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Traditional Cooking Vessels

Kal Chattis, Urulis, eeya pathirams, irumbu kadai, vengala panai, cheena chatti, sembu sombu -- sounds familiar if you are from the South, especially Tamil Nadu or Kerala. These are all traditional cooking vessels made from metals and stone.

Kal chatti is made from soft soapstone and is use to make sambars, Keera kootu (a dish made from greens) and perhaps fish kolambu.

In Kerala, urulis (odu vessels) bring back memories of chakka varatti (jackfruit halva). In summer when jackfruits are available aplenty, huge quantities of chakka varatti would be made in the backyard over a logfire and consumed in a trice, the richness of fruits, jaggery and ghee lingering in our memory forever. Urulis are made from bell metal, an alloy of copper and tin. Bells, the kind that make a rich sound are also made from bell metal.

Ask any Brahmin mami and she will tell you that rasam (usually a thin tamarind based gravy) made in an eeya pathiram tastes different.

Vengalai panai (also made from a kind of bell metal) is synonymous with a Tamil bride's first pongal when freshly harvested rice is offered to the sun god with turmeric and sugarcane.

I could eat a whole cane of sugarcane earlier but now ask for it to be cut up into bite-size pieces. This pongal festival, I added some lemon and ginger juice to the sugarcane pieces and had my own homemade sugarcane juice.

Cheena chattis and irumbu kadais are frying pans or woks made form iron. Did you wonder why our grandmothers did not take iron supplements? Traces of iron from the food cooked in these iron cooking vessels helped to maintain healthy blood haemoglobin levels.

The copper vessel called the sombu is what one drank water from. And as if to remind us of this, most temples in South India offer the consecrated water with tulasi from a copper vessel.

Ask any Tamil Brahmin mami and she will tell that rasam made in an eeya pathiram tastes different and is healthy. I believe in conspiracy theories and feel that many of our traditional practices, as well as many of the cooking vessels we used to use were all given a bad name so that we would shift to non-stick pans and plastic tupperware. I cannot think of anything more hazardous to our health than cooking in chemical coated vessels -- teflon, silicon or otherwise.

Take the eeya pathiram which was traditionally used to make rasam. Canards are being spread that the vessel is made of lead. It is not. There are two types of ‘eeyam’ one is velleeyam or tin and the other is kareeyam or lead. Eeya pathirams are made of tin. In Aurveda, tin is called vangam and vangabasmam or tin ash is used to treat diabetes and many conditions of the urinogenital tract. Did anybody make the connection? Simply having rasam made in an eeya pathiram helped you prevent diabetes. Of course you had to eat moderately and not have quantities of rice because the rasam was so good. A research paper published in an international research journal details how vanga bhasmam is used in the treatment of non-healing wounds, premature ejaculation, for semen augmentation, cough, cold, bronchitis and asthma. Vanga bhasmam balances Kapha. Since diabetes is said to be a disease of vitiated kapha one can see why vanga bhasmam is used in the treatment of diabetes.

I find that many of my young friends have been going in search of the family heirlooms -- the vengala panai, the irumbu kadai and the eeya pathiram. They have been sold or given away and replaced with the toxic non-stick cookware and tupperware. And we wonder why cancers are on the increase. In Ayureveda and Siddha, the efficacy of the centuries old vanga bhasmam in treating diabetes has been elaborated. While one needs to consult a vaidyar before starting treatment with vanga bhasmam one could have been ingesting trace amounts of the metal through our everyday food.

Eeya pathirams are beautiful silvery vessels made in pretty shapes. Available more freely, for some reason in Kumbakonam (Thanjavur district of Tamil Nadu) and Chennai, it is slowly getting into disuse because of the confusion between lead and tin. On the other hand, I know of feisty old ladies who tell me that they are hale and healthy and have been using only traditional cooking vessels.

Thanks to Smt. Sheela Rani Chunkath for giving us permission to share this wonderful article in our site.

--- The writer is retired Additional Chief Secretary, Government of Tamil Nadu. She can be reached at Sheelarani.arogyamantra@gmail. com. Blog:

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