Friday, January 9, 2009

Good Food

No I don't have a recipe. There are several great blogs out there with some fantastic recipes, more than I have the patience to try, let alone document.

To me, good food is a blessing. A well prepared dish or a meal involves all the senses, and satisfies one's soul along with one's stomach.

A bad meal? Well, as a co-worker remarked several years ago after a particularly bad lunch at the office cafeteria, in Hindi: "Pet bhara lekin dil nahi bhara". Translation: My stomach is full, but my heart is not.

To me, good food does not have to look good, no matter what the food channels say. One good dish can make a memorable meal. My anticipation of a good meal begins with the smell. The aroma of good food awakens my taste buds and kick-starts my appetite. And then, the first look at the dish. I don't need garnishes or elegant presentation. Frankly, the food can be served in the pot it was cooked in, for all I care. Appetizers are unnecessary.

An important consideration is quantity. I have a good appetite, if I say so myself; it follows that if I feel there isn't sufficient quantity for second servings for everyone, I am greatly disappointed. Not having to think about "will it be enough?" is an important part of the experience.

Once the food is on my plate, the aroma really hits me. At this point, I do not need any drink other than water to really enjoy my meal. Appropriate silverware is important too - I dislike delaying the gratification of the first taste by struggling with ill-equipped silverware.

I best enjoy a good meal with no or little conversation, at the table, savoring each bite - being aware of each taste - sweet, sour, salty, spicy, bitter. I try an entree with various sides, to better enjoy the variation. The sides need not be elaborate - pickles, chutneys, even chips. Water, to clean my palate between variations. Occasionally I indulge myself and have some butter or ghee along-with.

I dwell on the contrasts of flavors, and how they play with each other. All talk, if any will be about the food itself - not politics or the days events or solving a problem or about people. We can leave that to after dinner.

After the meal, I usually linger at the table for a few minutes. I talk. About the food. What I liked, what I didn't. Ideas for the next time this dish is made. This is my way of acknowledging and appreciating what the meal has done for me - for my stomach and my soul. I am not religious, but a good meal is a spiritual experience for me.

As you can imagine, I seldom get the chance to enjoy a meal in this way at parties or social gatherings. In smaller gatherings - sometimes. Occasionally, at home when I am not too tired by dinnertime - mostly during the weekends - is when I get to indulge in the role of a connoisseur.

We (my husband and I) set the table, turn off the TV or music, and eat. Not fast, but at a comfortable pace. Seconds if I want to. Until I am content. A good meal sets the tone for the rest of the day. And the next day too, if I have leftovers :-).

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

In defense of ... meal planning

My apologies to Michael Pollan.

When it comes to food, I like to keep things spontaneous. I often do not decide what's for dinner until late afternoon, until I get the "inspiration" - often when I only have a few minutes to prepare a meal. Being a quick cook and a vegetarian, I could get by with this until recently.

The arrival of a baby meant that creative meals everyday was not an option - in fact, it meant chaos - in addition to all the chaos that comes with a baby. The answer? Meal planning for weekdays. And leaving the creative menus for the weekends.

How life changes after baby!

Friday, January 2, 2009


This first "real" post is an ode to my birthplace, my hometown - the incomparable city of Bombay.

Mumbai, as it is called now, will always be Bombay in my mind. The first 21 years of my life were spent in this crowded, exhilarating lump of seven islands.

My experience of Bombay will always be different from the hordes that call this city their home. I did not grow up in the "town", or in one of the "ethnic" neighborhoods. The area that I grew up in, was a secure, middle class neighborhood of the finest scientists of the country. A cosmopolitan melting pot, our neighbors were families from all over the country - each trying to adapt, mingle and assimilate - some more eagerly than others.

My mother moved to Bombay after her wedding, and as much as she missed her own hometown (and now I know what that means), she adapted well to city life. My father, who like millions of others, came to this city to find a job, has his own unique story of his journey to Bombay.

Growing up, I did not need to take a bus or a train to school, those indispensable aspects of life in Bombay. Our neighbors and friends all had one or both parents working for the same organization. Our health-care was paid for by the government. My parents did not struggle to find a good school for us, we had access to an excellent school less than 2 minutes from home.

It was only after I started attending college that I came out of the protective cocoon of our highly secure township life. I faced the daily rigor of taking a local train, and then a bus. And once in college, I found that in fact I had one of the shortest commutes among my classmates! However,what stands out in my mind is not the commute or the hardship, but the experience of college life in Bombay. I was friends with the conservative and the most liberal, with friends who had very little to friends who had everything - I mean EVERYTHING. People who had connections to the rich and the famous, to friends who were their family's ticket to a better life. I think of those days as the most educational years of my life - not because of the degree I received, but because of the life lessons I learnt there.

So I never lived the "typical" Bombay experience. But then, who really has? I am, in fact, a part - but only a part of it. Like every other Bombayite. And THAT is the "typical" Bombay story - a collection of 18 million pieces of everyday experiences.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Hello World

Hello and welcome to my blog. A chronicle of my life, this blog will document my thoughts and opinions on everything from politics to my favorite places in the world to books. Happy reading and commenting!