Sunday, March 30, 2008

A New-Found Love

"It's therapeutic for me," a friend had once remarked, referring to the daily chore of cooking. In Mumbai, more than in Delhi, cooking is largely an outsourced task. Breakfast is on the run, if it is more than a cup of tea or coffee, that is. Lunch is usually provided by the famed dabbawalas, the school or office catering service, or ordered from the zillion Udupi-like joints dotting the city's landscape. For dinner, most working couples rely on a cook, who will make a full meal of sabzi, dal, roti and rice.

I sometimes wonder at the big fuss we humans make of our meals. We need each ingredient prepared in a certain way--fried, boiled, steamed, microwaved; flavored with specific spices, whole or ground. Each component then has to be ideally paired with another--garlic bread with baked veggies; pita bread with hummus; pasta with wine; roti with sabzi; sambar or avial with rice; puri with chhole.... And then we come to dessert, which is the main course for many people. While we spend ages stocking up on ingredients and planning and preparing our meals; in the animal kingdom, and in much of the human world, the fight is for getting a meal at all. Sometimes, the food aspect of our lives seems an obscene waste of time to me.

At other times, the art of cooking is completely fascinating. How the same vegetable is cooked in different ways in different regions; how certain ingredients are combined to provide unforgettable flavours; how all the senses are tantalized through the act of cooking are all extremely interesting. The learning process of trying out and perfecting a new recipe is endlessly exciting.

Feeding a hungry person was supposed to be one of the biggest acts of punya in our ancient literature. I think it was not because of just filling the stomach; it was about providing a sense of peace and satiation that can only come from a good meal. There's always a little bit of the cook in a well-prepared dish; that's what lifts a meal above the level of food.