Just like everything else in life, this too has now changed with flavours like Imli, Chatcola, Chatpati Hing, Pudina, and Anardana; but if you’ve had the original version, then you know that nothing comes even close to that inimitable taste.
As kids, this was our covert operation. We walked on our toes and followed each other as quietly as little mice. We couldn’t make any noise as we were headed to this secret spot —this special drawer — in my home. I am certain you had one too — a special drawer, a shelf, or even a cupboard — depending on your taste, eating habits, and the number of members in your family. And as a kid, you would have walked just as quietly to reach that spot. The spot that all of us as children had “limited” access to.
Inside the special drawer lay many tiny glass and plastic bottles and boxes that held all things edible, digestive, and delectable. Our focus was on the delectable part, especially when we were children and were not allowed to sample certain items in there. Imagine our surprise when we learned later that the grown-ups too mostly focused on the yummy factor!
As Indians, we love our food and our lives revolve around chutneys and curries, desserts and dals, pickles and paranthas. We eat well and feed even better, and take pride in
both. Nothing can change that. But after all the overeating and overfeeding is over, we realise we need a little help to digest what we have just consumed. And that’s where the drawer of the digestives comes in, the one that is always fully stocked up.
Let’s go through the items here. I have to start with the forbidden (though I still don’t know why) quintessential digestive—the famous Hajmola. The glass bottle holds tiny chatpata (zingy) tablets made of culinary herbs, spices, and edible salts. Just like everything else in life, this too has now changed with flavours like Imli, Chatcola, Chatpati Hing, Pudina, and Anardana; but if you’ve had the original version, then you know that nothing comes even close to that inimitable taste. As kids, we were handed one tablet, and we’d spent minutes licking the masala (spices) off in the hope that going slow would make it last longer! The yellow-orange branding still brings a smile to my face as my mouth waters.
The next popular pick would be choorans, with good competition from aam papads. The variety in choorans is mind-boggling and was—and still is—a task to pick just one. There would be ajwain, jeera, and ginger powder-coated balls which we weren’t very keen on. We always eyed the ones prepared with mango, anardana powder, and powdered sugar. Even the addition of red chilli powder would not deter us from having a few of these! Aam papads, though limited to sweet and sour, were a hit with all of us, and we were allowed to have a slice or two of these. These came with an extra-salty masala that we sprinkled on the slice before devouring it.
Then there were the aamla (gooseberry) candies and also a bottle of saunf (fennel seeds)—both plain and the candied, coloured balls. Also, every now and then, a visiting relative or friend would add to this massive collection with a speciality from their region, and we’d get another excuse to eat more so we could taste the new digestive.
Whether any of these actually helped our stomachs was never a real concern for me back then or even now. It was the novelty and the taste that pulled me to it. In my home now, I too have a secret drawer; and even though as an adult I know I can reach it, I’ve learned that the “limited access” only enhances the experience, so I can look forward to each bite with excitement.