by Kaveri Ponnapa
An old and very dear friend recently tracked me down via the highways and byways of the Internet. She lives halfway across the globe, and we haven’t met or spoken in decades, but the surprise and excitement of having found each other have kept me on a high for some time. I know that when we meet, there will be so much to exchange –husbands, children and all our lives in between –that it may take days and weeks to catch up. But the real joy of meeting old friends is that, for little pockets of time, we can be girls again. We can slip off those shoes that say ‘mother’, ‘wife’, ‘daughter-in-law’, curl up with our feet on sofas, talk and laugh about people and times only we knew, a time when so much was shared, so spontaneously.
It’s always special cooking for girlfriends you’ve known for years. You know exactly what they love, and you put in those little extra touches around the room, on the table, and into the food –a little indulgence, a bit of fun, and a great deal of warmth. As a friend remarked recently, when we were halfway through lunch at my home: “it is as if someone has taken the trouble to do things exactly as I would like to do myself, as a special treat.” But always, the best part of catching up is when we get to what I like to call ‘snack box time.’ The main meal is out of the way, and now you can talk for all you are worth, uninterrupted; and since talking always seems to make you hungry, you need to have a supply of small treats on hand. Not so many that they distract you from the business of chatting, but something seriously delicious, good enough to sigh over, packed with enough calories to make you feel just a bit wicked about breaking your own everyday rules. Something to add to the pleasure of the moment.
One of my favourite snack box treats is an old-fashioned Coorg sweet, karjikai, straight out of my grandmother’s kitchen, something she used to fry up for us in quantities, when we were children. They have a flirty, feminine charm that makes them the perfect choice for extending an afternoon into tea- time and beyond, talking endlessly until dusk creeps in. Light and crispy, with a luxurious filling of fresh coconut, toasted sesame seeds and granulated sugar, with each bite, a little burst of sugar syrup escapes into your mouth, a contrast to the crisped up edges of the pastry. The traditional ones are flavoured with little flecks of cardamom seeds, but you can use vanilla, dust them with icing sugar, or dip them in heavy sugar syrup too. Karjikais are uninhibitedly sugary, syrupy and crunchy at the same time, with the toasted sesame seeds adding a warm, nutty flavour. They taste heavenly served hot, but are equally delicious cold; and in cool weather, they can last for a week or longer stored in a glass jar, where they seem to get sweeter and heavier.
So now I am looking forward to a meeting with my old friend. I’m not sure when it will be, or if it will happen at all. But if it does, you can be sure the snack box will be filled to the brim, to last us a good long time, and that old-fashioned karjikais will be right on top.
P.S. ‘Snack box is a literal translation of ‘thindi dabbi’, a phrase heard frequently in my childhood, which referred casually to a tin or box that was used to store any kind of a snack!
Cook's Note : You can press out karjikais in a mould which is available in kitchen stores, but the hand rolled ones are far nicer, if you are willing to put in just a bit of effort. These sweet treats are part of many Indian cuisines, and each one makes them in slightly different ways.
Thank you for visiting this page. If you read something that you enjoy, or see an image that you like, please take a moment to write a response. Do look out for the recipes of all the food featured here in my upcoming cookbook.
Image Credits: Nithin Sagi
All Food Styling: Kaveri Ponnapa