Rasam – when translated literally from Tamil, means juice. It’s a must-have in all South Indian feasts, and during a regular lunch. Rasam can refer to any juice, but in South Indian households this word usually refers to the delicious part of any South Indian feast. In fact, a typical three-course Madras Meal consists of Sambhar Saadam – (Sambhar Rice), Rasam Saadam (Rasam Rice) and Thayir Saadam (Curd Rice). While the Sambhar might change into other dishes like Mulagootal, Aviyal, Vetha Kozhambu, More Kozhambu, Brinjal Pitla and many more, this dish remains a constant as the second course. Of course, there are variety of Rasams that can be alternated with the traditional variety in every meal.
The Humble Rasam Is the New Mulligatawny Soup
My younger brother, Anand, came visiting from the US, a couple of years after he had gone there for work. In a conversation one day, he casually mentioned a soup he had at one restaurant – called Mulligatawny. He said that the dish tasted very Indian. It didn’t take us too long to realize that the Mulligatawny soup is actually Mulliga (Milagu – pepper in Tamil) and Tawny was Tanni (Water, in Tamil). Translated, what my brother had was Pepper Water a.k.a the humble Rasam of southern india
A very popular dish across South India
Personally, I am not a big fan of this dish. I always call it– “heavily diluted Sambhar”, which is, of course, very unjust and unfair description of this concoction. I guess I didn’t take too much liking to this soupy concoction because when we were children, this is what we got on a lazy day when no one felt like cooking. While others relish this dish, I frowned on it, as it did not give me the satisfaction of any other elaborate dish. But this preparation needs a blog post of its own because I belong to a family of Rasam-lovers. There are big fans of this soupy dish around me in my family , my sisters, brother-in-law, and of course Amma – all huge fans. For example, I remember that, Amma in particular, used to sip Rasam as an appetizer before a meal, or have it later to round off the meal. This was her thing. I have never seen her relishing it with rice. Narasimhan, my brother-in-law, will not miss the Rasam course in his lunch, ever. Gowri, my sister, will unfailingly fix a small bowl of this dish, in every lunch. My niece, Arundhati, is a huge fan of the Jeera version. And so the list goes on.
A curious vessel called “Eeya Chombu”
In olden days, there used to be a special lead vessel called “Eeya Chombu”, which used to lend a special flavour to the dish, and was supposed tomake it very tasty. One could find Eeya Chombu in every south Indian/Tamilian household all over India. This vessel was actually made of lead. It was a considered a talent, especially for the newly married daughter-in-law to make the ideal rasam in this vessel. But soon, our generation discovered the dangers of “lead and the lead poisoning that came along with it, and soon the lead vessel was junked.