Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Dough aur Dough Paanch

The aroma of mouth-watering, spine-tingling, soul-uplifting food spreads outward from the kitchen. About fifteen feet away, I am going through my justifying a day of leisure by gorging on EPSN’s collection of twenty-five greatest cricketers. The smell makes me stop at a eulogy to Viv Richards’s legendary World Cup final performance. Even the King can’t arrest my attention any longer. There is Ambrosia in the house, and as is the norm, it hasn’t been cooked by me. I have been spoilt by riches to which I have direct access: great chefs. From my grandmother to my mother to my wife, I have had access to some terrific cooks. I can’t leave out my roommate back in Texas A&M who was the Indian Association’s chef-in-charge for our entry into the International Food Day contest. Luck by chance, I have nothing to do with it. I was blessed into a family of great cooks, and I don’t remember asking my wife how she cooked when we dated. It is in these circumstances that my inability to cook is highlighted to the extreme. Am I driven by the abject desire to cook badly so I don’t have to cook at all? Does my devious mind deliberately misunderstand the emotional reactions insufficient salt can’t bring about? No, no, absolutely not. It is said that when one of the senses if impaired, it heightens the others. Perhaps my lack of ability to judge when a vegetable has crossed over from being cooked to being burnt has helped me memorize directions better. Who knows?

I learnt to cook a few days before I left India for the US. My abilities till date had been limited to boiling milk in the kitchen that I dutifully did. With generous doses of training from my other and recipes written in my own hand-writing to avoid any contention, I headed to braver shores to try my skills. Alas, as Avinash and my other roommates would agree, the results were far from desirable. It is as if I couldn’t get it at all. The recipes might just as well have been a regional language movie I am watching. I could grasp the story but not the intricacies. The chick peas swam in a sea of excess water, the pulao often turned brown as it stuck to the bottom. The jury was out, and I was limited to cooking once a week for everyone’s benefit. Marriage didn’t change matters much, with my wife’s fabulous cooking and the wondrous division of labor that all married couples duly agree to in order to function as good roommates.

Years have passed and I have exercised my right to cook once in a while. Yet, the tag has stuck. That I am an ordinary cook has been written into my hand (metaphorically) like Vijay in Deewar. The self-deprecatory jokes (and this article) don’t help either. As is my wont, I generally go onto the internet to look for recipes for things as simple as Alu Sabzi. As an engineer, I have an analytical mind that can follow detailed instructions. I have attempted to apply these skills to cooking. But how does one contend with improper specifications: what does a ‘handful’ mean? What size of the spoon were they referring to? What is Nigella called in Gujarati? I grapple with these question and my soul searches for answers as my daal rightly falls short of salt. I may be an ordinary cook but I aspire for greatness too. Perhaps my heart will once find the right balance of spices to make Alu Gobi, or ambition will take me into making a concoction involving paneer. Till then, I struggle in the shadows and let the experts do their work. I reassure my guests at every dinner party that I had nothing to do with the food. They breathe easy. But it will change one day. A dish would be present in the mix that no one identifies as tasteless or off or difficult to eat. It will be cooked by me and no one will know the difference. That would be the ultimate compliment. Redemption will come.

22 comments:

vivalavi said...

Start small, like chappati or roti and work your way up. :P

Radha said...

Reminds me of Ratatouille!!
Good luck with that determined effort at cooking ! :))

Shreemoyee said...

luck favours the brave.

Parth said...

@Vi: Ouch, that hurt :-) I must say, is chappati the easiest thing to start with? I doubt it.

@Radha: Don't know about the effort but the words flowed effortlessly reflecting my passion on the issue.

@Shreemoyee: You mean the people who will eat my cooked food, right?

Pallavi said...

I would still not give up..keep trying, you would be surprised with the progress. Only question remains is if your wife will let you try so many times..:).

RTD2 said...

Have you tried not cooking like an engineer? cook with abandon once - follow your instinct - don't think of your 'audience' - and see what happens. I promise to be your guinea pig. Just please don't try that alu mutter again :)

Parth said...

@Pallavi: Valid point :-) However, I doubt she will object to my finding that magic formula, even if takes a while

@RTD2: I have gotten enough grief from you about that alu mutter :-) In this case, I have no choice but to cater to the audience. Will take you up on the offer to being the guinea pig

sd said...

Hehe:) I agree with rtd2.... I cook well when I am hungry - does that sound wierd! Abandon the instructions and remember the axiom "simple is beautiful" - it should turn out all right.

Jyothsna said...

That sounds exactly like my husband! :) Except that he has no aspirations whatsoever to cook. So far he has progressed to making excellent tea, maggi and omelette. I'm still trying to impress upon him that he's a better cook than me :)

And don't forget we girls have always made others the guineapig, sometimes it's our turn too :)

frissko said...

:)..Good luck man..At least you have the desire to cook..

I just can't, however grave the need (I've survived weeks on plain rice with sweet corn knorr soup, these, i can make). Thankfully i like washing dishes.

Parth said...

@SD: You can get the student out of graduate school but not the graduate school out of incompetent cooks :-)

@Jyothsna: Wonder if this is a Indian male stereotype that is being confirmed!

@Frissko: Thanks :-) I guess its more wishful thinking and more a defensive response to my own inability to do this one thing well. If I could cook as I well as I write ... naah, it wouldn't be much better :-)

shreya said...

:)

I never has to think about the "size of a spoon" or what a "pinch of so-and-so" really meant...its so intuitive it doesn't confuse me at all! come with being a gujarati girl (we just always have it!!) and my mum's daughter, i guess...

i say leave it to your wife. so the dishes and the chopping!!

Parth said...

@Shreya: That's unfair. Gujarati girls get cooking naturally and boys don't :-)

Sridhar Iyer said...

I've had my share of cooking disasters as a bachelor too. I guess a big mistake with what I used to do was that I always used to cook with the stove at full-blast.

But then I've also tried following recipes by the letter (add 15mL of oil to XYZ and let it simmer for 10 minutes at medium-low), and the results were equally disastrous. I guess you just have to have a knack for it.

I don't know what it is about women and cooking. There's gotta be something about the XX chromosome pair that gives them the innate ability to be better cooks than the average guy!

Parth said...

@Sridhar: That's quite a generalization. Maybe it applies to Indians more than others? Either way, its good to have company in the non-cookers pantheon :-)

RS said...

:) I can share one of my attempts to improve my cooking - starting a food blog. I learnt cooking after I came to the US (and I guess I am not naturally good at it) but then I started following a few food blogs religiously and just copying recipes until they came out well and that seemed to work. Of course, my unhealthy overdose of food network viewing also helps me tide over disasters! Good luck and my best wishes with your culinary endeavors!

Parth said...

@RS: Good to hear of your success story. Inspirational :-)

anirudh said...

please learn fast and call us for dinner. we promise to be sympathetic :)

Meera said...

I stumbled upon your blog :) ..... in quite a weird way - was looking for the meaning of the word 'shaqt'. Aaaaaah! the wonders of the search engine!
I'm not into blogs but I loved your entries! :))

Parth said...

@Anirudh: Sure. Why not? :-)

@Meera: I am flattered if someone not into blogs likes my entries. Hope to see you around more often.

Pallavi said...

This was awesome ! Loved the entry

Parth said...

@Pallavi: This was more than two years ago. Where did you dig this one out from?