An Indian wedding with around a thousand guests requires a wedding feast on a spectacular scale. The dining hall at my friend’s wedding in Tittakudi, a small village in Tamil Nadu, had a constant stream of people entering and leaving. It felt like everyone in the village had come to lunch. Even the elephant had something to eat!
The first meal was provided the evening before the wedding, but it was clear from the preparations going on around us that a lot more food would be served the the following day. There were kilos of vegetables lined up, and apparently the slicing and dicing continued for most of the night.
Several varieties of bread were freshly prepared, as well as rice being served. The breads included chapatis, idly (steamed rice cakes) and thick little pancakes (made from rice and lentils). Nigella’s adage that “a lot of a little” is easier to prepare than “a little of a lot” is all too true, but it didn’t worry the caterers.
The food was served on biodegradable plates, in the form of banana leaves, and eaten with your hands. There were a huge variety of vegetarian curries. Some were already on the plate when you sat down, and others were brought around during the meal. When the soupy sambar arrived you had to build a rice-dam to keep it on your plate. For dessert there was an orange sweet, and slices of mango and jackfruit. The cardamon-flavoured icecream melted all too rapidly in the heat.
Once we had eaten, it was time for the elephant’s lunch. She had travelled to the wedding from her temple in an elephant-float, to bless people and give a few rides. She enjoyed her bananas skin-and-all, and then ate an enormous pot full of idly. She liked to feed herself with her trunk, but people also fed her directly, touching her broad wet tongue.
The highlight of watching the elephant’s meal, though, was when she had a drink. She grabbed the tap in her trunk, sealing it so that not a drip came out. She must have taken up litres of water in her trunk before she finally squirted it into her mouth to drink it.
It’s difficult to say which was more enjoyable, eating the wedding feast, or watching the elephant have hers.