From page to pan: Meenakshi Ammal’s cookbook ‘Samaithu Paar’ is an enduring classic

by Chandrika R Krishnan


I was in my early 20s when I bade a tearful goodbye to my parents in Hyderabad and took the long train journey to Lucknow. Straight out of college, I did not have the wherewithal to walk into ‘my man’s heart through his stomach,’ particularly when I found my ‘man’ swearing by his mother’s cooking! My mother-in-law’s cooking prowess was known to twitch many a nose and tingle many a palate.

She could have patented her brand of Rasam. Being thrust into the role of her assistant, I was like one of those headless chickens running from grating board to grinding unit. At the end of any meal, I felt I had been wrung dry in the washing machine. To make matters worse, our home always had hungry souls traipsing in, as my mother-in-law was ever ready to feed anyone and everyone who came by.

Those were the days where it was not uncommon to hear the snarky, ‘Is this what your mother taught you?’ line. To avoid that, I would find out the menu planned for the following day, and then I would stealthily consult the grand old lady who had traveled with me, neatly packed in my suitcase.

Meenakshi Ammal spoke to me, as she has to countless others across generations, from the pages of that most unimaginatively titled book, Samaithu Paar or Cook and See. She helped me stay one step ahead of my mother-in-law. I had the coconut grated and ready before the coriander seeds and Bengal gram Dal could be roasted to the reddish hue for the famous Arachuvitta Sambar. Soon, I was gratified to hear my mother-in-law proudly announce that she and I made a great team.

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