Oct 25, 2008

Columnists - Khushwant Singh;For the love of food

As a person ages, of his five senses, four decline with the years; only one, the sense of taste for food outlasts the others. I know this to be true in my case. The older I grow, the more I think of what I will eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Of the three meals, the first two are nominal: a buttered toast with a mug of tea in the morning, a bowl of soup or dahi (yoghurt) at mid-day but dinner, I insist, must be a gourmet’s delight. It comprises of only one main dish with a salad to match, topped off with pudding or ice-cream. I have also discovered that in order to enjoy that one meal I must be hungry and have a clean stomach. It is best enjoyed alone and in complete silence. Dining in company or with members of the family may help bonding friendships and keeping the family together, but it takes away much of the taste out of tasty food. Talking while eating, one also swallows a lot of air with the food. This is how our Hindu ancestor patriarchs ate their evening meals. They had good reasons for doing so; I follow the precedent set by them. I also have the pattern of drinking and dining from my role model Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib. He took a bath every evening and got into fresh clothes before he fished out his bottle of Scotch Whisky, poured out his measure in a tumbler, added scented surahi water to it — and drank in absolute silence while writing immortal couplets in praise of wine and women. He does not record what he ate for dinner.

When I drink alone on an empty stomach, I can feel the whisky warming its way down my entrails. I do not get that feeling when drinking in company. Likewise, when eating in company, I scarcely notice the taste of what I keep shoveling in my mouth. When eating alone, I shut my eyes and turn my inner gaze to what I am chewing and munching bit by bit till it dissolves and goes down my throat. I feel I am doing justice to my food as the food I eat is doing justice to me. Never be in a hurry to get over your meal; take your time over it and relish it.

I like to vary my food. My trusted cook of over 50 years is now too old to try his hand at new recipes. So I keep menus of eateries that deliver food handy. I try them in turns — Chinese, Thai, French, Italian, South Indian. I also have phone numbers of ladies who specialise in different kinds of food they cook in their homes and cater to people who place orders in advance. So I have a Mrs Dhupia who makes excellent Quiche Lorraine and chocolate cakes. And I have Claire Dutt who makes excellent anything I fancy.

“Tell me what you eat and I’ll tell you what you are,” claimed Savarin. If I told him of the varieties of food I eat, he would probably call me a pig. But I do not hog myself. What I take is in measured quantities. For me it is the same as Savarin claimed : “the discovery of a new dish does more for the happiness of man than the discovery of a star." Like Lord Byron I look forward to my evening meal as I used to look forward to meeting my dates in younger days. To quote: “That all-softening, over powering knell//The tocsin of the sod - the dinner bell.’

One final word of caution: make sure you never over-eat. An upset stomach ruins the pleasure of eating.

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