Food, glorious food.

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To call myself a foodie would be an understatement. My love affair with food began quite early. Even as a child, I was somehow drawn to food the way sugar draws ants. In a way, my obsession with food and books have a mutually common base and an intensely satisfying connection with each other!

By virtue of being a painfully shy kid, I was always happy hiding behind books, which acted as my comfort zone. My earliest memories of reading go back to when I was 7, and when I was given an Enid Blyton book of a circus girl, Carlotta, and her adventures. For someone who had a secret appetite for adventure, her life almost seemed magical. More awe inspiring though, were the different kinds of food described in the book. I must say, Enid Blyton was a master in making the most drab of foods seem so gourmet like, that I grew up on fantasized versions of  Ginger beer, sandwiches, lemonade (which I later discovered was a fancy name for nimbu pani!), boiled eggs, fresh fruits, jam, pickles, midnight feasts and picnics over the hillside. These were the dreams that my childhood was made of. I would almost smell the mountain air, feel the texture of the sandwich and hallucinate the taste of ginger beer. Through Malory towers, Famous five and  Five find outers, unconsciously I became a fan of food.

My make believe games involved getting some food from the bakery, putting it in a basket, laying it out  and having imaginary picnics with myself, and of course my books for company! Over the years, my love for food diversified from street food and chaat to food from north Indian restaurants(which in the 80s were the only alternative cuisine available in Shimoga) and later a fetish for Chinese. Even as my memory for other important things fails me at that most crucial of times, like names of people whom I am definitely supposed to be knowing; food memories never deny me that favor. I still remember the taste of Hakka noodles made by a small Chinese joint in Shimoga which shut shop  a few months later due to lack of regular patrons (other than me, of course!).

Over the years, my love for books and food grew in equal measure, both competing for the first spot. My college days in Mangalore opened new avenues to explore, the best of both worlds. I think I must be the only person who spent all her pocket money on food and the library. I am sure though, that I am the only person in the whole world who read loads of crappy mills and boons only to enjoy the description of food which is described in it rather than the romance! I was introduced to fancy names, french food, Hors d’ oeuvres(which by the way, I still do not know how to pronounce), wine and the mouth watering deserts like Crepe Suzette which I enjoyed by proxy, through these books.

Back then, the only kind of food writing that I knew of were cook books, which describe cooking in a really dull, drab way, measuring each ingredient in great detail, and eventually spoiling the spontaneity of it all! Which is why, I love the way Nigella Lawson cooks. Just by instinct- a handful of this, a sprinkle of that, a bunch of coriander  torn right out of the garden, whisk it all together, and viola! You have a drool worthy dish in front of you! Any ways, I’m digressing, which usually happens when I am talking food.

Coming back to the point, I only got to know that there was a genre’ called food writing  when I discovered a book at a sale. The book called “Endless feasts”, edited by Ruth Reichl, is a collection of articles that various food journalists in Europe and America. The book describes delicious traditional breakfasts of Maine, the grandiose dinners at Ritz in Paris, and stories of how Italian home food is made. Though being a vegetarian meant that I could not even try most of what was described, the descriptions were enough to make my mouth water! From then on, I was hooked! Every book shop I went to, I would scour in the cooking section for hidden gems like these.  They are really difficult to find, and when I did chance upon one, they would be quite harsh on my purse! Nevertheless, over the years I have managed to make up my very own small yet tasty food library! In fact, these are the only books which I return to again and again, when I am in distress. They are my therapists!

For those of you who dig books like these, a list of my favorites:

1. Eating India, by Chitrita Banerjee — which describes the different cuisines of India elaborately along with the history attached to each kind of food. For example, the culinary mastery of chef Pir Ali, who delighted the Nizam of Lucknow’s English guests by presenting a pie which contained tiny live birds which flew away when the crust was opened! Maybe, some connection to the English rhyme, sing a song of six pence….. Such anecdotes makes each dish interesting and each cuisine worth exploring. Different cuisines of India are thoroughly explored and tasted, leaving you slightly full and satiated, by the time you put the book down.

2. Kheer,Korma and Kismet, by Pamela Timms — who is a Scottish Journalist, living in Delhi. This book describes the yummy street food(my favorite kind) of Delhi in vivid detail, down to romantic gully names like Hauz Qazi Chowk,Ballimaran and Chawri Bazaar which elevate the food from the streets to something more exotic and something for which you want to catch the next train to Delhi in a tearing hurry. Daulat ka chaat, phirni, chana bathura,kheer… I’m coming!

  1. Hot tea across India, by engineer turned writer Rishad Saam Mehta. I have always been a lover of coffee, but this book converted me. The book describes the author’s tryst with different types of tea all over India and anecdotes built around it. It describes a journey he took on his bike and how he encountered diverse people, simple meals, different but tasty versions of tea. Definitely my cup of tea!(pun intended)
  2. Choclat, by Joanne Harris . Though this book is about a bigger something, with a moral behind the story and all that, the main attraction remains … yes,the chocolate. Believe me, when you read this book, you can actually smell the warm smells of bread and hot chocolate emanating out of the book. Pralines, marzipans, pastries, hot chocolate and bonbons creep into your dreams and give you a feeling of fuzzy happiness.

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5. Eat, pray love, by Elizabeth Gilbert . Well, to be more specific, the EAT part of the book. That someone could travel to an unknown place, just to experience eating made me feel as if I was reading about a kindred spirit! I would soo do it, if I could just brush my other responsibilities under the carpet! And to go to Italy, would be icing on the cake, but I would be happy just about anywhere! After this book, I don’t feel so weird anymore for being in love with food.

6.The temporary bride by Jennifer Klinec. This book is a non vegetarians delight. It describes the various kinds of food prepared in Iran, and how two people fell in love while exploring food. Some of the food described slightly grossed me out, but nevertheless, I would certainly recommend it for the lovely description of the food given.

There are many more such books which describe food with the love and attention that it deserves on my wish list. With instagram, good reads and tv shows, my ongiong love affair with food has reached new proportions. But, how much ever these tempt me, there is nothing like the comfort you get when you are curled up with a good book, a cup of chai, a plateful of  pakodas, or a bar of dairy milk crackle, or a bag of kurkure, or french fries, or paneer chilli or…hmmmm… the list goes on.

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Rejuvenation!

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Hello everyone.Every once in a while, there comes a time in my life when I suffer from a severe case of “exhaustion block”, diagnosed by the symptoms of extreme sleepiness whenever the computer is switched on and complete blankness of mind at all other times! The past two weeks, hence were used to read, both books and blogs, which sort of recharged my system.

One of the blogs which helped me out of my mental exhaustion is by an Australian called Phoebe(yes, just like the one from friends) called The Little Grey box. (I have not yet mastered the art and the science behind making a blog link open by somehow attaching the link in my blog, so you have to google it if you want!). She writes about travel and inspiration. It is how she writes about really philosophical things in a way that makes you understand what she means to say, that make the blog a good read. When down in the dumps, read Phoebe, has been my mantra the last two weeks!  Then there is a cooking blog or website called the Edible Garden, which opens under the link www.cookingandme.com which gives you really nice recipes which are easy to make and the way the recipes are explained make you feel like as though the writer is speaking to you! So, I have also been trying out recipies in a frenzy!

Apart from this, I read a book called ‘All about Bacteria’ written by an Indian author Ravi Mantha. Got intrigued what someone could write for 230 pages about bacteria under the category of ‘popular’ non fiction. But the book is good. It is about the millions of trillions of bacteria which live in and around us and have been totally misunderstood as beings which out there to make our lives miserable! The book goes on to explain how all bacteria are not pathogens and that we needed quite a few to be healthy too. The bacterial symbiote is based on the premise that humans and bacteria have lived in harmony together for times immemorial, and only a handful of these bacteria cause us illness. Hence, just as a few bad experiences do not put us off the whole human population for good, a few illnesses should not make us believe that all bacteria are bad for us.

When we go through our MBBS degree, we go through a whole subject called microbiology which teaches us all about harmful bacteria and what damage it causes, and side by side we learn pharmacology which is almost manically dedicated to eradicating these pathogens. But nowhere in our training that I remember, were we taught about how to understand our body bacteria and work with them rather than against them for a healthier life! Have developed a new respect for these small creatures after this book (I know I sound weird, but its true!).

Apparently in China, till about a century ago, the village doctors who were given the charge of public health of an entire village, would be paid their monthly salary only if they managed to keep the whole village sickness free for the entire month!  Great concept, right? The doctor hence needs to be a teacher, a community physician who also works a lot towards primary prevention rather than tertiary care. It also describes how the medicine we  currently practice, is now more palliative instead of curative, hence giving rise to more resistant strains of bacteria and newer mutations of the older easier illnesses. The peanut allergy syndromes, the relation between peptic ulcers and obesity, how body defenses work and many more such interesting facts are explained really well.

Remember reading a similar book long ago called ‘The Survival of the Sickest’ written by Dr. Sharon Moalem. This book is all about why we need diseases to survive!  Dr. Atul Gawande is another person whose books make me feel that medicine is all about thinking simple and logical. He makes the most simple statements, but they make such a big difference to the way we function in hospitals. I felt my work exhaustion dissipating and some new energy creeping in!

The aftermath of this was that I got so hyper interested in reading similar books and ordered a whole lot of them online and am waiting desperately for them to arrive! Will keep you posted how they are! Till then, have a happy weekend with your family and your body bacterial symbiotes!!