Thursday, June 22, 2017

Upholding Upma

Upma is making national headlines - and I am cashing in on it to come out of blogging hibernation. An innocuous comment by a film director on his love for upma - that it deserves to be the national dish - stirred a news channel to rage, chef, nutritionist and reporters in tow, whether it wasn't culinary chauvinism to make such a demand. I saw it a day later on YouTube, but I hear it ran on prime time. The outrage and the self-righteous discussion made me laugh out loud. Whether news channels are losing their sense of humour and proportion is a debate I will leave to other fora, but let me hereby reaffirm my love and affection for this blob of nourishment which sustains many of us on days when there is no time or energy for the preparation of better nutrition.

How much simpler can a dish be? Just a couple of spoons of oil, a tempering of mustard, urad and chana dal, ginger, green or red chillies, whichever is at hand, curry leaves to add zing, if you have them, water, salt and semonlina/rava. That's all you need. Add plump cashewnuts for oomph. Onions for taste. All done in less than 10 minutes. With enough lubrication or enough moisture (oil or water), its journey is a smooth glide down your throat. Not for me chutney or sambar or powder or even lime juice as an accompaniment. Try squeezing the chillies in it lightly to release the bits of upma trapped in them - that's heavenly, if you like some heat.

A few months ago, I met a friend from college at her hotel for breakfast. Both of us ordered upma, room service. It came, unctuous, glistening, crunchy with well-fried dal. We lapped it up as we rehashed old memories, gossiped and exchanged notes about growing older. The years melted away. Laughter and upma filled our heart and soul. That day, upma was extra-special.

Upma is as unpopular as it's popular, I know. But I'm one of those who love it. It's easy to make, fulfilling, elemental. It's easy to enhance too - bathe it in tomatoes and it becomes 'tomato bath', add more nutrition by adding chopped vegetables, using quinoa or millets instead of semolina, use buttermilk or curds to cook it,  or add mushroom, chicken stock and coconut milk to recreate a $100,000 prize-winning version. That sounds like something I would draw the line at, truth be told, but then I haven't tried it. I haven't ever eaten it with sugar, a popular accompaniment. I don't intend to start now. Give me the good ol' classic version any day! I would even recommend it to be the national dish of the world!