The exercise was to write about your favourite food using 5 senses.
The amber liquid
And the tinkling sound
The peaty flavour
So smooth it goes down
The aroma of nectar
Single malt I’ll be bound
#humour #KitchenFisasco #BachelorsLife #WhyPigsHaveWings #DifferentTruths
Here’s an interesting account by Soumya, a humourist, on cooking. We are introducing his humour column, beginning this week, on Tuesdays, exclusively on Different Truths. I am a foodie. My girth hints at it. I take a keen interest in the creative process of cooking too, but all strictly theoretical. I also enjoy cooking as a spectator sport. The glamorous cooks on television make it look so sexy. [ 933 more words ]
Cooking my Goose
I am a foodie. My girth hints at it. I take a keen interest in the creative process of cooking too, but all strictly theoretical. I also enjoy cooking as a spectator sport. The glamorous cooks on television make it look so sexy. However, the actual mechanics of it have eluded me so far.
Having grown up in the strictly feudal atmosphere of a Bengali Bhadralok family, I learnt to appreciate fine food, without ever wondering about the process that creates it. Our kitchen was presided over by a family heirloom, the venerable Maharaj from a neighbouring state, who dished out delectable repasts ala Anatole of Blandings fame but jealously guarded his domain, where even my mother was denied entry.
When I finally left the comfortable cocoon of home and later hostel to venture out into the big bad world to forage for the daily bhat mach or pizza, this shortcoming became a problem.
I moved into a Barsati with some friends, a typical bachelor dig. Those of you who have seen Chasme Baddoor will get the idea even if you have not lived it.
For economies sake, for we were impecunious bachelors, we decided to try cooking at home. The onus of providing dinner came by turns. When my turn came I thought that khichuri will be a simple enough dish, as you could add rice dal vegetables eggs sausages spices and everything one could think of in the pot with ghee and add water and boil and it’s done. The subtleties of proportion and timing and controlled heat escaped me.
The net result was that the mix turned black and started emitting a foul smelling smoke. Adding more water in a desperate bid to salvage my creation turned it into a thick black liquid broth. I dared not taste it.
I tried calling my creation Hungarian Goulash and try it out on our most gullible roommate, but even he saw through it. I was demoted to procurer of ingredients, leaving the creative side to my more skilled roomies
When I lost my single status and my partner moved in, my roommates moved out. My wife was a superb cook, and my attempts to help out were quashed on the grounds of slowing down the process and leaving a mess in the kitchen. My guilt regarding my inability forcing her to do two difficult tasks, cooking the books at the workplace, and a multicourse Bengali Punjabi fusion cuisine at home continued to niggle, and we arrived at a compromise solution of hiring help in the kitchen, supervised by the LOH.
In due course, kids appeared on the scene, made life a delicious blur, and the years whirred past. Soon I had three militant feminists, who had allergic reactions to my feudal mores, running my life.
The fallout was that it was decreed that all of us would be self sufficient, and at least make our own breakfasts.
Gone were the days of stuffed parathas in the morning, with generous dollops of white butter, which transformed me from the svelte youth to the rotund old man. The dictum was that everyone had to prepare their own breakfast.
The obvious answer was cereal with milk and toast and fried eggs. This I concluded would be well within my limited capabilities. Pouring the cereal in the bowl and pouring the milk on top was done without a hitch. The toaster popped up the toasts unaided, and spreading the butter was the toughest task so far, but I managed it without mishap. The first few days, I stuck to bread and jam, buttered toasts, sandwiches made from sandwich spreads and cereals soaked in milk for breakfast.
Now I came to the real test. I was attempting eggs, sunny side up. I waited till I was alone at home. It looked so easy on screen. The pan is placed on the stove. A dollop of butter is plonked in, and starts sizzling and bubbling. Now with one smooth movement of the hand, the egg was to be cracked on the edge of the pan, and the egg neatly drops in and magically turns into a golden smiley face. It looked so easy, elegant and stylish. The hand holding the egg swooped in. Contact was made with the edge. So far everything was going as per script. But now deviations set in. The pan leapt off the stove, the hot butter splattered me, and the smashed egg was all over the floor.
While I soaked under the tap and danced about in pain, my faithful Labrador cleared up the floor of the mess, shells and all, even cleaning the pan.
Undaunted, I geared up for attempt number two. I tried a less flamboyant method now. Pan, butter all in place, I held the egg over the pan and tried to crack it with a knife, to let the stuff plonk into the pan. It looked really simple on screen. But no, here too, things did not run as per script. The egg smashed and fell in the pan, shells and all.
After faithful Labrador removed all tell tale evidence of crime once again, a third attempt was planned. Robert Bruce tried seven times before defeating England we have learnt, but I had only six tries, limited by number of eggs in the fridge.
This time egg was broken into a separate bowl. After fishing out as many of the shells as I could, the egg was successfully poured into the pan. But the result wasn’t the golden center ringed by a white beach as advertised, but a yellowish white amoeba, brown around the edges, with bits of shell hidden inside.
I have discovered that ordering a takeout is the best for anything more ambitious than bread and jam.
Wild Part 1, chapter 14 of Memory, a novella
Written for Nanowrimo
Copyright(c) Soumya Mukherjee
The tourists spotted some movement in the grass and a flash of colour. Alerted by their excitement, the forest ranger focused his binoculars. To his alarm, he noticed some people hiding in the grass. The tourists’ initial disappointment that it wasn’t a big cat gave way to renewed excitement at witnessing the capture of some poachers at first hand. The ranger sent a wireless message to his colleagues, and soon a posse of guards started giving chase to the unauthorised humans in the tiger reserve.
The interlopers being chased were actually four college kids, having an extraordinary and highly unlawful travel adventure. The fugitives were Ron from Shillong, the crazy guy who was game for anything; Desi from Mumbai, who was the wildlife expert and an extremely law abiding citizen until recently; Jo from Australia who was trying to travel the world on a bicycle; and Boy, the originator of all such harebrained schemes.
It all started a few days back in Delhi, when they were planning to go backpacking in Goa, when Desi wanted to join them, to have an adventure before starting his career in government. He also had some camping gear. So Boy borrowed his sleeping bags and backpacks and promising to show him the real India AND bring him back safely, took off in the Bombay Mail. Being low on funds, they dispensed with buying tickets, and huddled on the floor of the general compartment, where the vast majority of our countrymen travel gratis, being too poor to buy tickets, and not much concerned with legalities. Few ticket checkers brave those crowds to catch offenders.
On the way, Desi spoke of the Ranthambore Tiger reserve, which he hadn’t been to, and which was not far from Sawai Madhopur, a station they were passing through. So a toss of coin decided that they get off there, and continue their journey after a detour in this forest. From Sawai Madhopur, they hitched a lift on a tractor up to the village at Rantambore. While waiting for a lift, Boy met Jo and his bicycle, with a fund of stories of cycling around the heart of India. Fascinated, he promptly co-opted him in their team, and dragged him along.
Utter disappointment awaited them at Rantambore. There was no budget accommodation, and to enter the forest they needed a permit,which was available at Sawai Madhopur.
Dejected, Boy decided to explore the ancient ruins and temple in the nearby hill and look for some food and shelter in the tiny hamlet there.
Here the warm embrace of Bharat awaited Boy.. Not knowing the dialect, and Desi the only one with passable Hindi, they mimicked eating and sleeping to the ladies in all encompassing ghunghat, who seemed the only people there. They were invited into one of the homes, and fed what seemed to be large lumps of roasted dough with ghee and tall brass tumblers of buttermilk. This was Boy’s first introduction to the famed Dal Bati and Chach. The giggling ladies whose faces remained firmly behind veils found everything about them extremely amusing; Their lack of appetite, when they couldn’t consume the mountains of food offered, not knowing the language, seeking shelter in the village, and desire to explore the forest on foot. Falling over each other in laughter, they laid some charpoys in their courtyard and directed them to take a siesta, which they gratefully accepted
Refreshed, they explored the ruins and visited the ancient temple, where a Rana was said to have offered his own head as a sacrifice to Shiva, and been suitably rewarded. They bathed and swam in the ancient tank by the temple, then got scared off by the resident turtles, which they took to be crocodiles, plenty of which they had seen by the lake.
In the evening, the men folk returned, and over communal chillums they promised to take Boy to the forest the next day, along with them when they go to illegally graze their cattle and collect firewood and other forest produce, which the law denies them but tradition promises them. Thrilled, Boy politely declined further hospitality, and went to sleep in the ruins, with many warnings from our hosts to never let the fire go out at night, or else.
So they decided to take turns to stay up and tend the fire, and ate bajre ka rotis and achar and gur which the villagers had packed for them, made tea in Jo’s billycan, without which all Australians are incomplete, and slept off in the deep silent forest, among ancient ruins where people offer heads to Gods, after sharing a companionable chillum. Jo’s cycle was kept in the village.
Boy was woken up early in the morning by their hosts and strongly admonished, for they were all sleeping soundly, the fire was off, which was good, for they could at most have been eaten by predators, but an untended fire can cause a forest fire and do untold damage. Duly chastened, Boy meekly followed them into the core area, in the spirit of civil disobedience. After a thrilling trek, where every bush seemed to hide lurking beasts, but spotting nothing more ominous than the herds of cheetal and neelgai, and packs of langoors and numerous birds, especially peacocks, they were escorted to a cave, said to be occupied by a sadhu, the sole human resident of the forest, who was to be their host that night, the villagers shared a meal and the communal chillum with them and left rations of chana and gur, telling them not to stray, stay out of sight, away from tourist jeep routes, animal paths, and forest guards, who in their view were more to be feared than the resident animals. They were also shown the escape route if spotted, as the guards had no jurisdiction outside the boundaries, and the nearest police station was Sawai Madhopur. Boy’s offer of monetary compensation was turned down with hurt pride. He apologized and parted friends.
They bathed in the stream by the cave, and settled down in the coming dusk, waiting for the Sadhu in his cave, listening to the myriad forest sounds.
He came in silently, unsurprised by strangers in his abode, and taught Boy how to make rotis on bare rock among small flames, and curry from some wild roots and berries and the right way to fill, light and smoke a chillum. He spoke of his life and the reasons for this solitary life, his philosophy, the forest, and living in harmony. But that will be another story
.Thus started the second night in the forest, deep inside, but not pitch dark, as stars twinkled and moonlight filtered in through the trees, and not silent either, as the forest sounds from the stream, wind, trees and unseen creatures filled the night. The herbal stimuli were making Boy’s minds see animals at every shadow, and the unaccustomed diet was making his stomach rumble. Fear prevented Boy from moving out to the bushes to relieve the rumblings, and his companions prevented him from polluting the environment near the cave.
As to how this was resolved, and further encounters with wild animals and wilder guards, and how they survived to tell the tale, will come in episode two, as I am tired from typing and you from reading if in fact you have reached so far…
See you later, alligator, quite literally….. wait for part two
Aloo was lonely. He had traveled the world. Far from his homeland in South America he had travelled with the Spanish Armada and the Portuguese galleons and even with the English pirates. He was celebrated in Europe, especially England, where he was paired off with boiled mutton and sometimes with roast beef. In Ireland he became the staple diet.
Now he had moved to distant India with the Europeans. He was welcomed here. The land suited him. It reminded him of his homeland. He had found many partners here. In the northern part, he was paired off with Poori. Further north he had an intense and close relation with the paratha. So much so, that they were known as ’ aloo ki paratha’ as a couple. In the east he was again paired with meat, but this time in a curry. In the west he was paired once again with another European import, the bun, known here as ‘pao’. Vada pao was quite an item here. He was there in golgappa, partnered gobi, palak, methi, with various degrees of success. In fact, with gobi it looked like a bond made in heaven, and with besan as aloo chop he was a runaway hit. In the south he was wed to the plain dosa, to bring masala to her life.
But something was missing .He wanted that special something. The x-factor. The chemistry. Something that would not be limited by regional bias. Something that would pass the test of time. Something that would suppress their individual identities and where they would be known as a single entity for eternity, happily ever after.
Then it happened! She was a square piece of dough, soaked in oil. Peculiar looking. But something called out to aloo’s soul. He leapt into her arms. She wrapped herself around him. He was totally engulfed by her. They made a peculiar shape, not smooth at all, but angular. In fact, triangular. A love triangle? Not the most portent of signs for happily ever after. But nothing mattered to the crazy couple. The temperature soared. They were tried ,or should we say fried, in fire, or rather, boiling oil! They reached climax! No more could they be recognized independently. They had fused to be something new and exciting. It was the SAMOSA! T .They were the hottest couple in town. But known as a singular number; golden hot and angular. They were the toast of the country, ignoring narrow regional boundaries. International one too! They passed the test of time. Aloo and dough, lived together in perfect harmony, happily ever after.
I am a foodie. My girth gives credence to the fact. But when I try to remember specific feasts, it is not the quality of the meals, and definitely not the quantity, but the associated memories, the ambience, the locale, the company and the circumstances in which they were enjoyed that make them memorable. Often it was poor fare by any gourmet standards or any standards at all, but the enjoyment derived beats Michelin rated chefs hollow. Not that I usually dine in that style, but had the good fortune of sampling a few. Enough of this preamble; Listed are some meals I vividly remember, despite being in an elevated spiritual plane when partaking in them.
In no particular order—–
Dal bati and chach.—1983 Rantambore
Venue- a remote hamlet near Ranthambore in Rajasthan.
Ambience-Squattig on the mud floor, being served by giggling veiled women
Company- three more backpackers, from Shillong, Mumbai and Australia respectively.
Hosts-A bevy of Rajasthani belles, wives and daughters of illegal wood gatherers and herdsmen, giggling behind their veils, and conversing through sign language and an incomprehensible dialect.
Menu- Lumps of dough made of Bajra roasted directly on wood fire, crumbled with homemade ghee, and some sort of lentil. This is dal bati, a rural Rajasthani staple, one helping of which is enough to bloat a city dweller. This is washed down with buttermilk or chach in huge brass tumblers. Even the chillum enhanced appetite wasn’t sufficient to consume more.
This was during a backpacking trip in Rajasthan, when we were denied legal entry in the Tiger Reserve and given shelter by complete strangers in a nearby hamlet. The ladies fed us, found our demeanor and appetites hilarious, when we showed helplessness in having more than one helping .Purdah was maintained by them staying just indoors and roaring with laughter from behind ghunghats, or veils. We were referred to as” Bawre”-the crazy ones. We slept in their courtyard, and later entered the forest illegally with their men folk, carrying a packed lunch of chana and gur, or, as the Aussi called it, Nuts and sugar. Suggestions of reimbursement of costs was considered extreme bad manners as we were guests.
Goat intestine, red rice and Ghanti –1986 Kalpa
Venue-a high altitude village in the Kinnaur region in Himachal Pradesh
Ambience-Dancing in the moonlight in a grassy knoll, snow peaks all around, beautiful Kinnauri belles forming long swaying human chains
Company- my 12 fellow trekkers (including my wife) and most of the Kinnauri villagers gathered for the Poornima Mela or full moon fair
Hosts-the entire village represented by their Headman
Menu-Ghanti ,which is a sort of apple cider, goat intestine cooked I don’t know how.
This was the 12th day of the Kinnaur Kailash trek, courtesy Indian Mountaineering Federation, in the inner line area of Kinnaur. As in those days the area was inaccessible and prohibited to tourists, locals had not met outsiders and at every camp we were greeted by the nearest village and joined in on their impromptu singing and dancing to folk songs around campfires drinking prodigious amounts of Ghanti, which is the local brew made from apples and apricots. But the grand finale was the new moon fair, where we were special invitees and honored guests. A goat was sacrificed, and after many hours of inebriated dancing and singing incomprehensible songs, we had the starter made of goat’s intestines and some kind of red rice or grain washed down with even more ghanti, till I passed out. I was later carried back to camp in procession by the villagers singing improper Bengali songs I had taught them.
Unidentified meat, rice and Millet Chang —2001 Yumthang
Venue- The village drinking hole in a small hamlet in North Sikkim
Ambience- Low smoky stone room with a blazing fire on which cauldrons are bubbling, squatting on Yak skins on low stools with a bench in front, old lady in exotic garb smiling and serving, crowd of Lepcha villagers quizzing us in unknown tongue, and we are responding with the two Lepcha words we know
Menu- Chang, served as a pile of fermented millet heaped in a large cut bamboo, into which boiling water is poured from a battered ancient brass samovar, and the resultant concoction is sipped through thin bamboo pipes. Accompanied by bits of meat of which you can’t guess the origin.
Company—my wife, daughter, our driver cum guide and local Lepcha villagers
In North Sikkim during a home stay in this high altitude village, this was the most exotic pub I have seen, which includes Indiana Jones films
Fish Crab and Unknown Bird, Roasted on open Fire and river chilled Mahua – Jona , Jharkhand, 2002
Venue-open air among rocks and roaring water, at the Jona falls near Ranchi
Ambience- – Bathing in the falls, deserted thanks to fear of Maoists. The lone tribal man fishing and trapping in the river turned out not to b a terrorist but a gracious villager who offered to share his meal.
Menu- freshly caught fish and crab, gutted, stuck on sticks and roasted on an open fire. Ditto small bird trapped or shot with sling. Served on leaves. Washed down with Mahua, the delicious elixir made from the red flowering tree, which intoxicates elephants bears deer monkey and birds, from old beer bottles, cooled in the rushing stream.
Company- My colleague from Ranchi who knew of this place, and the suspected red menace
Having a day to kill after a business trip to Ranchi got over early; we visited the now deserted Jona falls and had this memorable experience which made me miss the flight back. Our tribal host was happy with whatever we offered him. He didn’t ask, nor demur, nor bargain, merely gravely accepted whatever was offered.
Nun Cha, and Mathi in Kashmir—2013
Venue- a Kashmiri wooden house in a village, somewhere on route Gulmarg
Ambience- Squatting on a carpet in the central room of the traditional house, surrounded by a bevy of stunning women, please note no burkha or veil, all relatives of our driver , being quizzed as the first outsiders or Indians as they called us, to ever visit their home.
Menu- Salt tea or Nun cha, a Kashmiri staple not available in shops, which involves night long soaking and hours of boiling, and is more like soup, and Mathi, or home baked salted pastries.
It happened by chance, when stopping for Kava after a Wazwan at well known eateries on route Gulmarg. Our driver, whom my wife suspected of being a terrorist, confided on quizzing that this isn’t what they have at home. When I wanted to sample home fare, he invited us home. Leaving the main road, and finally the car, we walked down narrow lanes to the wooden house, our host answering every villager’s questions on the way. His sister hosted the tea party, and everyone posed for photographs. Other than security forces on search operations, we were the first outsiders in their village in three decades
Scrambled eggs, Sausages, and bread and an array of liquid, herbal and chemical elixirs for spiritual upliftment and expansion of consciousness.—Delhi 1985
Venue- my barsati bachelor pad in Delhi
Ambience- impromptu pot luck party which was also my wedding feast
Company- my new bride and a whole bunch of disreputable friends
Menu- being pot luck, everyone brought something to ensure high spirits, whether liquid solid or whatever, but no one remembered food. A sober neighbor went out and got a lot of eggs, sausages, bread and butter and that was the meal that cheered everyone but my wife.
Being a sudden decision and being broke, my post elopement party went like this. We left a room and terrace full of comatose people and went to face my unsuspecting parents and furious in-laws
Here are some links to stories where these meals figure