At the end of a rainbow

Lucy found her diamond sky

Of grubs and gourmets

on June 11, 2014

Michael Pollan wrote in his book, Cooked, “ in almost every dish, you can find, besides the culinary ingredients, the ingredients of a story: a beginning, a middle, and an end.” And what more a fascinating tale can be, than that of the human culture taking birth thousands of years ago around a humble fire- an event that fundamentally altered the course of human history. Thousands of years hence, the act of cooking in many ways has turned into mass food production, destroying in the process the creativity and ingenuity responsible for the birth of myriad cuisines, and more pertinently, devouring the culture that was once a quintessential part of any culinary endeavour. Meals aren’t shared, talked about and appreciated anymore. Instead, one is greeted with vacant stares and stuffed mouths eating out of ‘ready-to-eat’ food packs, as though they resemble anything palatable. Thankfully, this still seems to be a western disease and while urban India seems to be inching towards the disastrous lifestyle, there is still hope that the likes of KFC and McDonald’s pale before the vastness of Indian cuisines (if there is term like that!). Far outnumbering the linguistic diversity of the country, India is home to gazzilion variety of dishes that many a time may have the same ingredients and yet taste different due to cooking styles. There are spices, techniques, and traditions of cooking that are often zealously guarded as family trade secrets and faithfully transmitted to the next generation. Even amongst the Indian cuisines, it is perhaps the Bengali dishes that set a benchmark in sophistication and culinary design. Given the rather fertile plains and temperate climate that Bengal grew upon, the bounty of raw food would have provided ample to experiment and cook with. As a result, there are mind-boggling varieties and ways to cook a particular dish. The unintended by-product of this phenomenon are the usually picky, fussy and finnicky Bangla lot, who it would seem are born with innate abilities to comment on food. Even the poorest household would not suffer the indignity of a three course meal, so let’s not start with the typical middle-class. Hybrids like me, who have vague ideas about their ‘roots’, while having grown up in distant locations are bound to find the Bengali fetish funny, especially when you are supposed to be one of ‘them’. There have been endless nights when me and my brother have happily gobbled bread and soup, our favourite as kids while dad would glumly look at his plate, mumbling something about posto and rice. Rajma and Chhole was on our good-food list too except that dad would scoff at the idea of making a dish out “stuff meant for horses”. Obviously, nothing could match the eloquent, subtle taste of Sukto, a unique milky stew of vegetables or the pungent yet mouth-watering taste of Bhapa Ilish (steamed fish), but dad was always on the lookout for something new to tingle his taste buds. Thus, he would inevitably find himself drawn towards the weirdest sounding dish on any menu and promptly place an order while the rest of us preferred treating our stomachs to known palettes. However, we also knew that as a family, we would have to share the treat irrespective of whether it was a delicacy or a disaster. Thus, each one of us begged on behalf of our alimentary canals for our father’s choice to be bearable. Now, the only way to explain human miseries is the fact that someone or something ‘up there’ is a sadist. So, ‘fisherman’s catch’ would turn out to be an exquisitely carved but inedible piece of pineapple, ‘green chilly idlis’ would be served as a pseudo-Chinese abomination that might have been invented when a south-Indian cook went raving mad in China, and many other oddballs. Dearest father, in such moments of peril would try and eat what he could with a straight face, making the  best out of the trauma by iterating how bad restaurants are and why one should stick to home food. His efforts haven’t been in vain for I inherited his interest in food with the addition of actually knowing what to do in a kitchen, and in the insatiable attraction towards culinary exploits, this time in my own kitchen rather than restaurants. Well, what to say–“Coquo, ergo sum”!

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7 responses to “Of grubs and gourmets

  1. Atreyee says:

    Your mom is very proud that you are an excellent cook and have surpassed her as well..

  2. Satyaki says:

    Reblogged this on Travels Across Uchronic Lands and commented:
    See, I don’t generally reblog Debbie’s writing, but this one is all too true (and hilarious) not to be shared.

  3. Satyaki says:

    Finally wrote something great 😛

  4. debbiebornfree says:

    Well, I had to churn out something worth commenting on by your highness.

  5. Marvin says:

    Hahaha! I see that uncle shares his views on rajma and chhole with my father. My father of course has relegated the whole of Punjabi cuisine to a category he calls ‘kadar moton’ (mudlike) perhaps owing to the richness of its gravies as against the patla jhol we are all so fond (and proud) of. Having been brought up in Delhi, I’ve taken to a lot of cuisines along with the Bengali cuisine (although I wished they were not so obsessed with mustard). But all said and done, bengalis are least adaptive, if at all, regarding food. Bengal might have parted with Marx but it will never let go of its Macch.

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