2 June 2008
By Sonya Dutta Choudhury
The magic of good bacteria
But my grandmother focused only on the specifics of setting. She’d pour and then decant the mixture into a glass bowl, bubbly and slightly warm. “It should be body temperature,” she’d explain to my mother, who would also be made to watch this daily ritual. After the bowl had been covered, first by a thin muslin cloth, and then, by an inverted dekchi, we’d all be shooed away. No disturbing the dahi for several hours now. It had to stay warm and undisturbed. Hours later, it would be checked, very gently, by an expert eye. If set, it would be transferred, swiftly, to the fridge. We’d see it a day later, as it made a grand entry onto our dining table, its creamy surface broken in one smooth scoop.
Readymade yoghurt hadn’t arrived in India then. You’d find it in the supermarkets abroad, plain or mixed with fruit, much like a great dessert. Or even as frozen yoghurt (which by the way is not that great nutrition–wise). But in the steel township of Jamshedpur, it was unheard of. So, my mother tried her hand at producing the perfect bowl of curd. Painstakingly, even scientifically. The pour from one container to the other regimen, followed by the warm place and the cold place. But it just wasn’t the same. Maybe the milk in Jamshedpur just didn’t cut it, or maybe there was some secret ingredient my grandmother never parted with. After numerous permutations, some of which involved setting dahi in different dishes, metal, glass or earthenware, finally, my mother decided to go the tech way. On a trip to Europe, she picked up a yoghurt maker, a white plastic temperature–regulated box, that came with six little glass bottles. From then on, everyone in the family would have their own little pot of dahi each, with one extra to spare.
Yoghurt has since come a long way. You no longer have to knock on your neighbour’s door for a spoonful of ‘Starter’ curd. You can dial your local home delivery and order it readymade. Amul Masti comes in 200g and 400g sizes (Rs 24). Nestle has a regular and a slim milk version too (Rs 25 for 400g). All these, I have to say, taste wonderfully creamy. Then there’s Mother Dairy in its 400g size, which tastes even better and costs less (Rs 22 for 400g). There are fruit flavoured yoghurts like Amul’s Yogi Dahi that come in kid–friendly packs of 100g and cost Rs 12. And then there’s the latest launch, the probiotic curd. Nestle has Nesvita, Mother Dairy has b–Activ. Priced almost the same as regular curd, it’s supposed to have many more of the good ‘Live’ acidophilus bacteria. But, to me, the probiotic yoghurt didn’t taste as good. Plus, fresh homemade yoghurt contains the most active good bacteria of all.
Which is why I was thrilled, after moving to Mumbai, to taste the same creamy fabulous Vasant Vihar dahi, and to discover it was home–made. Set every morning by my friend K’s maid. “But how?” I asked. Turns out all she did was pick up a spoonful of dahi and stick it into the leftover milk in the pan. By evening it had set perfectly, to be transferred to the fridge and thence, all ready to be mixed in curd rice. So now, that’s what I do. Maybe it’s the moist warmth of Mumbai. Or maybe I’m lucky. But I do have the most perfect yoghurt!