In praise of the leaf !

Being born a South Indian has many de riguers and ‘typical of’ comments associated. Right up there, amidst the top percentile is the practice of eating out of a banana leaf.

For years, i used to dread eating out of a banana leaf. The reason was simple. The leaf didnt have the boundary wall that a plate offered, and you had to be careful, not to spill food on you. That was the quintessential slip on its way to the lip, that caused a ton of anguish and another of reprimand from your folks !

The other reason for dreading the banana leaf was because it used to offer expanse ! Expanse enough to make many heaps of rice appear like a spoon full. And of course, complimented by many mounds of vegetables, served by what i recall as a set of people who seemed so passionate about getting men and women to believe that ‘pear’ was an exotic shape !!

Where best to see this but marriages. Every guest had so much rice that sometimes used to give me a complex. On two counts. Both on account of speed of the clean up operation and the quantity of the clean up ! For within minutes, the leaf used to be shimmer ! And the green would show. And there i would be, huffing and puffing to see if i could finish the first serving. Morsel after morsel !

The banana leaf has always been a tradition that you couldnt miss if you travel to the south of India ! Biodegradable! And very special ! And of course, quite an honour !! And by the way, the food takes a new taste when served on the leaf !

For all those years that i steadfastly stayed away from it, i miss the good old leaf these days.

Today, when i nibble at my chappati thinking of how many calories went in with each swallow, the carefree, boundary less banana leaf seems to bring a new definition to the word ‘temptation’ !

Inside my head, i try hard to close my eyes. And think of something else. The futility of the excercise make me realise how difficult it can be…to turn a new leaf !!

11 thoughts on “In praise of the leaf !

  1. Aleta says:

    “To turn a new leaf” ~ what a delightful way to end your post.

    I used to have a penpal who was originally from India but moved to the States. He told me once about eating from the leaf. I thought it was fascinating! I liked the picture that you shared, it gives the full affect of how it would be difficult to manage and yes, a large helping on it.

    Excellent post!

  2. there are plates and plates everwhere…and very soon even in weddings we will have no vaalai yellai. 🙁

    excellent write about the boundary of the leaf…a borderless plate filled with rich food, from rich tradition 🙂

  3. I enjoy eating out of a banana leaf. More so if you keep a pomfret inside with some chutney and bake it!

    Reading your post is making me feel hungry again! Here I go….

  4. manuscrypts says:

    officials in vadakara (kerala) have banned the leaf because a study showed that the stem is notexactly bio degradable, and hence environment unfriendly 😐

  5. Jeevan says:

    I like more eating in it, but some difficult make me use plates often, even though on some special occasion and on monthly ammavasai i used to eat in banana left to get the real taste of food. Nice post of leaf 🙂

  6. I am a bit more comfortable with the leaf. The boundaries don’t matter. The trick is to be fast enough and not let the food near the boundaries. The speed comes from using the palms along with the fingers. My granny was master at it!

  7. HOBO says:

    Never been to South-India.
    I wish to have the same experience of Banana Leaf.
    Whats your e.mail id ?

  8. niru says:

    Reading your blog made my inward eye flashed with my childhood memories of umpteen wedding meals!

    The complete experience of eating with the leaf is when you sit on the floor instead of the dinning table and chair.You got be wearing comfortable clothes (read “loose” around the tummy!),experience cramped feet by the time you hit the 2nd course,make a neat hole in the center of the rice pile for the rasam,eat so fast to make sure you don’t miss the next dish thats coming and don’t forget join the gang with the open palm scoops and loud slurps!

    Sigh! I am home sick.

  9. Kavi says:

    Aleta : Thank You !

    BTW, that leaf is half filled. Before the serving took place. So you can imagine how it would be after all is served !!

    GP : The years of the valai elai will carry on i think ! atleast for nostalgia and novelty people will go back !

    VSP : Sir, Thank You. That hunger for more food, these days seem to be all pervasive for me, with or without the leaf ! But then, the longing for eating out of a leaf is paramount !! 🙂

    Manu : Really ? Well, anything is possible in Vadakara !!

    Jeevan : Thank you ! It can become unwieldy !

    Babu : At the palms !! The palms have to go with the banyan leaf. dont they ?

    Hobo : Its a great place to go. Let me know if there is some way i can be of help in your travel down there…

    Here in Mumbai, my recommendation is for Mani’s Lunch Home at Matunga!

    My mail id :

    Niru : The sight and sound effect that you give, makes my leaf go pale in comparison !! And yes, the floor..i missed that. The floor adds to the expanse !!!

  10. cris says:

    Atlast! Someone else who finds it hard to finish all that rice! And you know what – for weddings they bring the dessert (paysam), just as you manage to figure out where to start eating from!

    But I love the green leaf, even when I am not far away to miss it. You ever heard of pothi choru? It will be packed in green leaf with curries and opening it just makes you want to eat whatever it has – I dont know if its the smell or the appearance or the kind of memories it brings from the old times.

  11. Blip Blop says:

    Is it just me, or, everytime I’m served food in a banana leaf at a wedding or a function, more food ends up ‘under’ the leaf, than on it. And its not just the ‘permeability’ factor, the savoir-faire required to know the right way to close the leaf after a meal, (For instance, tradition requires the leaf to be folded towards you in a wedding or in a ‘happy’ occasion, and the leaf to be folded away from you, in a funeral dinner, etc)makes me slightly edgy when it comes to the end of a meal. Having said that, I think, even eating from the best china wouldn’t give that ‘sumptuous’ feeling of eating off a banana leaf!


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