Source: Wikimedia commons
Chow chow doesn’t mean eating twice. It is the name of a squash.
Tambrahms and their obsession with all vegetables of the gourd family is legendary. Such a gourd-loving community we are. Give us a gourd and we’ll make a koottu, a curry or a thogayal out of it and call it a meal.
As a child, I’d rummage through the shopping bags brought in from the market, and I’d see this vegetable- chow-chow and I’d dread the next few meal times, knowing fully well that it would be unleashed on me pretty soon. While I didn’t full-blown hate it, I almost borderline hated it.
In my family, they fondly call it Bangalore-Kathrikkai (Kathrikkai being the Tamil word for brinjal) – and I know for certain that my grandmother loves it to bits. I have no clue how someone can love this vegetable with no personality whatsoever.
If you go through the Wiki-page dedicated to Chow Chow, also called Chayote Squash, you’ll realise that it has caught the fancy of not just Tambrahms, but communities around the world.
Being from the squash family, it grows easily and it’s cheap and I suppose, being a cheap food helps gain popularity especially in times of economic depression.
When I was getting to know my husband better, I once quizzed him on his favourite foods. He told me that he was a very non-fussy eater and anything outside the gourd family was okay with him. Now that pretty much excludes a LOT of dishes from our Tambrahm cuisine!
I did manage to go by the gourd rule for a few months into the marriage, but being the true-self respecting Tambrahm, pumpkins started making an appearance in sambar and bottle-gourd paired with chana dal in a curry and so on. I didn’t hear any complaints, except for a small mumble, whenever I announced that there was Pudavalangai (snake gourd) curry or Pumpkin sambar for lunch. Years passed.
We were once seated at one of the darshinis in Bangalore, waiting to order breakfast. Those days, I was a Bombay girl, just visiting Bangalore for a function for a couple of days. The waiter came to our table. The husband order chow chow baath. Imagine my shock! I was wondering what made him order this vile (even to me) chayote squash in rice!!
Before I could express my horror, the waiter came back with the dish (speedy service indeed). The plate had a scoop of upma and a scoop of kesari. Sigh of relief.
It was then I realised that Chow Chow baath was a popular breakfast item here, and it had nothing to do with the vegetable chow chow. Instead, it was a serving each of kaara baath (upma) and kesari baath (rava kesari), the perfect savoury-sweet combination.
I read this story about how this vegetable, called Choko, in Australia, was rumoured to be used in their McDonald’s apple pies, instead of apples, as they were cheap, maintained their shape and Australia’s tropical sub-tropical regions actually didn’t produce apples.
This does give me an idea of trying it in a dessert some day – crazy, whacky, but worth a try. May be on the 1st of April.
In my home, the much loved Bangalore-Kathrikai makes its appearance two ways. The peels and the flesh are used to make a (delicious!!) thogayal, which is a word for chutneys. It is also written as thuvaiyal.
Before I started loving gingelly oil, asafoetida and all other things very typically Tambrahm, even this thogayal was on my no-no list.
But as I grew older and genetic love for our traditional foods took over, I can now imagine a plate of steaming hot rice, a big dollop of this thogayal and a generous spoon of gingelly oil all mixed together and eaten with some fried vadams- oh goodness, a mini heaven.
The same thogayal is made with Peerkangai (Ridge gourd) using the peels, the fibres, everything. I cannot say my tastebuds detect much of a difference in the taste, for most gourds taste quite similar. Bland.
The second way to prepare this is make a Koottu. For the uninitiated, koottu is any vegetable+mashed dal+fresh coconut-spice masala with the ubiquitous tadka. The fresh koottu masala can make anything boring taste good – red chillies, black pepper, udad dal, coconut – these guys can rescue the most boring of vegetables and they do a fairly successful job with the chow chow.
When cooked, it doesn’t become all melt in mouth like the bottle gourd, or transparent like the white pumpkin. It kind of stubbornly hangs on to to its shape and its (slightly) weird taste, no matter what you do with it (expect mash the hell out of it in a thogayal, in which it does a surrender)
Lunch Idea: Chow Chow (or any other) Thogayal, Rice, Raw Banana Curry
Recipe for Chow Chow Thogayal (Chayote Squash Chutney)
Makes 1 generous cup