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What we eat

What we eat
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First Published: Sat, Sep 10 2011. 12 35 AM IST

Updated: Sat, Sep 10 2011. 12 35 AM IST
Indians eat a varied diet driven largely by the area they hail from and the seasonal availability of foods. Economic considerations are also instrumental in driving choices. We profiled the dietary habits of four urban households, largely representative of their economic class, to see if there were any telling differences.
The Thakers
Monthly spend on food
Rs 22,000 (approx.)
Daily calorie intake per person: 1,800-2,000 kcal (approx.)
Total members: Seven (four of the family plus three domestic helpers)
Daily staple: ‘Sambhariya’, a dry, mixed vegetable made with coconut and spices
Lavish spread: Food in the Thaker household is cooked by a maharaj in traditional Gujarati style. Photographs by Arati Rao
Bineet Thaker, 40, a senior manager with a multinational corporation in Bangalore, and Sarita Thaker, 33, a market analyst with the same firm, love food. Honouring the tradition from Bineet’s side of the family, the couple have employed a live-in maharaj, or cook, who has been with Bineet’s family for several years. The maharaj, who used to work in Nagpur at Bineet’s ancestral home, specializes in Gujarati cuisine (the Thakers being Gujaratis) and can dish out a lavish, finger-luscious vegetarian meal at short notice. His repertoire is not limited—he can make Indian-Chinese, pastas and pizzas too. Maharaj has learnt to work with basil, broccoli and mushrooms too.
The daily menu in the Thaker household is varied and nutritious. The maharaj avers taste comes from the generous use of ghee (clarified butter). Sarita, who manages the daily menu, is conscious of their calorie intake and curbs his partiality to fat, much to his chagrin.
A two-course breakfast—cornflakes with milk, followed by a different hot dish every day, such as idlis, upma, dosas or omelettes—signals the start of the day. Their children—Ayush (6) and Aashna (2)—eat warm cereals such as oats with milk for breakfast. Ayush and Bineet leave the house after breakfast and carry packed lunch which consists of the main dish: parathas with raita or fried rice or roti-subzi.
After breakfast, Sarita, who works from home for the first half of the day, downs a glass of buttermilk mid-morning and a fruit—an apple, mango or banana—to keep her going until lunch.
The main meals—lunch and dinner—consist of salad, rotis, a gravy-based vegetable dish such as palak paneer, a dry vegetable dish such as their favourite sambhariya (a dry, mixed vegetable preparation), a lentil or a kadhi, with yogurt.
The family consumes about 3 litres of milk every day. When Ayush and Bineet get back, in time for Bournvita and tea, respectively, maharaj has some warm popped lotus seeds (makhana) or boiled unshelled peanuts waiting for them.
The family has a sweet tooth and usually something sweet, such as gud-papdi—a traditional jaggery and wheat dish—or laddoos made with a variety of ingredients—is always available.
When guests drop by, or on special occasions such as festivals or parties, maharaj steps into high gear. Samosas, kachoris, bread pakodas (fried fritters), colourful chutneys, ragda patties, dhoklas, khandvis, chhaas, jaljeera, bhel—name it and it spills out of the kitchen.
Diet analysis:“The Thakers should guard against empty calories. It is easy for children in that bracket to snack on fatty or starchy food. Sweetened drinks are another red flag. Sedentary lifestyles don’t lend themselves well to luxuries in calories that more active groups can afford, but ironically, may not have money to spend on,” says Bangalore-based diet counsellor Mansi Bhartia.
The Pandeys
Monthly spend on food
Rs 10,000 (approx.)
Daily calorie intake per person: 2,500 kcal (approx.)
Total members: Five
Daily staple: White rice and potatoes
Home chef: Hemwanti Pandey cooks all the meals.
Hemwanti Pandey, 42, works as a masseuse in Bangalore. She lives in a tiny apartment with her husband, who works as a driver in a garment company, two sons and a daughter. Juhi, 17, helps around the house while Kunal, 21, her elder son, aspires to join the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and spends all day studying. Kaushal, 17, has just finished school.
Hemwanti does the bulk of the cooking. The day begins with a cup of sweet milky tea for everyone. Fresh parathas (made using sunflower oil) with a vegetable dish are next, with more tea. One vegetable the family cannot do without is potato, which is added in all dishes. The vegetable dishes are prepared in mustard oil, a throwback to the tradition followed in the area the Pandeys hail from—Bihar.
Hemwanti packs lunch for her husband, Kamal Kishore (50), and more often than not it is the same food they’ve had for breakfast, with the addition of a lentil preparation which carries over into lunch for the whole family, with lots of white rice instead of parathas. She then packs lunch for herself and leaves for work. Kunal, Kaushal and Juhi eat at home, though Kunal admits he sneaks out occasionally for a change.
When the family congregates in the evening, the treats come out. Hemwanti dishes up either a halwa (a sweet semolina preparation) or pakodas and, of course, tea. This snack is eaten rather late, finishing closer to 9pm. Kamal Kishore indulges in his fix of hard liquor and by the time the family sits down to eat dinner, it is pushing midnight. Dinner mirrors lunch in terms of menu.
Dairy, in this family, is only in the form of tea and a glass of milk drunk by the sons at night. The family consumes about 1.5 litres of milk every day. They do not eat yogurt. Most meals are vegetarian since Hemwanti does not cook meat. But Kamal Kishore does, and once a week he prepares a chicken dish or egg curry. Fruit consumption is also minimal, with a papaya being eaten occasionally.
Festival time, birthday parties and any other celebrations see paneer (cottage cheese) dishes, aloo dum with puri and kheer.
Diet analysis: “The Pandeys eat a diet high in fat and carbohydrate but low in vitamins. They do not spend on fruits or consume enough dairy,” Bhartia observes. “If they supplemented their diet with fruits, it will improve their vitamin intake hugely.”
Acchamma
Monthly spend on food
Rs 3,000 (approx.)
Daily calorie intake per person: 900-1,000 kcal (approx.)
Total members: Five
Daily staple: ‘Ragi mudde’
Multitasker: Acchamma cooks lunch and dinner at one go.
Acchamma, 70, works as a caretaker and lives in a small one-bedroom accommodation at Vanitha Sadhana Girls High School, a school for destitute girls, in Mysore. Two of her sons, Chandrashekhar, in his 50s, a shopkeeper, and Nagaraj, in his 40s, an electrician, as well as her daughter Uma’s 13-year-old son Punit live with her. Uma, 38, a helper at the school, visits daily and has at least one meal at Acchamma’s house.
Acchamma, who cooks and keeps house, prepares food for five people, including herself, daily. The meals are simple and usually consist of a maximum of two dishes. Acchamma estimates that they use about a quarter-kilo of cereal for the family per meal and pegs the daily food bill at about Rs 100.
The day starts with breakfast, which is a mixed-rice dish (made with spices and maybe eggplant) or semolina upma. Breakfast is washed down with coffee and Acchamma sets about preparing lunch and dinner soon after. Usually, the family eats finger-millet dough, called ragi mudde, with sambhar. The sambhar is made with vegetables such as carrots, drumsticks and beans, but more importantly, always contains sprouted lentils—chickpea, peanuts or even green gram—which are home-made.
Acchamma grinds the ingredients for the sambhar daily, using spices such as cinnamon, cloves, pepper, chillies and garlic. She buys about 20g of each spice and this lasts for the month.
Dairy is consumed in the form of a cup of yogurt for each member with at least one meal. The vegetable intake is limited to whatever goes into the sambhar and rarely does the family eat side dishes. The meals are vegetarian. Other than banana, the family hardly eats any fruit. Sometimes, they do get locally grown jackfruit and mangoes. Dinner consists of leftovers from lunch. Ragi mudde, being heavy and not easily digestible, is not eaten at night and is substituted with white rice.
For a festival or puja, a special treat such as a payasam or kheer (thickened milk, sugar and vermicelli or rice) is made.
Diet analysis: “Acchamma’s family, while not being malnourished, could do with about 500 or so more calories, given their activity levels. Their diet is high in protein, thanks to ragi, which stands them in good stead. This may not be the case in cultures where ragi is not popular,” says Bhartia.
Out of the ordinary
The Chandrashekhars
Monthly spend on food
Rs 3,000 (approx.), on buying cereals
Daily calorie intake per person: 1,800-2,000 kcal (approx.)
Total members: Four
Special treat: Fig ‘halwa’ made with jaggery
Green zone: Nirmala at her farm outside Mysore, the source of all the vegetables the family cooks every day.
The Chandrashekhar family lives an interesting gastronomic life. There are stark differences in their kitchen habits from those of a middle-class urban household because they eat what they grow on their farm outside Mysore. The senior couple has written books in Kannada on seasonal, natural and healthy eating.
The household consists of Nirmala (48), her husband A.P. Chandashekhar (53), son Abhijith (27) and daughter-in-law Shrilatha (22). While the Chandrashekhars own a fridge, they use it only to store milk. Everything else is freshly prepared and consumed immediately. They use only coconut oil for cooking, and minimally at that. They eat a lot of greens and use the leaves of almost all the vegetables they grow. The family does not believe in buying vegetables from outside. They amend their diet according to the seasons.
A typical day at the Chandrashekhars’ farm starts with a breakfast of dosas. These are made with no oil, and cover-cooked. The dosas can be made with cucumbers and ground rice, while the chutneys are made with mango (in season) and mustard. On other days, they make dosas out of the stem of the banana plant (locally known as dindu) with ground rice. A cup of coffee accompanies the dosas. Lunch is rasam (a tamarind and jaggery spiced soup), wild, boiled rice with a side dish of black-eyed peas, majjige huli (a yogurt preparation, a little like the Gujarati kadhi but not sweet). Avial, made with different vegetables cut in 1-inch pieces mixed with mango or tamarind, is a must along with a cup of yogurt per family member. There is no concept of snacking in this household. Working on the farm takes up the entire afternoon and the Chandrashekhars return home at dusk to eat an early dinner, which mirrors their lunch.
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First Published: Sat, Sep 10 2011. 12 35 AM IST