Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Memories of School and Canteen food (the St. Anthony's Sandwich Chutney)!





September 5th.. every year..
The day is celebrated as Teacher's Day in India where I grew up and went to school. The day, we girls  (My Alma Mater, St. Anthony's Girls High School in Chembur, a suburb of Mumbai,  was an all girls convent run by the sisters of St. Joseph's Convent) would trip over ourselves to give our class teachers bouquets of flowers that we'd all bought from the lone florist 'Bhaiyya' who had a little set up of planks set up over the storm drain outside the compound walls of Saroj Hotel in Chembur Market. I vaguely remember he had 2 selections, a 5 rs. and a 10 Rs. A watchful eye ensured that the two rose buds in the bouquet were fresh and the there was a respectable amount of asters and chrysanthemums. And the cheaper goldenrods were kept to an optimum low!





The front entrance to the school: (Image Credit: Aparna Ved)

The very mention of school invariably brings back a pure unadulterated nostalgia of innocent happy times, giggling over 'studs' like Imran Khan (Jemima Goldsmith's ex-husband, he was unattached at the time & gorgeous looking to boot) & Ravi Shastri (in retrospect, What WERE we thinking??), Bollywood biggies like Big B, Sunjay Dutt, and the  red haired freckled kid from the neighboring boys school (referred to as Carrot Top!).

Back to the stars of this post, my teachers, I've always maintained that teachers are as important as the best of surgeons. They hold our intellectual lives in their palms and mold it and our destinies. Just as a great surgeon can fix your body parts to be the best it can be, so does a teacher mold you to be your individual, intellectual best. Conversely, a bad teacher can s&*@#w you for life!
Never have I ever encountered a better set of women (yes, they were all smart talented vibrant ladies), each with their own fascinating personalities.

Ms. Prema  Murthy - my 10th grade class teacher, she had a highly contagious passion for science with a great way of sinking the principles into your head. She had a way of inspiring everyone, never putting them down if they stumbled ( & yes.. there were some teachers who had a knack for that). I'll never forget the look in her eyes when she told me my SSC (10th grade) scores and wished me all the best for my chosen science stream. Its her face I sub-conciously sought   & reached out for as a teacher,  each time I chalked up a successful degree in Physics, Biomedical Engineering and Neuroscience from the  best Universities on the planet. It was terribly difficult for me to hear my mother tell me that she had passed away. Thank you Ms. M!

Ms. Adeline Barton: She was as much a friend as a teacher. My 9th grade class teacher, she instilled the fundamentals of French. For an akward tween with crooked teeth, just beginning to discover the world, the fascinating world of France & Francophilia as seen thorough the pages of the blue book by Mauger were a great introduction to exotic foods like Baguettes, Gruyere and Camembert cheese. It would be another 25 years before I could put the french she taught me to good use in Nice, and yes, I must say I carried it off. Merci beaucoup, Ms. Barton!

Ms. Padmini Nair: She was the 'fresh out of teaching school' newbie teacher who was assigned to be our class teacher for the  8th grade and I must say, given the unforgettable introduction to our raucous class, it must have been relatively smooth sailing at St. Anthony's after that. Yes, we did drive her overboard once, and it was terrible for us  to see  her in tears! An unforgettable lesson in empathy. A genuinely warm person and a great teacher who instilled the basics of Physics into my thick skull, she still holds a special unforgettable place in my heart. The part that selfishly admits only the nice teachers and excludes the nasties!.

(L to R) Back Row: Ms. Barton, Ms. Pinto, Ms. Minocha, Ms. Radha Balakrishnan.
Front Row: Mrs. L. D'Souza, Ms. Devaki, Ms. Padmini Nair, Ms. Charlotte

 And yes.. My other subject teachers, Mrs. Minocha, my soft spoken Hindi teacher, Mrs. Mhatre,  always dressed so impeccably in her crisp starched cotton sarees, Sr. Bernadine, who introduced me to baking, Mrs. Christabelle D'Souza, who tried hard, oh so hard,  to teach me the nuances of art, (w/o much success), The stunningly gorgeous Mrs. Pushpa Vida, whose unforgettable training class I still remember to this day, (it was a history lesson on a freedom fighter, Senapati Bapat), Mrs. Sudha Thomas, who made Biology a breeze,  and Mrs. Savitri Mani, whose stupendous energy levels and enthusiastic determination for coaching us girls through everything from Girl Guides to Inter School competitions, gave us that 'go get them' winning attitude that persists to this day. Thank you so much for everything.



A school story would not be complete w/o references to the  cafeteria, would it now? They actually had food we still lick our chops at, to this day. Two dishes especially cling to to the taste memories. The 'Ragda', a stew made with dried peas and served with a slice of white bread on a piece of printed wax paper that the loaf was wrapped in. And the unforgettable chutney sandwich.

'Canteen' food  was a rare treat that many of us got to enjoy only when Mom was too ill to cook, or was out on those mandatory 'days' (Women in India still stay away from the kitchen when menstruating). & these few & far between opportunities simply served to make the food all that more desirable.

The Old Canteen (Image credit: Aparna Ved)
 I was always in a state of terrified awe of the Canteen 'aunty'. A bustling forceful lady, she really knew how to deal with hordes of squealing girls with an iron fist when they descended upon her little set up en masse at 10.01 a.m every day without fail.
Getting a good serving of Canteen food was a 'survival of the fittest' thing. The faster you ran, the better the chance at snagging the sandwiches which were stacked up high in a huge aluminum container. It was a 'Soup Nazi' kind of transaction, you handed her the appropriate amount of money and she thrust the sandwiches into your palm with adequate force to dislodge you to the periphery so the next kid could get her share.




Not much room for negotiating change, or pausing to make your selection. But those sandwiches were 'oh so worth it'!

We never found out what went into the chutney spread other than that it had cilantro, garlic & chile. I suspect she used some yogurt to give it a creamy spreadability. The funky 'off' smelling kind that our mothers would probably use only for making kadhi or more kuzhambu (yogurt based  traditional Indian gravies).

It was quite by chance, while experimenting with my new found love of Feta cheese that I serendipitously stumbled upon a 99.9 % taste match with the elusive chutney, and I'm not about to let it disappear into oblivion. This weeks Recipe.. The St. Anthony's Chutney sandwich!



Cilantro & Feta spread (AKA the St. Anthony's Sandwich Chutney)


You need: (makes 1 1/4 cup)

1 bunch (3 cups) cilantro leaves
1 cup Crumbled Feta Cheese
2 cloves garlic
2 fresh birds eye chiles (green or red)
Salt to taste.

Slices of white bread
Thinly sliced Persian cucumber (optional)




Combine the cilantro, Feta, Garlic and chiles in  a blender jar and blend into a smooth paste.



 Taste and adjust for Salt.

To assemble,
 

Apply the Feta and Cilantro spread over the bread.


 Arrange the slices of cucumber over one slice. Place the second slice over the first, Cut off the crusts and then cut into 4 triangles.


 Serve with a side of Masala Chai.

What are your school favorites from the Canteen?  Please share!

A Happy Teacher's day to my readers in India, and Bon appetit!

11 comments:

  1. Very nice post. I started recalling my school days from India, have very faint memories now. You have a sharp memory to remember all the names & so many details! I can hardly count 3-4 teachers whose names I remember but forgot subjects they taught. May be I was a very bad student? :P

    In my canteen at Holy Cross (in Amravati, my school years 1994-97), the samosa used to kick ass. I don't know how they made it so amazing. Can't remember eating any other samosa close to it.

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    1. Aww.. Don't be hard on yourself, these memories have a way of popping into the mind when you least expect it.. Those Samosas sound AWESOME!

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  2. What a lovely tribute to your teachers and your school! I absolutely can't wait to try this chutney and make some tea sandwiches out of it. I love the fact that it has feta!

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    1. Thanks.. I'm sure you'll love it as much as I do! COnsidering Feta has nothing in common to Indian cooking, it was a pleasant surprise to see how well it hit the target in replicating the taste of the original.. Food truly demolishes borders!

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  3. "Unadulterated nostalgia" it is! Lovely tribute Niv. Only the other dy when we were planning an itinerary of sorts for the upcoming vacation, I was talking of my teachers and was wondering if I can squeeze time to visit one or two of them, possibly.
    Once again, a lovely post and yes, did i say, nicer sandwiches!

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  4. 1st time here.. And I could immediately relate to this lovely write up Niv! I went to St Anthony for 2 years! And yes, the chutney sandwiches were awesome!!! :)

    P.S: I'm in love with your blog name Panfusine! :)

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  5. I'm amazed at your creativity and the courage to try feta in this chutney. The farthest I have gone to try to get that funny smell in green chutney is black salt. It still doesn't hit the mark. I tried this today for a picnic sandwich and it was amazing! This one's a keeper recipe. Thanks for sharing. Malini.

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    1. Thanks Malini! I guess I got lucky when I went from a hate to intense love relationship with Feta. Feta's funk definitely hit the mark!

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  6. Man did you bring back memories from school - found your blog when I was googling St. Anthony's - it has forever a place in my heart!

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    1. Thank you Mallika, yes, School days were some of the best memories.. and always will be.

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