By Usha Amrit. Recently I was told by a friend that there are two most important things in life. One being, good food and two being sex (good or bad). Now coming from a guy, I quite expected that though I have never understood the preoccupation of the entire male species on this planet with either of them.
They say “A way to a man’s heart is through his stomach”. Now ,not only does that adage has slightly chauvinistic over tones but it spells doom for women like me who are cursed with not too demanding (insensitive) taste buds and thereof poor culinary skills. We are the culinarily challenged. Now, the most important criteria for an Indian man while looking for a wife would be “how adept is the girl in consideration with cooking the various mouth watering delicacies”. If a girl has won any cooking competition, this would definitely be a bonus for her matrimonial prospects. I for one, am not too particular about the food that I have to eat everyday. Bland German food is as good as Italian pasta or simple Dal Chawal (Lentils and rice). I have had bread for dinner (a blasphemy for many Indian stomachs) and cornflakes for lunch many a time. Neither do I mind having the same dinner itenary every night for a month. Therefore earlier I never found the need to ponder over cooking techniques and my pampered childhood encouraged my ignorance in this area.
The many nights spent over the cooking stove in the wohnheim with my fellow Indian men has opened my eyes to the extreme hardworking nature of men when it comes to satisfying their palate. When I arrived in Germany, my cooking skills were on par with doing integral calculus under differential sign knowledge- meaning nil. My only earlier experience in the culinary department was making health salads and as you know, no health food is ever tasty in the mob sense. To my surprise or shock rather, not only did all the guys know cooking but also they made elaborate Indian dishes that tasted heavenly. All were appalled that I could satisfy my appetite with fruits, brown bread and cornflakes which I displayed as my concern for good food habits while in reality it hid the horrible truth that I couldn’t cook for the life of me. My early attempts at simple dishes were disasters -some burnt, some under cooked or over cooked, over spiced or under spiced etc. I just didn’t get it! I wondered if “Yan can cook, why not me?”
Cooking was done in the common kitchen around the same time by various groups. Each group with two Indians. I unfortunately had no Indian girl to bond with right away (gender bias plus inhibition prevented any of the Indian men to chivalrously invite me to join their mini cooking club). So, I would evening after evening experiment with my dishes. My good hearted colleagues would advice me after they tasted the queer concoction I would conjure with some trepidation. I have had to put up funny questions and jeers such as “Oh, eee, what is that ‘to ‘do you like what you cook for yourself ‘’ are you sure we are in no risk of food poisoning ‘. Many of my early attempts have nearly resulted in a sort of round ‘cooking stove’ conferences on how the dish could be restored and rectified. All this put me through sheer embarrassment and inferiority complex so much so that I even tried to avoid cooking when the whole of Indian population in the vicinity cooked their ‘wedding’ meals.
I decided finally that cooking involved a methodology and one wouldn’t figure it out with simple guess work. I decided to take some lessons .I approached the most prolific cooks world wide for their tips (my best friend in UK, my mother in India). I quickly noted down recipes from the helpful gurus into my notebooks, which have been saved for posterity. Soon enough I progressed. My dishes that earlier need dire rectification or disposal now simply needed to be only enhanced (I hope I was not deluding myself there).
A very interesting observation with my fellow Indian men – even before they taste the food, they can pass judgement on the how the dish tastes by the way it looks in the plate. All of them without exception are very gifted in this supernormal phenomenon. After having crossed the hurdle of cooking some thing palatable, I was now burdened with next level in my training – making the dish look tasty as well. I guess the philosophy behind this is that food is to be enjoyed by all the five senses and therefore one should make it delicious to the eye in addition to tantalising the taste buds and olfactory nerves.
I happen to be a vegetarian and this has prevented me the trouble of cooking complicated Chicken or meat delicacies. I have no idea what Chicken Tikka or tandoori tastes like, though it has been described to the T by zealous non vegetarian missionaries (inspired by culinary bonds )trying to convert all non believers into their faith. It might not be too certain that I would resist the temptations and persuasion far too much now that I have transcended the cooking disability category.