The Arimamanai (malayalam) OR Aruvamanai(tamil) was an essential part of kitchens in southern India, until a generation ago. My mother-in-law and mother still use it, as well as, a different version of this seating device with a sharp teeth like attachment (cheravai) for shredding coconut (which is a culinary art, I have never picked up, spoilt by the frozen coconut available here ). I digress. The aruvamanai, on the other hand, is primarily used for cutting vegetables. If you were to google the images for this instrument, you will also realize it forces one to be in a crunching position to perform the needful; which means you are also getting a workout as you slice and dice the vegetables for the stew!
Last time I visited India, I watched the aruvamanai being used, with a forgotten amazement, how the vegetables for avial are cut long and thin, the melons for erisheri are cut in beautiful cubes, beans is diced to tiny thin rings for poduthol and the laborious jackfruit torn apart gracefully and sliced into thin long segments and deep fried in coconut oil yielding crispness like no other. It is amazing how the shapes of the vegetables cut can render a dish completely different from what it is meant to be! For I still recall, my first ever help offered in the kitchen rose my mothers wrath of “enna aanai poonai um ah cut paniruke” ( Why are the vegetables cut in sizes ranging from elephant to a cat? )
With the advent of food processors and one-pot-stock cooking that our generation is adopting, the art of cutting vegetables is very often forgotten. “If one is not taking the effort to follow all the steps that lead to a complete dish, what does it matter what the shape of the vegetable is”. Well! that is sort of my husband’s philosophy when it comes to vegetarian cooking and my pet-peeve. I am a stickler for the shape of the vegetable in my curry. NO. My avial cannot have cubes and blobs and my cabbage poduthol must be shredded to bits that it melts in your mouth. But that also means I am spending 60% of my cooking time cutting vegetables, which is a luxury a mother of a toddler doesnt often have.
I have watched in awe how women in Bombay’s local trains who after a tiring day at work spend their traveling time, peeling peas and dicing vegetables, ready to be tossed in the kadai, as soon as they get home. So, while I still learn how to be that expert dicer of vegetables, I have adopted a similar routine to save my cooking hours! Every waking moment I spend, while my toddler naps during the day on a weekend, I dice, slice, glide and peel the veggies that go into my dishes for the week. I save them in air-tight containers tucked away in the fridge. That takes care of the shapes I am expecting and also I spend more time with my son after a day’s work. One of these days, I may unearth the aruvamanai tucked away in my basement. For if cutting veggies is an art, it doesnt better than doing it the right way!! 🙂