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MLA Pesarattu: Pancakes and prosperity

MLA Pesarattu: Pancakes and prosperity

Legend has it that this variation was invented in the canteens of the State Legislative Assembly in Hyderabad, an off-the-menu secret frequently requested by certain MLAs.

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Last Updated : 06 July 2024, 22:24 IST
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Pesarattu, a traditional green gram pancake from Andhra Pradesh, has unwittingly become a symbol of wealth and social status. Historically enjoyed in its simplest form, this unassuming pancake has a variation and a glorious title of “MLA Pesarattu,” stuffed with upma (a semolina dish) to add an air of affluence. Legend has it that this variation was invented in the canteens of the State Legislative Assembly in Hyderabad, an off-the-menu secret frequently requested by certain MLAs.

Let’s take a moment to appreciate what has happened: a pancake, a nutritious dish, now carries the weight of wealth and status. It’s like drizzling truffle oil and gold leaf over an oatmeal porridge. Yet, in this world of culinary excess, we find cashews replacing peanuts, cream being poured with abandon, and titles like ‘Shahi’ being thrown along with gold foil to add a touch of faux grandeur. These embellishments often come at the cost of the dish’s original character.

In the United States, we have the humble hamburger. Originally a straightforward beef patty in a bun, it has now morphed into an extravaganza of pretentiousness. Enter the $100 Wagyu beef burger, adorned with foie gras, black truffles, and edible gold. One wonders if the ghost of the original hamburger weeps quietly in a corner, longing for the days of simplicity.

Also, consider the evolution of the kids’ favourite mac and cheese. Once a comforting pasta and cheese sauce dish, it has now been elevated into gourmet territory. Truffle mac and cheese, lobster mac and cheese, and the absurdly expensive “golden” mac and cheese have become staples in high-end restaurants.

And let’s not forget the coffee industry. A cup of joe was enough to start the day. Now, we have unicorn Frappuccino, pumpkin spice lattes, and coffee with activated charcoal. Like our pesarattu, the coffee bean has been burdened with symbolising affluence and trendiness.

But there’s hope. A countermovement is gaining traction, advocating for a return to more straightforward, authentic recipes. The rustic appeal of dishes like the pesarattu with a hint of chilli, ginger, and onion as stuffing, the rava dosa served with peanut chutney, misal pav, and mooli parantha is returning. In non-vegetarian options, the simple black-pepper chicken Chettinad style wins over its creamy, calorie-laden counterpart -- butter chicken. Even the pattar kebab, a delight in its simplicity, is outshining the deep-fried options.

Of course, this isn’t to say that occasional indulgence in rich food is unwelcome. Innovations like the vodka pani puri and rum chicken are spirited. However, the best indulgence comes from dishes where time and effort combine with tradition and innovation to provide a gastronomic delight. There’s nothing quite like banana flower-based recipes. I have myself spent hours meticulously cleaning each banana floret. The time and thought invested in the dish genuinely elevate its worth. Unlike the Wagyu burger, where the cost is driven by the logistics of flying ingredients halfway around the world, these recipes celebrate local flavours and heart-felt preparation. Here, you pay for the craftsmanship and care that transform basic ingredients into extraordinary culinary experiences.

I’ve had my fill of paneer, malai, butter, and cashew in every dish I encounter! Here are a few of my favourite local and unpretentious foods: The rich, slow-cooked lamb of a traditional mutton rogan josh stands proudly alongside the vibrant, tangy Nellore chapala pulusu, a fish curry from Andhra Pradesh; the aromatic Peshawari chicken and the hearty American meatloaf cater to those with a taste for robust flavours; the delicate Burmese Khow Suey offers a milder, yet equally delightful experience.

Vegetarian delights such as bagara baingan and gutti vankai koora highlight the rich flavours of eggplant. At the same time, dishes like the flavourful dal tadka and the tangy gongura pappu showcase the beauty of lentils in Indian cuisine. The tangy vankai pachadi (eggplant chutney) and the spicy beerakai pachadi (ridge gourd chutney) add flavour to any dish. Creamy mashed potatoes and the traditional khus khus salan(poppyseed curry) offer comforting and hearty options. When in the mood for pasta, my choice is the Mediterranean-inspired pasta dish loaded with olives, feta cheese, and artichokes. For small plates, the iconic Bombay chilli cheese toast rules; the chorizo-egg taco brings a touch of Mexican flair, while the hot sandwiches in the Schlotzsky style offer a taste of American comfort food.

Here is a toast to the unadorned, the straightforward, the authentic.

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