Grandma’s Foodie Tales – Picnic on Wheels

Have you noticed how food tastes wonderful when shared? That is because, while eating together, we not only share the food but also the love, camaraderie and joy. One of the best places to share food was during train travel in days gone by. Oh, the joys of dozens of food hampers being opened and food being passed back and forth among the passengers during meal times! It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call it as much a gastronomical,as of travel adventure especially for us children, as new friendships were made and games discovered.

Usually it was an annual trip to one’s native place to fulfil some religious vow, visit relatives or attend a wedding. Most of it was done in the baking, broiling summer months of May/June. We used to travel by third class (yes, those still existed back then!), which had 3-tier slatted wooden berths!

By contrast, today travel means simply getting from one place to another and the faster and more comfortable the means, the better. Even train travel is functional with hardly any interaction between co-passengers, leave alone sharing home food.

Trains did not have pantry cars back then and whatever food we needed had to be packed and taken along or bought at the food stalls of big stations. Tamarind rice, curd rice, pooris and the milagai-podi covered idlis, were usually the staples as they would keep for a day or more even in the heat. An assortment of namkeens and mother’s delicious homemade biscuits completed the hamper. It would be like a great picnic on wheels and we kids got hungry almost as soon as the train left the station and picked up speed!

While all journeys were enjoyable one in particular was truly memorable. That year we were a big group of seven peopleincluding two children of a neighbour we were escorting.

As usual hunger pangs hit us even before the train halted at the first station. Mother began looking for the food basket. It was nowhere to be found! If mother looked worried, father looked even more so.He certainly couldn’t have afforded to buy food for such a large group at the station food stalls. Fortunately the children’s mother had packed a large hamper of food – probably keeping us kids in mind. But there was no way it would have sufficed for the journey.

As word quickly spread about our predicament through our compartment and the next, fellow passengers rose gloriously to the occasion and food of all kinds appeared at meal times as if by magic! It was the best journey as far as food was concerned. We had such a variety of food — khakhras, curd rice, parathas, pooris and pickles and loads of idlis! One family sent us some dosas and another some dry fruit kachoris! It was a big party and mother’s biscuits, which she was taking for our relatives in Chennai, was freely shared with our wonderful train friends.

As for the forgotten bag of food, my elder brother, who had stayed behind, saw it when he got home after seeing us off. He had a picnic of his own with friends and neighbours!


The author is your regular neighborhood granny. Loves cooking, feeding her friends and family, telling tales and reading children’s books among others — on her Kindle. She is comfortable with people her age, older than her and of course all youngsters right down to infants. And oh, she is in tune with the times too. She has seen the telegram transform into Twitter and telephone into WhatsApp. You could call her Gadget Granny Seeta, if you like. She loves saying that the tip of her tongue is in the fingers on her keyboard! 

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