I horrify people when I say I wish I didn’t have to eat. They assume I’m bulimic or anorexic, or both – the fact is, I don’t like food. It’s time-consuming, involves labour, is messy, and leaves stains and smells behind. I rarely care what I eat. My dream invention would be a pill that ensured we got our nutrients – something we could pop a few times a day to keep our bodies ticking, and get on with more interesting work. This would also gladden the animal rights activist in me. I’m bewildered and fascinated by people who seem to spend most of their breaks between meals looking forward to their next feast.
When I moved into what I like to call my bachelor pad – it’s a three-bedroom apartment by the sea, with lovely furniture and shelves filled with books, and all the gadgets a recluse could possibly want (not need) – I forgot to take an induction stove. I survived on cornflakes and untoasted bread with cheese for a week. I don’t see why people find that shocking.
Now, it’s not like I don’t have a choice. I happen to be a good cook. I cook the same way I eat – quickly, and without fuss. I throw in random ingredients, whip something up, and it usually tastes good. I don’t use recipes. I cook by instinct, and when I’m in the mood. I don’t use words like ‘simmer’ or ‘sauté’. To me, it’s ‘low heat’, ‘full heat’, ‘medium heat’; ‘two minutes’, ‘a few minutes’, and ‘until bored’.
Apparently, most people who cook like to watch other people eat their food, and bask in the praise. On the occasion that someone harangues me enough for me to run out of excuses to have that person – usually accompanied by a group of strangers – over, I see freeloaders gorging on vegetables, milk products and spices, making sounds that would indicate they were doing something more fun than exercising their jaws. As they munch and exhort me to eat, I want to tell them to finish and wash up while I go write or read.
[quote]I often find myself at a table where the lady of the house proudly displays a dish that took her five hours to make and five generations to master[/quote]
It’s bad enough when I’m hosting people. It’s truly frightening when people are hosting me. There are only so many invitations one can turn down by saying honestly that one doesn’t like food or people. So, I often find myself at a table, where the lady of the house proudly displays a dish that took her five hours to make, and five generations to master.
“Taste it,” she says, and her family focuses on me.
“Oh, it’s nice,” I say.
Her face crumples like used tissue paper. “You don’t like it?”
“No…no, it really is nice,” I say, “What is it, exactly? I’ve never tasted anything like this before.”
She perks up, and I’m listening to a story about her great-grandmother running out of flour, and having to cook for her husband’s friends. You’d think the woman would have served her progeny better by asking him to take them to a hotel than by indulging him with a recipe fit to pass down along with her gold-and-ivory enamelled tiger claw brooch.
When the man of the house tastes the signature dish, I realise that the appropriate reaction is akin to that of a woman whose man is nuzzling her neck.
I have known friends to waste an entire evening deciding where to go to eat, and then spend all their time talking about the food, and why this was a good choice of place to come and talk. Of course, food talk beats nappy talk, which is seemingly the only alternative once you hit your late twenties.
Strangely enough, I was once recruited to accompany a friend to a food review. So, you walk into a fine-dining place, and the chef sits with you, and explains how he cooked everything you’re eating. The samples keep coming in, and a PR person ensures there’s enough budget liquor on the table to make you feel obliged to write a positive review. You’re stuffing random flavours into your mouth, while your food reviewer friend shows off the vocabulary she has picked up from Nigella Lawson. Then, you leave without paying. Worse, you leave without tipping. After two such trips, I turned vegan. That temporary experiment had the effect of permanently killing my cravings for chocolate and cheese.
Often, I remember a painful evening from my student days in London. I was out with desis who wanted desi food. I didn’t see why they couldn’t wait a few months, when they would go back home. They began to vet restaurants, first by price (but of course), then by range, and then by quality. We finally settled on a depressing restaurant in Covent Garden, where everything tasted sweet. We eventually discovered the ‘Indian restaurant’ was owned by Greeks. I’m sure there’s a metaphor somewhere in there.
Nandini Krishnan is the author of Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage