Okay, so where do I start now? Yes. I’ve been thinking about how my food-ie-ness has developed over the years. The signs were there from the beginning itself, it appears. There are photos of me at my annaprasan – ceremony at which first proper food fed to the child – upon completing a year or so in this world (is that right?) – wearing mukut (crown) and all, stuffing my own face rather ably even at that tender age. There are also stories told by our Amma and aunts about how I was the only one of my maternal grandfather’s i.e. Dadu’s grandchildren who ate everything with neither complaint nor fuss nor any lack of enthusiasm.
So obviously, I was always a petu, as our Appa says. I remember that I used to love to watch cooking shows on TV and try to write down recipes in the back of notebooks when I was as young as 6 years old. Then I went through this major phase of cutting recipes and pictures of really pretty food out of newspapers and magazines.
It did however take me quite some time to get over my fear of lighting the gas stove with a match. But I could assemble the bread pudding to be made in the pressure cooker, I could help mix up batters alright, sort through grains for stones/dirt, make tea (as long as someone else was around to help me light the stove). And I loved the tiny toaster oven Amma had. I used to experiment with various toppings on store-bought pizza-base, and make crazy sandwiches, especially under the influence of Dagwood Bumstead of Blondie and Jamie Lawson of Small Wonder. (Ah, those were the days. Seriously.)
Ooh, and also ice-cream sodas and sundaes. I LOVED making those. Every crazy combination possible. I also loved watching Dadu make pickles in the summer.
And then when I was about 13 years old when we shifted to Chennai. And I had to learn to light the stove on my own. Because of my parents’ working hours and no longer having our Mama-bari to run too after school, mainly. I learnt to fry not-too-bad dosais, make thayyir-saadam (curd-rice), lemon rice, savoury upma and dalia, suji ka halwa. This is also when I began to appreciate vegetables, I think. It’s also when I started to understand responsibility, the value of money, concepts like hunger and exhaustion, that there are real bakeries in South India, power breakfasts, and many more.
When I went to college, it was all about canteens and dhabas and hole-in-the-wall eating places all over the North Campus of Delhi University – and beyond. Eating at local guardians’ and day-scholar classmates’ homes – impressing all parents with my capacity to eat and the lack of fussiness about home-cooking. It was also the time of changing the dabba we got for dinner every 3 months, and occasionally cooking on the hot-plate in our shared flat – Maggi with eggs, ham, butter, anything & everything possible, laapsi and khichdi in the months after my recovery from jaundice. It’s when I learnt about various cuisines in earnest, and also learnt how to eat for Rs. 45 a day at the most, and the DMS/Mother Dairy flavoured milk seemed like the most satisfying meal on Earth at times.
This ‘paying-guest’ existence made hostel life on-campus in Mumbai seem like a piece of cake in comparison, and while many others complained about how bad the food was and drowned in homesickness, I luxuriated in the provision of an evening snack, and eggs every morning. Whatever else I may or may not have learnt while there, one thing I really did in Mumbai (then still Bombay) was to seek out good & preferably old eating places all over the city. This was different from when I was in DU and eating ‘out’ was the only choice and was as much about survival as pleasure. Parsi/Iranian, Bengali, South East Asian, Coastal South Indian, proper Maharashtrian food – I saved up to eat and delighted in, along with the long train rides, cool evenings and city lights.
I set up my first kitchen, first household almost immediately after I completed my M.A. – learnt to shop, store, cook, save, experiment, cater to various tastes under the same roof – both with and without a refrigerator. I began to admire my mother and my Mamima far more, for their fantastic and speedy cooking. I was already a food-lover, a real foodie – but I fell in love with cooking then, and this love has remained and only grown. Yes, there was a bit of a falling out, as it were, when I stopped cooking altogether for a couple of months (about 3-and-a-half years ago) because it became a source of severe stress and unhappiness as the process itself became inflicted with all kinds of bad energies of bad relationships. But coming back to Delhi and starting again, it was cooking that healed me, helped me start all over, find myself afresh, and also to fall in love all over again – and this time, for good.
Now food is all I read and watch and think about. I feel I have grown mechanically good at my work; it’s only food and cooking that excites me and hence, occupies my mind all the time. Yes, I’m obsessed with food – cooking in particular.
Will it help me change my life altogether now? This is one of the questions foremost in my mind these days – the pondering of which is on my agenda specifically and with high priority for the coming week. All I want to do is cook and read and write and learn about food only. Nothing else at all. How do I work towards that ideal state of affairs? Any ideas, please?
Am about 10 days into my holiday and have been eating a lot, cooking some. The picture here is from my trip to Mumbai (sorry about the grainy quality, though), eating fried cheese at the Cafe Mondegar. Yummm!