Comfortably Numb

Sheila Kumar's Storehouse

Published on: 06/15/13 6:49 AM

Feature: How We Gave Ourselves A Food Upgrade

Even as haute cuisine deliberately downgrades  itself, are diners willy-nilly  undergoing an upgrade?

The movement has all the subtlety and finesse of a glacier melting.

Everything has happened at pretty much the same time. Lalitha,  give or take a ‘ji,’ now finds a wide gamut of ready-to-eat, hatke packaged meals on the store shelves. Kitchens transmogrify into cucinas, leading  many young Indian couples to believe the enamelled pans that matches  the laminates so well, come free with the remodelled room.

The word ‘organic’ has started to grow and grow in meaning, if not quite in demand.

And finally, the coup de foudre. Top-end restaurants have thrown open  their doors to the hoi polloi: the prix fixe has arrived.

Now that restaurants are holding Chef’s Table weeks, becoming  clued-in on all matters relating to food has become more of an  imperative.

I mean, you don’t want to come off looking totally hillbilly when the chef himself saunters over to ask you if you liked the sashimi he made just for you.

This is interaction whether  you like it or not, so you had better get ready to interact. You don’t want to be staring at the artichoke hearts and wondering why and how they expect you to eat this vile vegetable.

And if you are going to be a silent diner, you need to look like a celeb  going conspicuously incognito.

It’s all about aspiration, see. If indeed our food choices reflect  our cultural milieu, then right now, we are in a happy place.  We dress well, we learn to wield that wine glass just so, holding  the pinkie out stiffly. We learn to manage our flatware soundlessly, swirl that spaghetti around the fork deftly, break bread gracefully.

We, who used to consider Sunday lunches at the neighbourhood dosa joint an outing, now indulge in long leisurely brunches. We do shots like we used to drink the kashaya our grandmas used to force upon us, albeit with much more enjoyment.

We  are getting addicted to Brie in our malai koftas. From gourmands  to gourmets-of-a-sort, we have travelled some distance.  Munching all the while.

The upgrade cuts across all ages. We have silvers (once known  by that sober sobriquet ‘senior citizens`) happily tucking into edameme dumplings and sushi, displaying an appetite for new  foods, even as they will feast on appams and avial or takachi kadhi.

This being the post-fusion age of cuisine, at home we are  buying Provencal granola, Mondrian cake and the makings for an excellent ravioli, all with a spirit of adventure. We still buy cold cuts but we also walk down to the farmer’s market,  should we hear of one in the vicinity. Because we have become conscious gastronomes.

There’s a lot we don’t know about fine dining but clearly, now  is the time to dig deep. Molecular gastronomy is still a book we  haven’t finished transcribing.

Not all of us know our truffle from  our mushroom or truly appreciate escargot (aka the humble snail)  but here’s the point: not all of us aspire to be cuisine connoisseurs.  A superficial, mostly tactile, mainly delicious relationship with new foods is more than enough for us.

As of now, it’s all to the good, chi-chi chow becoming common  or garden fare. We hear that spaghetti is India’s de facto favourite food and we are not surprised. As we tuck into our  devilled mushrooms and aubergine pate (bharta, anyone?),  as we develop a tendresse for crostinis, game pies and pavlovas  of all flavours, unconsciously we are honing our taste buds to  expect better, to appreciate better.

And yes, we no longer make a beeline for food swimming in oil and masala. Exquisite, subtle minimalism in flavouring and appearance has passed the test, and we totally get that some foods are good to eat as well as good for you.

Simply put, we have come a long way from the frozen peas and spring roll days of yore. Now we can give the PPs (Pretentious People) a run for their forex. When the chef comes to our table, we can tell him/her that the sage lent a most esoteric flavor to the terrine. We know our sweetmeats  from our sweetbreads. With some practice, we can  pronounce Sauvignon Blanc just right, too. Achievement, achievements.

Where this movement has an edge is that never in the history  of evolutionary movements has the method been as delectable  as the end result. Let’s raise a toast to that, shall we?

This ran in TOI-CREST of 15 June 2013.

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Sheila Kumar • June 15, 2013

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