Food and I - the relationship that we share, has undergone tremendous change over my life of four decades.
Food during childhood was quite an insignificant and inconsequential part of the routine. I don’t remember having registered much during that time. A big reason for that was my lack of interest in eating. I would not call myself a picky eater because that was absolutely not allowed at home, but we all (siblings) never picked any sweet to put in our mouths. None of us had even an iota of what is normally called a sweet tooth, even to the extent that we hardly had any biscuits either. Sweets did enter our home but that was more as a ritual and we kids almost had to endure partaking a bite which could be as tiny as a pea. Overall snacking was almost absent in our home. Our father was a strong proponent of wholesome nutritious three meals and no munching in between. This pattern continued for almost all of schooling years. Post school I joined a college - an entry to the wider world yet not so wide, since it was in the same city. One may not know exactly how, but all college goers get introduced to the canteen - whether to just chat, to share a single samosa/cold drink among five friends, to celebrate a friend’s birthday or to brainstorm on a serious topic/concept. While being in college as a day scholar, the food needs were wonderfully met by timely, healthy and lovingly prepared home food. It was when one steps out of home to experience hostel life that the equation with food takes an unprecedented turn and how could I be an exception.
Hostel phase is when one really gets to feel hunger, the taste of unappetizing food and the ultimate craving for home cooked delicious food. Personally for me that was when I fell in love with maggie noodles and glucose biscuits because the same came as life savers when the food was absolutely unpalatable. During all this period, did I get to cook anything? Other than chapattis, no. Though I had assisted in the kitchen work and had seen the process of cooking from close quarters, yet, had not cooked independently.
All of a sudden, post marriage, I found myself ruling the kitchen(or one can say, it fell on my tender shoulders. But I think I enjoyed the opportunity it offered). As I was between jobs so had all the time to experiment and experiment I did. I still remember having serious doubts how brinjal-potatoes dry sabzi will ever cook if I don’t add any water and how will it remain dry if I add water? Oh, how I underestimated the power of steam!!! On another occasion, since I had seen vada (of dahi-vada) fame being dipped in water before it is immersed in curd, I applied the same logic to vada of sambhar-vada. I do not exactly remember how it tasted but it was *different*.
I remember spending a lot of time mentally going through the recipes before actually wielding spatulas and turners. Initial couple of years went in learning the basics of cooking because only when the concepts are applied practically that one can be confident of the same. And how can I miss mentioning the connoisseur that I happened to have as my ‘significant other’, nothing that I cooked could skip his analytical taste buds. Now when I am reminiscing those years gone by, I feel a willing taster (who though could not cook but could appreciate good taste), did help me evolve as a cook.
Incidentally, as I worked more in the kitchen, the aromas and flavours of food worked very mysteriously on me. They made me interested in eating (and to my utter surprise sweets too). Once confident in cooking the regular meals that are part of any Punjabi kitchen, I ventured for more. I started looking for newer and newer recipes and this usually happened in phases. There were times when I used to try a new dish almost every other day but then months passed without any new addition. During this time, I realised that the oven (which was even bigger than the gas stove) that we got in our apartment in US, is meant for something better than stowing bigger utensils. And this serendipitous realisation kindled my tryst with art of baking. To begin with, I played very safe and stayed loyal to just a couple of recipes - marble cake and banana bread. But working with the same recipes for extended period of time actually helped me master the fine nuances of baking - the consistency of batter, temperature variation, texture of baked output and so on.
In less than two decades of our married life we have lived in 3-4 different places and have got the opportunity to meet some wonderful people. Needless to say, we exchanged notes on food. I am sure they still cook some Punjabi dishes in their homes and I do theirs. For some specific delicacies like modak and appam, I even called them over for the demo sessions. Every time I cook these things, I remember them and thank them for helping me add a different flavour in my kitchen.
While I am chronicling my trials and errors in kitchen, I feel what worked all this while is how I enjoyed working in the kitchen and before I even realised, my interest turned into love for food (both cooking and eating). In kitchen what I get is the ‘me time’, it is a window of being completely there. At that time I do nothing but think about one step after another and often how best to juggle these steps to make multiple things happen simultaneously. Isn’t this a form of meditation only?