Food I have realized is a big part of who you are..Not just literally but metaphorically as well!
I am not a foodie. I am just your regular will-eat –what’s –served person. So for the longest time this whole food brouhaha would leave me wondering at what this big deal was all about! I was always brought up to believe that overindulgence in anything was unwelcome. Everything was acceptable in moderation. You eat to live, not live to eat . And to this day, that’s the motto I follow . But now at least I understand the whole ruckus about food . Even in moderation, food has a way of reaching out to the soul . Food indeed paves the way to the heart .
So , hubby dearest is a Bengali . There are only 2 loves a Bengali knows , both starting with “F”. Football and Food ! With Mom-in-law dearest being a cook beyond compare I was in deep waters right from day one .I had no interest in cooking whatsoever . And you can imagine , the raised eyebrows , the shaking heads and brooding sighs that greeted yours truly . Anyways , at a stage in life , I reached a point where I had to do the cooking , not because I couldn’t afford a cook , but more so to preserve my sanity .And I cooked what I knew was home to me . The aroma of the spluttering mustard seeds in coconut oil , the distinct flavor of curry leaves and tamarind in the simmering Sāmbhar truly brought me home . That marked the start of my food journey . So I cooked “Good food” , not when my tummy rumbled , but when my heart ached for home . When my soul longed for the comfort of the known and the love of my own ones .And good food for me is the simplest “Molushyam” ( Lentil curry with vegetables like pumpkin or bottle gourd and “Mezukuvaratti” which is stir-fry vegetables like beans or plantains ,cooked with salt and turmeric) or “Kappa with onion chutney and Kattan Chaya”( Boiled Tapioca with onion chutney and Black Tea) . I do have other favorites like Koorka uppery (A spicy Chinese Potato stir fry) , Beetroot Thoran( Grated beetroot cooked with onion and garnished with grated coconut) , Iddichakka and Kadachakka thoran ( Jackfruit delicacies) , Avial , Puttu Kadala , Motta curry (Spicy Egg curry) …Sigh Sigh …Possibly the simplest and most uncomplicated dishes from the Kerala cuisine.No Paneer or Dal Makhani or Butter Chicken or Chole or Rajma or Biryani can compete with that . .No ..Period.
I was brought up in a mostly vegetarian household, that’s why the leanings towards vegetarian food. I think that is what one needs when craving for home .Simplicity and the quiet comfort of the uncomplicated! I have realized now that food or the aroma or the sight of food has a way of reaching out to the nether regions of your soul , evocative of the best and the happiest memories . Maybe that’s why the heart yearns for it . I think the word for it is “Hiraeth”. It’s like a longing for your homeland , for your people but something more than that.. I now understand what Foodgasm means. But for me it is not new cuisines or complicated dishes like Biryani that trigger it . Anyways I still don’t understand the whole ruckus over non-vegetarian food! But that’s a post for another day!
Food is a way of preserving the way of life as you have known. It’s a way of preserving your culture .That’s why, you look at immigrants or refugees or any other diaspora, food assumes larger than life proportion in their lives. Because food is in that space between the tangible and the intangible. In times of crisis, that’s the legacy you can leave behind for your forthcoming generations. That’s why you see, Food is such a big part of the lives of the Turks, the Armenians,the Iranians …All these people have a very distinct food culture that has stayed with them long after they fled their homeland . Also in old cultures like ours , rich food traditions have been cultivated over generations spanning centuries . The flavors and the hand-me -down recipes are what dovetailed into culture & identity in an unknown land.
Food , gives you the sense of comfort , the sense of being home , even in an alien land , amongst strangers , even when you are an unwelcome presence in the gathering . “Querencia” I believe it is called . This source of comfort and strength .
Anyways , so even though I started appreciating home food and mom’s cooking during my hostel years , what really put my food understanding in the fifth gear was my pregnancy . I had a very difficult pregnancy with overwhelming nausea . The very sight and smell of food was enough to send me rushing to the washroom to empty my innards . And during this time , the only food that I could eat was good old Sambhar with Dosa or idli . A steaming plate of idlis would do wonders to my foul mood and hormone overdosed body . And no surprise, that was the only food that stayed inside me too ! I could have never believed that a bowl of the worst Sambhar and idlis could have reduced me to tears .Tears of joy for a change . But it did . True story that.
Anyways, so I started cooking post this and I can now put together a decent meal . So this time , when hubby’s father came visiting I served him his favorite foods , which was Rui Macher Kalia( Carp in a spicy onion and tomato gravy ), Aloo-potoler dalna (A light gravy of Potatoes and Pointed gourd ), Poshto Pabda (Indian catfish in a gravy of poppy seeds ), Parshe Macher Jhol( Bengal Parshey Fish in a lightly spiced gravy) , Chorchori ( Mix vegetables), Alu Phulkopir Dalna( Potato & Cauliflower Gravy) and of course Mangsho Jhol (Mutton Curry) amongst many. He was delighted and it was a delight for me to serve him. I pulled out all stops to make his stay an enjoyable one . And for once I understood, when he confessed that the only joy in his life is that of good food .And I also understand why one tends to reserve the “good” for the food that one has grown up eating.
And this time, I was not upset when he used “Good food” to exemplify Bengali cuisine because I know that’s the food that reaches out to his soul. I now see the wisdom in the adage “The way to a man’s and a woman’s heart is through their stomach ”
Do you have a Food story too?