(This was published in http://www.yentha.com way back in 2010, which explains the Justin Bieber reference. It’s 2013 now and Bieber boy is but a distant memory. If I did not mention this here, I would have to face the wrath of my daughter, the ex-JB fan.)
A couple of weeks back, a friend of mine called up and asked me to come over to her place; but she would not tell me why. There was barely concealed excitement in her voice, which piqued my curiosity, and I hurried over. She told me to close my eyes and smell what was in the oven as she held open the door for me.
The moment she opened the oven door one of the heavenliest of smells wafted over and all I could do was squeal, “OMG!!!!” like my daughter does when one of Justin Bieber’s songs comes on the FM radio. There, sitting inside the oven, in all its prickly majesty was a WHOLE JACKFRUIT! For a moment, I just stood there unable to believe my eyes and inhaled deeply, the glorious fragrance of the ripe fruit.
What do you find when you open an oven? Chances are, you find a nice cake, a bubbling cheesy pasta or spinach paneer samosas (the health conscious ones bake them you know) or even a pot of dosa/idly/appam batter- yes over here, in these parts of the world that is how we get the batter to ferment in winter. But what are the chances of finding a jackfruit inside an oven? None. Said fruit was ripening nicely in there.
I can see you wrinkling up your noses and rolling your eyes. What’s the big deal about a jackfruit you ask? Chakkayudeyum mangayudeyum naattil kalichu valarunnavarkku aa feelings manassilaavilla … Allow me to explain. Chief among the things that can bring us NRIs down to our knees is food and music. These days thanks to a number of food exporters, a visit to the local Indian grocery store can take care of the ‘food’ issue even if it is only in the frozen or canned version. So we have everything from ullitheeyal to kumbilappam stocked in our freezers to sate the craving when the need for ‘home food’ gets intolerable.
As for fruits with the touch of home, nenthran and mangoes are available, although I would choose not to elaborate on the mangoes you get here, usually from Central and South America. Let’s suffice it to say that they are the poor cousins of the luscious ones we get back home. Sappottas, we get in cans and occasionally I find fresh ones.
As for today’s fruit of the day ‘chakka’… I have tried both the canned ones in sugar syrup and the frozen ones. Neither one comes close to the real thing. Next to mangoes, I think they are my favorite fruit. So I miserably listened to my family back home talk about the glut of chakkas this season and how no one wanted them even if you gave them away for free.
The frozen raw jackfruit we get here is not too bad and that took care of the craving for chakka aviyal, puzhukku and the like. But the yearning for a nice juicy piece of the fruit continued unabated. By now, even the koozhan kind, which no one eats, sounded quite appetizing. I even began dreaming about ripe, succulent then varikka chakkas – you know, the kind which when you bite into it, the sweet juice just dribbles down your chin. And when a friend, well meaning or otherwise, sent me an email filled with pictures of chakka in every possible avatar, I was just about ready to bawl.
That background filler should explain my OMG moment with the chakka.
Soon, after a series of how/when/where and joyous exclamations, the huge fruit was cut up and shared among us friends…. The moment I popped a piece into my mouth? Priceless! It was literally a dream come true.
It felt good, trying to get rid of the chakka arakku on our hands with coconut oil and I wryly remembered the days when I had cursed the sticky stuff on my hands. My mom always rolls up all that white gooey stuff into a ball and sticks it on to the top corner of our kitchen’s doorframe. It serves no purpose, but she always does it.
The next time I called home, I told her all about the fresh chakka. She was curious to know how much a chakka costs here. “About $35,” I told her. For a few seconds she said nothing. Then she slowly said, “That’s like Rs.1500 plus. Alle?” I guess she had her OMG moment too.