The morning I made Sabudana Kichdi, Vinayagam watched from the sidelines. He knew where to buy the tapioca pearls but he couldn’t understand what people whipped up with the little white balls. He cast a suspicious glance at the pearls, now large and turgid, and as edematous as my feet after a trans-Pacific flight.

I had let the tapioca swim in a bowl of water and I’d forgotten the most important step in dealing with tapioca: using just enough water to soak and draining the water thoroughly.

I added cumin seeds and green chilies to oil heating up in a wok. The late Daddykins’ valet watched as I threw in some curry leaves.

“Hello, madam, will this be worthy enough to eat?” he asked.

I pulled a face. “When have I ever made you something inedible, mister?”

Unfortunately, at the end of the half hour, the dish became a fair enough substitute for Fevicol, one of India’s most touted original adhesives for construction projects.

In July, a visiting cousin took me through the important steps of making an authentic Sabudana Kichdi. She taught me that the amount of water for soaking the pearls was key; for a cup of pearls, she suggested using about a cup and a quarter of water. Turning the pearls over a couple of times, right as they soaked, also ensured that the pearls got coated evenly with water. After six hours of soaking, the pearls had absorbed all the water and were soft to the touch, right down to their core.

Since the July lesson, I’ve made the dish many times and each time I’ve improved upon the previous version. Next time I go back to Chennai, I will make the dish once more for Vinayagam. This time I’ll make it just right. And this time, I’ll be sure to point out that the previous attempt was just my ruse to glue his teeth together for his seasoned impertinence.

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