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Nostalgia: An Ambrosia Called Puliyogare

By Maya Harita Email By Maya Harita
March 2018
Nostalgia: An Ambrosia Called Puliyogare


A passionate ode to the tongue-tingling delights of Tamarind rice.

What do you call that which is omnipresent? That which is all-pervasive, all-encompassing, everywhere, and widespread?

Some would call it “God.” Others call it “Dogma.” If you ask us South Indian foodies, without any hesitation, in one unequivocal voice, we will call it “Puliyogare,” or as it’s quite unceremoniously termed in English, Tamarind Rice. For the uninitiated, this tongue-twister of a name is pronounced as “Puli- Yo-The-Rye” or “Puli-yo-ga-ray”!

Puliyogare was, and to this day is, available everywhere in my small town of Srirangam and most parts of South India. Without it, no temple visit is divine, no vacation is relaxing, no wedding feast complete, and no train trip exciting! Puliyogare is the distilled essence of simplicity and complexity carefully wrapped in a perfect balance of flavor and aroma.

Ever since childhood days I have always wondered.... How can a dish be both a soul food yet exotic?

How can it be an everyday food and yet, a delicacy? How can a food item be what even world-renowned chefs struggle to perfect, and yet the next-door 80-yearold lady can make it when half asleep and still knock it out of the park? How can one food be apt for every occasion? How can one single dish treat all your senses and intensify whatever your present emotion is to a new heightened level? And finally—how can something that is not a secret be so mysterious?

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If you haven’t woken up to the tongue-tingling, heart-warming, soul-stirring, mouth-watering, delicious cooking aroma of tamarind in oil and spices filling up an entire household, at least once in your life, you are yet to experience a unique feeling that only Zen masters could articulate!

I am no Zen master, but the food lover in me cannot and will not be denied expression! So, I’ll try. The moment you take the first bite, it feels exactly like hugging someone you love. Actually, it is more like a big group hug of everyone you love in your life. In that very euphoric moment, you know that everything will be alright.

Maybe that’s why puliyogare is everywhere. Maybe that’s why it is served in temples to parties to canteens to funerals. Maybe it invokes a feeling of assurance that comes with normalcy, even amidst chaos and craziness!

I remember, when I was in fifth grade, my mom packed me puliyogare for a school trip. As only moms do, right before she packed it, she fed me just a bite for taste, and that was enough to get my taste buds going wild that morning.

While my friends were busy looking at the architectural wonders of our excursion site, there I was, just day-dreaming, drooling, and really dying to eat my yummy puliyogare. It was carefully packed in a banana leaf, which was further wrapped in a newspaper and tied around by a thread. Call me paranoid, but every few minutes, I kept touching it to ensure that it was there and safe.

After five painful hours of waiting, lunch time arrived, and I carefully opened the packed food and with eyes wide open took that first mouthful. One word to describe that moment—DEEE-VIIIINE!!!!!! In that very moment I felt mom, I felt love, I felt grateful, and most of all I felt invincible!

You see, puliyogare is not just a food item. It is an experience. From consistency to color, to the oily glow, the flavor, the spice, the aroma, it has to be perfect! It is more than an exotic food, and I will NOT diminish its glory and greatness by calling it a “gluten-free vegan rice dish.”

It’s a profound legacy, a philosophy, a sentiment, a medical supplement, a therapy, a peacekeeper, and an endorphin booster.

Simply put, puliyogare is ambrosia to me, a delicacy, an epicurean delight—food fit for the gods.

I can write volumes about this marvel of a dish, pride of South India and the joy of my life! Okay... well, maybe that was a stretch. I mean it is one of the greater joys…you get the idea! But I’ll stop here.

Let me leave you with this one suggestion: If you want to decide whether to keep a friendship or relationship, here’s a small life hack. Get the friend some authentic puliyogare and see how they respond. If they enjoy it, keep them, because they are wired to seek all that is divine!

Maya Harita blogs nostalgically about life from a distant past in India that was very simple and funny and yet, in many ways, profound.

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