Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Food for thought

As a kid, I used to love peeling hot boiled potatoes because after I was done, I would be allowed to eat half a potato with salt. The taste was heavenly. No one told me that eating potatoes would make me fat, and I was never fat. If anything, I was active, always hungry for food, and loved eating whatever mom made, without counting calories.

There are some things I did not love so much though. But no one was given a concession. Everyone ate what was cooked. Alu sheddho deem sheddho dal sheddho bhaat was one of the things I did not like. It is a meal made of boiled and mashed eggs and potatoes, with boiled lentils (masoor dal) and boiled rice. The eggs and potatoes were mashed with finely chopped onions and green chilies, and the rice was served with ghee. People said that it tasted heavenly. I think the semi-solid consistency of the meal bothered me. You would have surely eaten this if you are Bengali.

I don’t remember the last time I ate it, since I didn’t like it anyway. It must be close to 8-9 years now. Yet today, out of nowhere, I started craving it at work. I craved it so much that it became distracting. I almost smelled it everywhere. So when I got home, I had to make it. Well, there is nothing to make actually, you boil everything and eat it while it is super hot. I got a little adventurous and put in a tadka of red chillies and finely chopped onions and garlic. The first morsel I had, I knew that I was in food Heaven.

Food is so much about childhood memories. The pizzas and the pastas will never be the same for me as Bengali food is, because I have no childhood associations with them. I grew up watching mom cook for years as I sat at my desk doing homework. I never worried about eating an extra potato, or eating that yolk in the egg. I never segregated food as carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. I ate whatever mom cooked. She never served canned or processed food, and cooked everything from the scratch. For me, certain food will always be about strong childhood associations. The smell of garlic I peeled as she made goat meat curry for Sunday lunch, the smell of tomato soup made from scratch on wintry nights, and the smell of cheese pakoras being fried when guests visited us, being some of them.

In the 1990s, I grew up watching my mom hooked to Khana Khazana (a cookery show on Zee TV). Those were the days when Sanjeev Kapoor had a mustache, and wasn't as thin as he is today. In the evenings, she would get all her cooking and chores done, and would sit with a tray of raw vegetables, her eyes glued to the TV.

I didn't really understand her fascination for the show. Some days, we would be having simple rice and lentils for dinner, yet meat sizzlers and fancy Italian cuisine would be cooking on TV. Sometimes, Mr. Kapoor used sauces and wines which I am sure were not available in any middle class kitchens in India. It is a different story now. 

The TV was mounted high up, so every evening, she would sit on the sofa, peeling peas or banana blossoms, her neck craned and her eyes glued on Mr. Kapoor, just like a devotee would look at God in the temple. No one else was allowed to watch anything else. Thankfully, there were no distractions from the cell phone or internet then. I never really understood her fascination for the show. If I interrupted her, she would simply make a STOP gesture with her palms, saying, "dnaara, dnaara" (wait, wait!!). Those days, I neither knew how to cook, nor was interested in watching these shows.

This evening, I spent quite some time doing exactly what she used to do all those years ago. I was intrigued about a breakfast recipe, and that is how it started. Before I knew, I had watched 15-20 episodes back to back. And at some point, I was like, "God, I must look exactly like my mom right now!". The difference is that I was watching it on my laptop, and they were talking in English. I watched a few back from the 90s as well, and loved the show in Hindi. 

We grow up watching our parents do many things, shaking our heads and not understanding what attracts them to these things. Then, years roll by, and one fine evening, even before you realize, you are the exact replica of your mother, grown older to that age roughly, glasses on the nose, watching the same shows they were addicted to. If I had children around me right now, I know that they too would be shaking their heads and wondering the same thing, "What is wrong with her? Why is she hooked to the show?"


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