Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Thoughts on food

Back on this blog after about 10 days. I suspect I have no readers, and never had. But so what! At worst this is like keeping a diary.

Today's blog is inspired by a comment by my nephew Karun. He had been to Himachal Pradesh some years ago and passed through Narkanda, near Shimla. I plan on going there myself next month so asked him what it was like. Awesome, he said. The views? I asked. No, the food, he replied. I didn't get around to asking him what kind of food it was, but I can guess. The tastiest dal or rajma, mildly spiced and perfumed with fried onions. Hot chapatis, freshly made. A vegetable on the side, possibly (knowing Karun's tastes) crisp potatoes.

Here was a place that had not heard of "Partridge and butterfly souffle with a sauce of tortured shiitake mushrooms garnished with truffle shavings and embellished with a wild-flower and red wine reduction". (Yes I made that up, but it reads like the menu in many upmarket Mumbai restaurants today.) Nor had they, hopefully, heard of more common Mumbai atrocities like "chicken bharta" (last week's chicken shredded and mixed into a featureless glop with onions, tomatoes, a lifetime supply of oil, ghee and butter, as well as sugar, salt and every spice on the planet.)

So what is it about food? Simplicity, for one thing. We imagine that more is better, but it isn't. Freshness, for another. We think freezing food for a week or a month is OK. It isn't. And finally - integrity. When food means something to the person cooking it, it tastes that much better.

One huge shock to me is that a lot of people don't recognise freshness, or its absence. On more than a dozen occasions I have been at a party where everyone is going "Mmmm! This fried fish is divine!". I've wanted to shout "no it isn't, it's merely ancient, and heavily salted and spiced to conceal the fact!". This does not mean I'm a cynic. There are places (including occasionally my own home) where the fish IS actually fresh and divine.

As for the food having to mean something - more on that next time. It's a theme I'm rather fond of.

1 comment:

Rahul said...

We were once returning from
Shimla by car early morning and the driver wanted to stop near Kalka to have something to eat. We decided to wait for him while he had his mooli paratha and dahi. This was in a small roadside non-descript dhaba most of my friends wouldn't touch with a barge pole. We weren't planning to eat having had a full breakfast.

It was not to be - the sight of the mooli paratha soon had me ordering one, and eventually so did my wife.
It was absolutely wonderful. A combination of freshness, the cool climate and the overall atmosphere of the hills (even though we had already descended....)

This has now become impossible in India in the bigger cities - good simple wholesome food..at least this is true in Chennai.The nearest is Mahabalipuram which has some of the freshest fish imaginable cooked in the simplest possible way. I am yet to find a good fish place in Chennai, despite it being a coastal city...