I had posted a picture of the "anna sAdhyA" that is the MalayALi banana-leaf meal, and someone asked me, how come I hadn't posted anything about the Tamizh "elai sAppAdu", especially when I belong to the TamBram (Tamizh Brahmin) community. Valid question!
So here's a picture of the "NuNi ilai sAppAdu" (to give it the precise name) that I clicked at a friend's wedding recently.
... MLT, I hope you are reading intently! I know you missed my daughter's wedding, and I don't have any more children whose weddings I can invite you to...
"elai" (which is,gramatically, "ilai" in "pure" Tamizh) comes in two varieties at mealtimes. There are the squarish or rectangularish pieces that we have our informal meals, or light meals such as breakfast or "tiffin" or snacks on. and the "NuNi elai". This is the large frond of the leaf with the tip ("NuNi") intact, and both sides of the leaf are used to serve the food on, as you can see, but the rice is mixed and eaten from the bottom half of the leaf.
The tip of the leaf is always to the left-hand-side for the person who is going to sit and eat. This never seems to vary in South India, but in the North, I have even sometimes seen the leaf with the tip facing upwards, apart from to the right. If anyone tries putting down the leaf facing the other way, they are swiftly corrected!
For the formal meal or "sAppAdu" as it is called, the order of serving the items on the menu, and their place on the leaf, also seems to be set in stone! Let's go over the items on the "top" half of the leaf...
Service generally starts from the top right-hand side of the leaf and goes to the left. Let's start with that steel tumbler of water (that would normally be on the left-hand-side of the person eating, as the right hand would be used to eat..in fact, this one actually belongs to the next leaf; the right placement can be seen on the ...er...left!)
Next to it is a bowl containing a sweet, in this instance, "pathir pENi", which has flavoured milk poured into it. It is a recent phenomenon to have it in a bowl, as earlier this, with other sweets such as pAyasam, would be served after the second course of rice.
To the left of the sweet is "thayir pacchadi", which is yogurt with some chopped vegetable such as cucumber or carrots, tempered with spluttered mustard seeds and chillies.
Then comes "kOsumalli", which is soaked lentils, mixed with other chopped raw vegetables such as carrot or cucumber, with chopped chillies for added tang. It is extremely light and nutritious and I could live on this one dish alone if need be!
Just below the "kOsumalli" we have the "kari" (in this, potato roast or "uruLai roast", which is a great favourite at feasts along with small-onion or shallot sAmbAr.) It's reddish in colour, because of the chilli powder that has gone into its making.
Just above that is "aviyal" (which is a well-liked import from Kerala) and consists of mixed vegetables boiled in a coconut/buttermilk base.
To the left of that is "koottu", which could be any vegetable (in this case, ash gourd) in a coconut/spices/lentil gravy. It's yellowish in colour because of the lentils.
To the left of the "koottu" is the "ushili kari" which is a vegetable (beans in this case) with ground steamed lentils.
Next to that is "mOr miLagAi", small chilies that have been soaked in buttermilk, dried for several days, and fried for the occasion. For some reason, the "vadai" a fried lentil item (which could be of two types, "Amai" or "medhu" vadai) is missing...
A little under the "ushili" are the "varuval" (chips); these are made from potatoes, or two or three different kinds of plantains; here, these yellow ones are made from "nEndrangAi".
A spoon (recent addition to help people not used to eating from the leaf, and to access the contents of the bowls) peeps out from the "appaLAM", a fried item also made of lentils..that's the big round disc that you see. I rather think that the appaLAm is hiding the vadai...
On top of the leaf are two more innovations. One is a stainless steel bowl containing "pAyasam", or sweet porridge, in this case, made of rice, milk and sugar. Normally, this too would be served after the second course of rice.
On the left is a little (SO cute!) earthenware pot of set yogurt. The milk is poured into these pots the night before and the curd sets. Normally, the curd and buttermilk would be served as the third course to be mixed with the rice and eaten with the pickles or "mOr miLagAi", and perhaps a little sAmbAr as well.
Below the "equator" of the leaf, we have the "shAtham" ( cooked rice), and at 9 o'clock on the rice, there's the "paruppu" or boiled lentils; at 12 o'clock, we have the sAmbar, a preparation of lentils in a tamarind sauce base, with many boiled vegetables (as I said, the delectable sAmbAr vegetables are supposed to be "chinna vengAyam" or shallots, or "murungakkAi" or "drumstick vegetable".) At 5 o'clock is the "mOr kuzhambu", another import from Kerala, which consists of ash gourd in a coconut/buttermilk gravy.
Finally, there is a bowl of cut fruits for a fruit salad, which is a recent innovation too; tradition would have a small banana served on the left-hand-side of the leaf. Note also the plastic fork!
The rice is mixed, first with the sAmbar, then with the mOr kuzhambu, and eaten along with the accompaniments.
More rice is then served, and "rasam" (a very liquid preparation with lentils and tamarind) is also served and mixed with the rice and eaten.
Then the sweets and some "chitrAnnam" (rice made with coconuts or tamarind) are served and eaten, as also the fruits.
Finally rice is served and is mixed with the curds or buttermilk, and eaten. At this point the diner is normally stuffed to the gills!
One then staggers off to wash one's hands, and at a separate place, "vethalai pAkku" (betel leaves and areca nut along with lime paste) is served; one can just fold the leaves into one's mouth, or fold them into artistic "beedA"s and pop them. They are supposed to be digestive and carminative and a really big meal must be followed by "vethalai pAkku".
And the card in front of the leaf....in an another smart move, the caterer has put out a card listing the items to be served at the feast, and added his contact details....a very savvy business technique!
There is a reason why we don't have attire with belts, traditionally...the belt would have to be loosed a couple of notches after such a meal!
Now that the meal has transferred itself from the equator of the leaf to the equator of the diner, good-bye, all, as a satisfactory post-prandial nap is indulged in....