Remember your paatti mentioning dishes like murunga ilai adai, maragatha valli vadai, mor kali, athikai kootu, vetrilai poondu sadham that she used to make when she was young? In the current times, people rarely prepare these traditional dishes of Tamil Nadu.
In an attempt to bring these forgotten recipes to light, city-based illustrator Varshini Ramakrishnan has curated a digital art series titled ‘Art on a Plate’.
“Unless there is a food festival or a discussion on the traditional recipes, today’s youngsters aren’t aware of such dishes.
Through this commissioned art series, my intention is to remind people of these dishes. I will be glad if people notice the work and find time to get the recipes and attempt them,” says Varshini.
As most of the dishes picked were commonly made during the 60s, 70s and 80s, Varshini decided to take references from Tamil films during that period.
She also referred to illustrations by veteran artists like Gopulu, Oviyar Maruthi and S Elayaraja. “Since these were forgotten recipes from a different era, I had to rely on references as I was unaware of how people dressed and how the households looked during that period.
One of the best references was films because one can see the transformation of a Tamil household in them. Once the dishes were finalised, I created a beautiful background — a vintage atmosphere where the household and kitchen culture were depicted.
For example, I wanted to develop a background for the dish vetrilai poondu sadham (rice cooked with betel leaves and garlic).
While researching, I noticed a scene from the film Mundanai Mudichu, where the wife serves food for the husband to sort out a squabble. I digitally recreated this scene,” she recollects.
“Kavuni arisi halwa is another traditional dish made of black rice and grated coconut. It’s often served during special occasions or festivals.
While thinking of how this dish can be fit into a film scene, my mother suggested the film, Samsaram Adhu Minsaram. In the film, there is a ponnu paakara scene (matchmaking ritual), where the prospective groom’s family is served some delicious snacks.
Apart from film references, I was also inspired by some artists, who have portrayed the south Indian culture and lifestyle through their paintings,” she tells.
The 24-year-old admits that for research purposes, she watched a lot of films from the 70s and 80s. “For the art project, I watched films like Samsaram Adhu Minsaram, Thillana Mohanambal, Mundhanai Mudichu, Unaal Mudiyum Thambi, etc.
Each era had its food specialties and the way they were prepared also differed. I have paid attention to all the minute details,” Varshini remarks.