they are wilted and almost dead ready to bid good bye. Now I want these babies more!

  36. we used to dismiss kovakka like that.. that grows on vines everywhere..and now i just love it. i did try ur dosakai recipe and liked it. does gongura taste anything like cheerakai/cheera..?

  37. Sra
    Naku kooda vankaya ante asalu ishtam ledhu but now i crave for all the veggies that are not available here.
    Gongura asalu dhorakadhu ikkada so a photo entha nooruvuristhundhi miku baga ardham ayyivuntundhi kadhaaa

  38. I've never tried to cook gongura before. Love eggplant (now, not as a kid as most of us!). Curry looks super! :)

  39. What an interesting post. I dont know how many food expressions we have that express scorn, but we certainly use some in American English to express degrees of difficulty. So something can be "as easy as pie"

    Although I dont know if we have things that are "as difficult as souffle"...hmmm.

    But the dish looks great!

  40. that's such a lovely idea for egg curry. guess the sour flavour enhances the taste!

  41. sra, nenu vankaya chachina muttukunedanni kadu , edchi gola chesinanta pani chesedanni.. Ikkada tinataniki edanna chestanu ippudu , ma amma chese vankaya kura amrutham laga anipisthundi , its really an adult acquired taste. Gongura is one thing Im partial , I cant get enough of it kani ikkada dorakadu, Nijame ikkadaki vachi mana tindi ki enni perlu pedtamo.. entha goppaga anukuntamo

  42. hello... somebody home????

  43. Sig, I think the point of using gongura with a dish is gongura itself! :) I know of another sour leaf called chukkakoora (khatta palak???)but it's very different.
    Miri, really? That's interesting. How?
    Maheswari, thanks. :)
    Shankari, that's too bad, I can empathise, because I'm a late evening shopper myself.
    Mallugirl, thanks for trying. Isn't cheera a generic Maloo word for greens? Gongura's speciality is its sour taste.
    Padmaja, kaneesam pachadi aina unda mee daggara? I hope so.
    Vani, it's quite easy, and yes, eggplant is more acceptable when you're grown up.
    Erin, thanks, and welcome. You've got me thinking.
    Nags, the whites tasted better than the yolks, with gongura!
    Dee, nenu kooda vankai muttukunedanni kadu, but now I enjoy it thoroughly.
    Sia, thanks for asking, I'm back, my latest post is up!