Special Column
Nungu summers

By Shanthini Rajkumar

Mar 15, 2019

A few days ago , a friend of mine sent me a picture on Whatsapp of a dish that she called ice apple salad. It had strawberries as well and the whole white and red effect was so pretty that for a few seconds I forgot that I was actually looking at our very own nungu.

The nungu or nongu as it is also referred to is one of the earliest summer foods to make it’s presence felt with the street vendors setting up shop beneath large shady trees around the city. This cooling fruit is most certainly an acquired taste. So it’s one that must be ideally introduced to children at a very young age. I find it quite humorous when people confuse seasonal foods as being detrimental to health. 

While excess indulgence in anything is not recommended ,giving the children a helping of nungu every day is really not going to have them catch a cold. On the contrary it replaces the salts and minerals lost during the day. Giving them chilled cola drinks and sugary fizz on the other hand could do a certain amount of damage.

While we were never told in so many words that ,look it’s summer so you must eat this or that,it was simply the foods that were available at home when we got back from school. So of course we ate it , relished it and waited to feast on it again the next year. If we insist on demanding that everything must be made available throughout the year , then we must also be prepared to face the health hazards that accompany such mindless eating.

In my opinion the nungu is best enjoyed as is ,fresh ,without anything else added.Just peel a whole bowlful and combat the hot afternoon with a bowlful of slippery nungu nuggets and happy thoughts.

Last year , we got a lot of nungu from a friend who was visiting from Pollachi and it was impossible to eat it all so we made nungu payasam to share with the rest of the family.It was light , delicious because it was made with simple local ingredients.

Cow’s milk as we know can be quite hard to digest during summer so this payasam recipe used coconut milk instead. With the addition of palm sugar for sweetness, this concoction tastes just heavenly. Despite using the thick coconut milk ,the payasam isn’t as full bodied as the whole milk version. 

The coconut milk is gently heated to allow the palm sugar to mix in ,while the nungu bits are added. Once taken off the fire, a few strands of saffron are added for aroma.The payasam is left to cool and then refrigerated for at least an hour before serving. This summer payasam is best in it’s light 4 ingredient avatar.

Palmyra trees are much needed in our part of the world. Due to lack of understanding these were felled mindlessly few years ago leading to loss of employment, migration of skilled palmyra tree climbers , karupatti makers and pathaneer tappers. Today a few organisations are working at bringing these trees back to their natural habitat. Each indigenous species of plant life is necessary to hold together our fragile eco system. 

How much we tend to take for granted !My Coimbatore summers would certainly not be the same minus the nungu sellers and their wares.

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