Ah! The fragrance of boiled groundnuts

groundnut vendor
Groundnut seller, Richmond Town, Dec 2014

One of our favourite childhood snacks. Ever so often dad would bring home these big newspaper cones filled with kadalaikai, that he’d have bought from a pushcart doing a round of the neighbourhood. As soon as he entered the door, the room would be filled with a fragrance like no other. I wish I could catch that smell and put it on the page to linger.

The groundnuts/peanuts with shell would be tenderly boiled with a dash of salt, waiting to be opened. It was therapeutic – the process of picking a groundnut, breaking open the shell, taking the three-four ‘nuts’ off the shell, popping them in the mouth. As one chewed the moist nuts, the salt-flavoured juice from within would ooze out, satisfying the chemoreceptors in the nose and mouth no end. Ah! Delicious! To avoid an eating contest, mom would ensure that the contents of the cones were divided so that all at home got their fair share and no one felt denied.

Pushcarts selling boiled groundnuts used to be common in Bangalore. We still see them in Richmond Town, but less often than before. The seller cooks the groundnuts on the cart itself using a small kerosene stove. So you get served boiling hot. In winter when it’s chilly, the steam that rises from the pot carries the boiled groundnut smell into the air and is a sight to behold.

When studying in BMS College of Engineering, Basavanagudi in the late 1980s to early 1990s, there would be a couple of groundnut sellers who would stand near the Bull Temple, located very close to the college. There was one particular old man who was my regular seller. Or should I say, I was his regular customer. I would buy from him every time he was there. This would have been three to four times a week, on average. A cone of groundnuts for Re 1, a double for Rs 2. The former would last me the walk down the road, till I reached the bus stop and the latter for the wait as well.

On one occasion I didn’t have small change and gave him a Rs 20 note. I must have been chit-chatting with others and went away forgetting to collect the change. The old man however did not forget. I met him a few days after. While he acknowledged that he had my money, he did not return it. He was happy for the advance and said he would give me its worth in groundnuts. So it was that I got over a month’s supply. There were times when other buyers would look at me strangely, probably wondering why I didn’t pay. I would usually have a pouch in my bag reserved for keeping the groundnut shells, rather than dropping them on the road or footpath. This too would often receive strange looks.

groundnut cart

Mom always used to say that groundnuts were the poor man’s protein. If you can’t have meat, eat groundnuts. Boiled groundnuts are actually much more than that. Boiling with the shell draws the antioxidants from the shell, and groundnut shells are high in isoflavones – useful in reducing risk of diabetes, heart problems and cancer, among other diseases. Groundnuts are also high in fiber and heart-healthy fats, but as with anything, they need to be eaten in moderation.

With time, the cones gave way to thin plastic bags. More durable than newspaper but so avoidable. With plastic bags banned in Bangalore, it’s probably back to newspaper these days. There were times when I would go into the street searching for the carts, and those times I’d carry a box to avoid the plastic bag.

We haven’t seen pushcarts selling boiled groundnuts in Mumbai, but we make the same thing at home. Buy the groundnuts and boil in a pressure cooker with a bit of salt. I guess it’s in the genes. My boys love them!

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