Monday, July 29, 2013

The Banana Leaf Meals

Weddings , Shradhhas ( funeral ceremonies) and all religious occasions in Assam meant meals being served on a banana leaf.

Whenever we had such occasions at my grandparents' house, one of the boys working as a day time hand would walk in, actually almost trot in a rhythmic step, with bundles of large banana leaves on his shoulder.

The leaves would be slit down the middle and each half would be further spilt into three or four squares. These squares were then washed well and stacked in the store room for the next day, to be used as plates for guests.

The guests would sit in rows on benches , with long narrow tables in front of them. One of the many young men serving the food would place the leaves in front of the guests as other men walked in with steel buckets ladling out steaming rice, dal, mutton, fish, vegetables. the gravy would flow down the ridges in the banana leaf and we would wipe them with our closed fists, before they drained out of the leaf onto the table.

The other make shift plates were actually boat shaped, made out of the stems of the banana plant. They were called Khols in Assamese. These boat like plates were used for serving flattened rice, curd, molasses, bananas, sweets.

The leaves or boats would then be piled together in huge baskets and buried in a large pit- the compost heap, there to be recycled naturally back into earth.

This morning, I was remembering the old days and the meals we had off the banana leaf and stem plates.

Seems a little primitive, when I see the well made paper plates, foil covered take aways today.

And yet, those meals were one of the most delicious I have ever had.

The guests, the family, the food cooked with love, the banana plants flourishing in the backyards, patiently giving us food and means to eat together, live together, celebrate together... all of these added up to the simple yet happy lives we led back then.