Sunday, April 5, 2009

Food, the language of love

“Food is a currency of love and desire, a medium of expression and communication.”[1]

Try telling my boyfriend that. Being an adventurous eater, every time I’m out at a restaurant I skim the menu for exotic offerings. He on the other hand, Mr. Bodybuilder with fat percentage seven per cent prefers lean meat. Trying a new Chinese restaurant in Bangalore, I spotted pork belly on the menu and went mad, since it is a dish not usually seen on Indian menus. Short of frothing at the mouth, I quickly decide the rest of our order. Out came the gorgeous pork belly, fat glistening, wobbling slightly on a bed of sprouts and greens. I grab my chopsticks, dig in, ecstatic in anticipation, and it hits the spot – melt in the mouth and absolutely succulent. After spending a full five minutes rolling my eyes and moaning perhaps rather inappropriately I cut a piece of pork belly in half, carefully clasp my chopsticks around the slippery sucker and swoop into boyfriend dearest’s face, shouting “open up, open up, it’s going to drop”, his reply – absolute non compliance!
This sort of situation is simply something I cannot fathom, why and how a person can be so strange to not want to try a piece of something so obviously wonderful based on the pretext of health and fitness is just absurd to me. One tiny piece, come on – would it really kill you?

Whether its cheesy scrambled eggs and generously lathered buttered warm toast for a relaxing Sunday breakfast, or classic, rich, old school Sheppard’s Pie with a side of vegetables au gratin for a special dinner, indulgent meals have always flicked on a thousand twinkling lights, and got my juices flowing, ever since I was a little girl.

I started out as a horribly slow eater, the teacher constantly sending notes home to my mother about what a nuisance I was. It wasn’t that I was fussy – I just tended to day-dream a lot. That problem vanished when I hit my early teenage years, in fact it went into overdrive, with an upsized appetite going out to dinner with my parents meant a constant inner struggle trying to pace myself through the meal. My mother would caution me several times in the car over to the restaurant, to chew slowly and allow the food to digest. But as soon as the meal would be laid out in front of me, the pre-dinner spiel went out the window and within ten minutes flat the plate would have been licked clean. It wasn’t that I was a messy eater, or bad mannered, that was far from the case, in fact it was quite the opposite people would compliment my parents on my fine dining skills ever since I was about three. It was just that food drove me mental, the thought my favourite dishes would and still does literally make my mouth water – and one main course was not enough to satiate me. Today, luckily for the most part I have mastered the art of self-control when careful about portion size, a balanced diet, binging and pick my indulgent days with care. Inevitably from about age twelve to fourteen I would order two mains, my parents giving in to my incessant eyeballing that would ensue upon demolition on the first main meal. Two mains became the norm - all I can say is thank God I grew out my voracious appetite. I can proudly say I that with my 'healthy appetite' I have always been able to match every guy I have dated bite for bite, and sometimes even eaten him under the table and out of wallet!

Food as far as my memory stretches has always held a significant place in my heart. The affinity for good food has to be credited to my parents that took the initiative to introduce and allow me to eat real, grown up food, never making those separate awful ‘kids’ meals comprising chicken nuggets or fish sticks with ketchup, which doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that it just can’t be too healthy for the kids in the first place!

By age four, I had developed a palate for blue cheese, smoked salmon and oysters. However beyond loving adventurous food that most kids my age would never have touched, I adored going out to restaurants. The restaurant experience is one that I looked forward to with great anticipation and lucky for me this was a twice weekly affair growing up. The flip side of this was that my mother had a tempting bone to dangle in front of me every time she wanted to make sure I did my chores or my homework. Being banned from a dinner outing would have shattered my world. On second thoughts, I guess not much has changed since then!

My upbringing has memories of food interwoven so intricately that food and love blur and have come to mean one and the same thing. Part of this ‘food is love’ way of life has to do with Indian culture. Coming over to our house for dinner means being dotted on at the dinner table, being offered lots and lots of food, and when I say offer, I mean forced. ‘What was that, you said you don’t like lentils, oh I didn’t hear that, too late, now you have a big spoonful on your plate, so eat it all up.’ Seconds and thirds are not optional at the Indian dinner table, rather they are mandatory, and it is usually thrust upon you by the woman of the house. And another thing Indian culture is averse to – wasting, the biggest blasphemy you could ever commit, so come prepared with pants with an adjustable waist, and skip lunch altogether.

Growing up in India, women are key figures in the home. My paternal grandparents took rotational shifts, swapping between their two sons and daughter, which meant a period of roughly three months every year would be spent at our home in Bangalore. Those three months would be a chaotic period in our kitchen, my grandmother and my mother battling for refrigerator space, access to maids to help them chop, soak, dice, prepare spice blends, clean fish, slice meat and vegetables etc and then of course who would serve which meal and when. To avoid daily confrontations it became the norm that my grandmother would prepare her full Kerala South Indian buffet style meal, replete with three kinds of rice, fish curry, meat fry, two to three dry vegetables, seasoned yoghurt, a vegetable sambar (gravy), pickles and papads for lunch every afternoon. Dinner was my mother’s responsibility and always had a global edge, which meant it could range from anything from mousakka to muligatany.

The respective chef always served and presented the meal, the wives proceeded in traditional manner to serve their husbands, smiling proudly and watching closely for their affirmative nod once the first bite was sampled. The female servitude around mealtime percolated into my being without my realising and reared its ugly head when my first boyfriend came along. Without thinking I would serve, coo and most importantly watch for the expression that acknowledged the first bite before sitting down to eat myself! Perhaps the ‘food is love’ analogy runs deep, deeper than I even thought possible. Today I don’t think, I just shovel food into my boyfriends plate, mouth whatever I can reach, I am a firm believer that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, hell that’s the quickest way to mine. So as I smile coming at him with a heaped serving of lasagne, I am positive that food is the best way of expressing love. A hearty, home cooked meal beats those three over rated words any day!

[1] Sarah Sceats. “The Food of Love: Mothering, Feeding, Eating and Desire,” in Food, Consumption and the Body in Contemporary Women's Fiction, Cambridge University Press, 2000, pp. 11-32.


Sameer "the boyfriend" said...

i loved this article!!! :)i will try anything you give me from now on,but if it has fat im only having a tiny tiny bit..but ill still try :)

Jackie Singh said...

sWell Done Megs, and oh so true!!!!!!!!!!!!

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