When it comes to food we are all creatures of habit. For instance, if we are on a long vacation or have gone to a new city or country for work, we might be adventurous and try our new cuisines, but after a while we begin hunting for a restaurant that serves the familiar food of our region. Or hope desperately that the distant cousin or even the casual acquaintance from back home who lives in that city would invite us home for a meal!
We might train our palates to get used to the food of the place we live in, but we can’t get the craving for familiar food out of our system. There was this maid from rural Tamil Nadu who came to work for us. When she sat for her first meal at our place, she began sobbing into her plate scaring me badly. I thought she was homesick, but it turned out that she was eating rice and sambar and after weeks of parathas, subzis, kadhis and toasts at her earlier employer’s, she was overcome with emotion when she tasted the food from her own state!
Talking of simple and familiar foods, there are the comfort foods, which miraculously lift our spirits when we are feeling blue or down with the sniffles and looking for some TLC! Anything — dal-chawal, khichdi, rasam-rice, a hot cup of Horlicks, aloo parathas or even the now discredited Maggi — can do the trick. More than even the taste, it is the memories associated with them that release positive serums in our brains, giving us the much needed spirit-boost.
Sometimes too much of rich food can also make us crave for simple home-cooked food. This had come home to me early in life.
I must have been eight or nine then. Our annual trip down south had involved attending two weddings and visiting lots of relatives. The wedding food of course was grand and most enjoyable but festive meals followed us even at our relatives’ places. It was good for a few days but soon our palates began begging for a simple meal, please!
Then we went to our village. We walked the one kilometer distance from the station and by the time we reached the house of my father’s elderly aunt, it was nearly eight in the evening. Since there were no phones, and it had been an impromptu visit, we had not been able to inform her of our coming. She had finished dinner when we entered the small house. (Doors in the village closed only when the inmates retired for the night!)
It speaks of her love for us that she didn’t think that cooking a meal for five at that time of the night was a big deal. She bustled about, lighting the small coal fired stove and then a kerosene stove. While she put rice to boil on the stove and made other preparations, all the while chatting with us. Soon the smell of the brinjals roasting on coal wafted into our nostrils increasing our hunger pangs. When she served us the wonderful food, we fell upon it like a pack of hungry wolves and polished off the last morsel!
Decades later, I can still taste that lovely meal of rasam and curd rice with baingan bharta, roasted papad and pickles – but typically don’t remember any of the grand meals we had had before that. Was it the tasty food? Was it her love? I think it is a bit of both that had made it a memorable meal. Ah, that was comfort food at its best – simple, wholesome and entirely satisfying.
Is it any wonder then that while ordering food out, we look for home-style food?
The author is your regular neighborhood granny. Loves cooking, feeding her friends and family, telling tales and reading children’s books among others — on her Kindle. She is comfortable with people her age, older than her and of course all youngsters right down to infants. And oh, she is in tune with the times too. She has seen the telegram transform into Twitter and telephone into WhatsApp. You could call her Gadget Granny Seeta, if you like. She loves saying that the tip of her tongue is in the fingers on her keyboard!