Hello, hello and hello! This post was meant to be about clear tomato soup. But as always, I started writing about other things first and then ended up thinking about martabans. The tomato soup will have to wait for another time. But just so this doesn’t diminish your interest in the future soup post, let me tell you in advance that it is delicious!
I am still in India, enjoying the foggy winter, oranges, occasional sun and plenty of tea. I also visited my nani* last week and she gave us some really nice, old pottery. I don’t know what it is with grandparents’ homes, but they seem to contain countless little treasures, waiting to be discovered. My nani is no different. In all the houses that she has lived in, she has always had a small room or a corner or a cupboard or a box filled with trinkets that seem mundane to everyone else, but fascinating to me. Occasionally, it’s a piece of clothing or jewelry that others find shabby and old-fashioned, but mostly they are dust-laden pots and utensils.
On previous trips, I have managed to get an old satin skirt, embellished with real silver embroidery, a brass lota, tiny brown-colored ceramic chutney bowls, countless pairs of silver rings, anklets and toe-rings, tattered-but-beautiful handmade fabric batuas etc. etc. as “gifts”. This time we got these:
The beautifully carved black bowl (on the right) is used to make yogurt. Making homemade yogurt is pretty simple. Warm (not boil) some milk, mix in a spoonful of plain yogurt (yes, yogurt makes more yogurt!), cover and keep in a warm place overnight. And voila, by the magic of bacteria, you get yummy yogurt next morning! For best results, use an unglazed clay, earthenware, or stoneware pot (preferably, from your grandmother) to make the yogurt.
The one on the left is called a martaban. Traditionally, these glazed stoneware jars are used to store pickles. The name comes from a small town in Burma, now called Mottama, formerly known as Martaban. This port town was an important link in the Indo-China porcelain trade several centuries back. The Arab, Indian and later, European traders needed large jars to store oil, wine, water etc. The town of Martaban supplied them with Thai, Chinese, and local jars, all of which came to be known, generically, as martaban jars. According to Gutman (2001), the first accounts of martaban jars are from India and further west. In 1350, the Moroccan explorer Ibn Batuta mentioned “martabans or huge jars, filled with pepper , citron, and mango, all prepared with salt, as for a sea voyage”. Mirch, aam, neembu ke achar** from Ibn Batuta’s days, how interesting!
My favorite martabans are the brown and white ones. They are beautiful. Most of them come engraved with the manufacturer’s seal, which makes for another interesting design element. And this is what I was thinking about while writing the tomato soup post. So, I rushed to our kitchen, pulled out the old jar and took some pictures before it turned dark outside!
And, of course, this one was also a gift from nani :-).
**chilli, mango and lime pickles