Too little too much

Remember the time when you had the first bite of that delightful chicken curry your mother made one sultry April afternoon? Or that soft, springy cake with that rich icing, or sitting on the terrace, sipping that cup of extra sweet tea. I can remember a thousand instances that take me back home, to my mother’s kitchen and remind me of all the pleasant moments, captured ever so subtly, accounted in a way it can never be written off.

Staying away from home was always going to mean more of “ready-made” food and the rescue by your maid or cook. I started a boarding school at the tender age of four. I had scarcely tasted home food and was not even old enough to relish good cooking. I was thrust into a daily breakfast cycle of under-buttered bread, chole, and hard-boiled eggs for about 12 years. By the time I was old enough to shave, I was gorging thupkas and momos in Darjeeling like there was no tomorrow.

It took me some time to finally learn that food can be cooked and served in a way that is unique to every culture and person. My days spent in boarding school, the periodical holidays home and the investigative ventures through hilly streets taught me that cooking can be diverse and alike in recalling memories.

Tuesday nights for me will always remain 12 years of chole bhature. There was certain sweetness to that flour dough, and the spices in the chickpeas left you with an unquenchable longing to jump into another mouthful. My hostel cook had no Michelin star, but he did enough to content 400 hungry kids every second dinner of the week.

As I grew older, my adventures in the kitchen grew frequent. I used to sit on the marble floor at home and ask my mother about everything she put in the pan. I was taller than her now, and the bottom of the frying pan was no visual dilemma. A different world had popped up and curiosity took over.

There were times when the doorbell rang or she had to rush to the office, I was designated stirring the curry and looking after the milk. Don’t let it dry too much, her faint voice trailed. Petrified of destroying lunch, I stared at the curry bubbling away in haste. I quickly filled a cup of water and stood there, arm extended, a statue frozen in time.

The fat separated but the chicken was still undercooked. Masala had begun to sediment at the bottom and a slight trace of brown appeared. I threw in half cup of water, gave a quick swivel and turned down the heat. I had seen Mother do the same. The day had been saved, no charred meat today. My mother came back to see my effort, half surprised and half expectant. I was elated at my attempt and handed the spoon back to her, leaving the kitchen with a sense of triumph. Too much water, rang the calls from the kitchen.

That is how my food journey started.

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