A Confused Take on Gastronomy

Locked up inside my house, with not much to do, I decided to put in words one of my hundred inner monologues. It’s also partially because an internet acquaintance, who was impressed with a short rant about my love for food (73.65% of my rants are about food), put their trust in me to recreate it at a larger scale.

So here I go, talking about something hopefully relatable – the sweet, sweet relation between food and the memories we create around it.

Terrible jokes and incessant lectures aside, something my dad said which has always stood out to me was that one should never hesitate when it comes to spending money on food. And when you are supporting a family of six on the salary of an Air Force non-commissioned rank, this is something you really cannot just say easily.

Like every other thing he’s ever said, he stood true to it. We may not have had the latest Hot Wheels cars or Beyblades, but we could indulge in the occasional Amul ice-cream ‘family pack’ or those mind-blowing Bytes, which you don’t get anymore. I would never know how bad things were, but I don’t remember ever getting denied a Kismi at the general store.

Also read: Mango Sutra, and a Whiff of Nostalgia

Now, when I think about my childhood, I don’t remember neighbours or friends, I remember the time spent over food. I remember the time mum made the simplest lunch ever because we were engrossed in a game of Business, or the desi version of potluck with the Tamil community in Gwalior.

There are a hundred anecdotes I can share about some of my best memories and how food played a major part in making them. But if I allow myself to ramble in an already unstructured soliloquy, my experiments with food would fill pages. And like every episode of House, it would have a predictable plot.

If nostalgia kindles a craving for a piece of cake, the image of a tall staff decked with small packs of cotton candy can evoke the memory of the first time you went to a mela and almost got lost.

The intertwining of comfort foods and fond memories is intangibly beautiful. Almost every time I share a slice of pizza with a good friend, I share the story of how we tried pizza for the first time because me and my mum were watching Bob the Builder (yes, I am humming the theme song right now and so are you), and Bob was eating a pizza in it with some small black circles on it.

Our quest to identify black olives led us to discovering the treasure that pizza is. Now, without flinching for a second, I might say I prefer a Margherita over a Funghi – as if I were the foremost authority on pizzas outside of Italy – but if not for Bob the Builder, it would have been something I’d never have discovered at the time.

Also read: ‘I’ll Have What She’s Having’ – How and Why We Copy the Choices of Others

If not obvious yet, I might as well iterate clearly that a lot of my deep-rooted tastes in food are driven by an experience or a memory. If I physically loathe baingan now, our family friend’s somewhat experimental recipe is to blame. To their credit, they do make an amazing falooda.

If I unequivocally pick a chocolate-based ice-cream flavour every time, it is simply because my crush did so on a school trip somewhere. People who flit by in your life may not affect you in a major way, but the experiences and memories do impact your choices – making your day a bit sweeter.

For someone extremely shy and resistant to change in set patterns, food is something I am willing to experiment and fail and learn – both creation and consumption alike.  I truly believe that in the short span that we inhabit this rock flying through space, there’s not much to do other than collect and create stories. Your impact may not be objectively everlasting, but to you these stories make a difference – they make you smile or smirk or maybe even shed a tear.

Like a Niffler collecting shiny objects in its pouch, I collect stories and experiences for myself. Most of the times, what drives this mostly is a childlike impulse to try something I’ve not before. That is how I ended up trying cheesecake for the first time. For someone who found the small slice of pastry at the local bakery a bit pricey, the cost of cheesecake on the menu intimidated me enough to not even bother looking up what the actual thing looked like.

Then I got a job and moved cities and landed up in a semblance of financial independence. For the first time ever, I had some cash I could spend on anything without having to feel guilty about burdening my dad and his wallet.

Also read: God, Religion and Chicken Curry: Questions From My 8-Year-Old During Lockdown

Without question, it was to be on food, so I walked into a somewhat nice restaurant and started glancing at the menu (right to left, for obvious reasons) when I saw cheesecake in the dessert section. The stars had aligned themselves and the gods of decadence had given their blessing, that was the day I finally order a cheesecake.

After ordering the cheapest pasta (aglio e olio, yet another favourite) because I did not want to feel extremely guilty about spending a lot, I looked the waiter in the eye and asked for my dessert. It appeared in front of me shortly looking nothing like what I’d imagined it to be, worrying me a bit. But the name had ‘cheese’ and ‘cake’ in it, so it can’t go spectacularly wrong, right?

I carved a small piece of it, flashes of Anton Ego in my mind for some reason, and tasted it – creating one of my fondest memories yet.

Hareesh R. is yet another Average Joe trying to sneak into Extraordinary Joseph territories.

Featured image credit: Flickr and Unsplash