Food for thought


Musings Jul 12, 2020

It has been around four months into the lockdown now, and if we tell anyone that we have been doing stuff other than just eating, watching shows and sleeping, they are not going to fall for that. During this extended stay at home, most of us have realized where our priorities lie — food, in all forms, across cuisines and restaurants. Admit it, visions of round gulab jamuns, tangy, leaky golgappas, large aloo samosas, crispy ghee roast with hot sambhar, cheesy pizzas (okay, I should really stop now) gave us all sleepless nights.

Thinking about food led to me thinking more about food—and to be honest, it was not like I did not have the time. During such a one-on-one conversation with myself, I realized how people never really talk about the dark, infamous members of the food family; they are like two sides of the same dosa, right? We can’t have the smooth crispy side without having the soft batter-y side! And we definitely can’t have dosas without the thick, white coconut chutney. But heavenly combinations aside, let us indulge into the second world of the food universe, shall we?

It is amazing how most wholesome things in the world are four lettered — life, love, food, soup, dosa, cake – I could keep going on. Do you know what else is four-lettered but definitely not wholesome? UPMA! I don’t remember the last time I ate it but I actively avoid it every time I see it. Each time I met someone who went “ugh!” at the mention of upma, I’d feel happy to know that it wasn’t only me being unfair to a harmless dish. At times, I’d even come across people who have heart eyes for it and I wouldn’t understand how or why.

Apart from the fact that there exist people who eat upma of their own volition, there are several other ideas related to upma that makes me go “Whaaaaaaat!” (to be read in the voice of Jake Peralta from Brooklyn 99). If you think about it, you will find several shows and movies, particularly the non-Tamil content, glorifying upma as the representation of South Indian cuisine. If I were a plate of biryani or fluffy vadas, I’d feel betrayed. Why does it get so many guest roles for a dish that is just a concoction of a handful of ingredients and a recipe that is typically putting everything together in water and letting them fuse into one sticky mass? The scene is never complete without someone going, “Oooh! What a delicious mouth-watering upma!” and I have to ask: “Are you serious, accented uncle?”

So the real question – why do people put ‘love’ and ‘upma’ in the same sentence when there exists a ‘We intensely hate upma’ club with active members?  What is the solution to this dilemma or should I call it dil-upma (wink, wink)?

Oh also, there is an entirely different dish called the khichdi. It is basically upma dressed up for Ganesh Puja or Diwali. But who am I kidding? Khichdi with the right amount of ghee (by that, I mean a lot of it) can be heavenly!

Fun fact: Floyd Cardoz, the winner of Top Chef Masters Season 3, made upma as a part of his dish in the finale. I cannot decide which is harder to digest – this fact or the upma.

There is only so much one can do to sneak past upma. The excuse of “the sleep is too deep to wake up” has been exploited so much that my mom sees right through me now. When the option of skipping dinner altogether was thrown out of the window, I was left with two other choices: cook something for myself or eat what was already available. Given my non-existent experience in the kitchen, I naturally chose the latter. So to the fruit basket I went, because if a bowl of fruits doesn’t scream healthy and filling, what else does? Also, the look that my mom once gave me when I went for the bag of potato chips still gives me chills.

This made me wonder why cooking was even a thing when fruits offered the much sought after healthy and tasty combination. If you ever need something fancier than sliced bananas and apples, smoothies and mousses are always an option.

The fruit kingdom is so widespread and vast that I think we don’t give them enough credit sometimes. They offer a variety of beautiful, bright colours, tastes ranging from pleasantly sour to perfectly sweet and an array of textures from crunchy and pulpy to watery and fibrous.

So here are my highly intellectual thoughts on fruits and I call this “How to categorize fruits and berries like an absolute expert.” – exclusive on The Bridge.

LITERALLY NO EFFORTS:

Bananas rule this category, obviously. They are blessings as fruits. No visible seeds, no cutlery needed unless you want to pamper yourself with sliced bananas eaten with a fork. Grapes also fall under this category (seedless, of course, I don’t want grapevines growing out of me, thank you!). Apples, mangoes, strawberries – send them all in, please!

IT IS WORTH IT:

These fruits are for when you feel like working for the food that you eat. Orange, guava (too many seeds) fit under this. One can also count the watermelon in, considering the effort that goes into lifting it and dealing with the sticky feeling right after eating.

HIGH MAINTENANCE:

When in extreme boredom and in the absence of a fidget spinner to occupy your hands, one can commit to eating a pomegranate. And pineapple, what is with all the thorns? Why do people eat custard apples when they are 75% seeds and the rest flesh? In my opinion, getting the edible part out of jackfruits must be an open elective in universities.

In one way or another, food has kept us sane in these trying times. In most of our cases, it took a country-wide lockdown for us to know where the chili powder is stored in our kitchens. Diverse as food can be, it is remarkable how it brings all of us together. And this is what makes food the godsent gift it is (not talking to you, upma).

Keerthana Selvamurugan

Looking for people who can send her beautiful pictures of clouds in return for three lame jokes.

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