Friday, October 13, 2017

An air-raising tale

An air-raising tale! 


I've been hearing about the Airfryer for a while now. Close friends have told me how they use it thoroughly for crispy oil-free food, for bakes, and the like. Having to work inside of a tiny cabin-like kitchen (dark, small, irredeemable....but that plaint and my heroic production of food in this anarkali-tomb like place, is a whole other story), I just don't allow thoughts and suggestions about new gizmos that will occupy any kind of fingerprint, leave alone a footprint, in my kitchen. 
And then one day a friend, up until now a very enthu cutlet as they call it, about cooking, but who has begun to reduce and cutback after years of fantastic culinary feats, simply plonked one on me. She had been gifted it, and she felt she could not wrap her mind and space (enviably huge kitchen, mind you) around a whole new cooking system. 
And so this autoclave-looking thing landed up. With a slim but well-written cookbook of its own. I rapidly made in this, tandoori chicken, french fries, and little lava cakes. It was an utter delight, especially since cooking times were as little as 8 to 10 minutes or less. After that, yesterday's chappatis went in in strips, and made whole-wheat lavash, bhindi and karela got 'fried', onions got roasted, kopra got browned, peanuts got beautifully roasted...the Air-fryer (a Phillips one) ruled, while micros, ovens, gas stove etc looked on, a bit miffed.
It's a fantastic thing to have, take my word for it. It's safe - no funny waves...just rising and circulating hot air.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Thank you for the music!

For the longest time, I have taken a “musical ear” for granted. From when I was perhaps four or five years old, a varied mix of people made it a most natural part of engaging with the world around me. But in the classic human syndrome of counting what you don’t have rather than what you do, I have looked hungrily on at the prowess, exposure and astuteness of more evolved musicians and music-listeners’ ears. Only in recent years, when I see people at Indian classical music programmes or appreciation workshops, ask searchingly, earnestly, “What to listen for? How to recognise and enjoy a raga better?” have I begun to value my own abilities and how I came to have them.
My earliest memory of Indian classical music is not so much an aural one as a visual one. I would be sat (literally plonked) on the opposite side of a harmonium, while my mother’s music lesson would be in progress. At that time, it was not the music that made any kind of conscious impact on me, as much as the mesmeric open-close-open-close of the holes at the back of the harmonium and the pink-printed-paper bellows. I remember feeling extremely sleepy or soothed, I cannot identify which of the two. Then one day, there she was at her music exam, for which I was taken along because I was perhaps not yet in school. She kept toying with the opening swaras of her chosen raga, till her examiner kindly asked her in Hindi: “Have you forgotten the opening words of your khayal?” She nodded gratefully and sheepishly, but before she could consult her notebook, I remember prompting her with the opening line: “ Kaun gat bhayii.” My mother gave me a sharp, surprised and happy look, and proceeded with the exam raga that she had been asked to perform, Bageshwari. When she was done, though, her examiner and she and my father who had come along to accompany her on the tabla, treated me like they had suddenly encountered some sort of prodigy-savant — they were not sure if they were pleased or a bit spooked, because I was perhaps not four years old and talking not a whole lot as yet.
Fortunately for me, no one marched me off to a music teacher. But my mother did begin one practice, randomly and with no pressure or overblown parental hopes: If I happened to be sitting in on her music practice, after she hummed the opening notes of some raga, she would ask me the words of the khayal. I often got it right, and then she would simply say, “Hmm, that’s Shankara (or Jogia, or Malkauns, etc).” And that’s how some ragas got a name and face in my head by the age of perhaps five. I still didn’t know this as music learning; it was casually told to me like when she named condiments in the masala box while she cooked and I watched. “Hmm this is rai, see how it splutters… Can you smell the hing?... Only look, but don’t touch the red chilli…”
During this time (this was the late 1960s early 70s), my elder brother and sister became bhakts of Binaca Geet Mala. They would have vicious verbal-duels about who gained control of the new transistor radio during the programme, who could touch the tuning button, and who could decide on the volume. From those days, I got some more casual crumbs off the music table. For instance, Mukesh’s “ Janey kahan gaye woh din”, my brother said, was a raga called Shivaranjani. The name itself reflected the gravitas of the raga!
My brother and mother then began to ask me (the newly-discovered savant) — “what feeling does this song give?” And I would reply “sad” or “happy” to start with, and on to “like praying” or “like boyfriend-girlfriend” or “like king-and-queen” (much to my family’s amusement, because I didn’t yet know the words “devotional” or “romantic”, or “regal”, but that is what I was trying to express). And so there it was: the raga name, its identifiable face or mukhda in a film song, and its bhaav or emotional charge, all “taught” to me in a non-lesson.
As I grew, Hindi film songs of the time and older ones became a rich repository of raga recognition. My mother would then often “staple” a raga that she was learning with a song that we liked, providing one more approach-road to the rich farmland of classical music. Was this a thought-out strategy to transfer music knowledge to her kids? I don’t think so. There was very little that was premeditated in my mother’s personality. So it is likely that she was simply joining some dots for herself and us, in a casual, relaxed journey of discovery.
Later, she did make stabs at formally teaching me “ lakshan geets” — those delightful little compositions that embedded in their words and notes, all the attributes of a particular raga, for the beginner. This was a phase during which I would be trying hard not to yawn, and felt some amount of vague resentment, but all of it seems to have wafted into a music-memory reservoir of the mind.
My father practised the tabla every day of his life to his last day. Just for fun. For the mathematical joy of it. All he ever nudged me into doing was to sit at a harmonium when I was about 10, and hold the lehera for him, repeating the cycle of notes against which he would do his doubles and trebles and all the other mysterious maths of percussion.
When I was 14, a sitar found its way to our home in Mumbai, all the way from Bijapur. It was a modest little thing, made-to-order for a frail great-grandfather who had decided to learn in his late 70s. After his passing, it was wrapped in several old razais and made the journey from Karnataka to Maharashtra. From then on, a series of colourful, less-known and wonderfully good sitar teachers opened new inroads for me, to that heady field of music-marijuana. They taught me music and many other little life skills.
The first one, one Mrs Sinha, introduced my fingers to the pain of the string and the pleasure of finding just the right note and amplification. After the slog of the everyday sargam, one day she began me on a Kafi, and I fell in love with the sophisticated new note in my life, the komal-nishad. She also dismantled my visceral fear of the loud eunuchs who wandered her galli; she gave them tea and water and they dropped their aggressive act; they would sit in her little porch counting their day’s earnings, and half listen to some of us struggling students.
Then there was Rajamma, an elderly sitar teacher. She and I shared a virtually non-speaking relationship, both most comfortable in the other’s taciturnity. She lived in a small spare Chembur Mumbai flat, the aroma of rasam curling out of the kitchen and into the small front room where we sat. The room contained one folding metal chair on which she sat (she could not sit on the ground), one chatai on which I sat, and two of the best sitars that I have ever learnt on. Here I learnt how to work with the meditative notes of the kharaj from her, and watched with awe as she produced beautiful deep-voiced meends from her sitar, her face and body completely impassive.
With my non-existent Tamil and her sketchy English and Hindi, she communicated to me that I should tell her on the days that I had my period, in which case she would ask me to sit in the corridor of her little flat; I would have to listen to what she played, but not touch a sitar. The prospect of volunteering info about one’s newly-operational body plumbing was so appalling that I would duck classes rather than spell out those words.
In the right-royal style of insouciant teenage, one day I simply stopped going and omitted to tell her that I was leaving for college in Pune, and we lost touch. But when I hear a musician accessing the deepest lower-octave notes, I know something about where they come from and the work involved.
In Pune, a feisty, no-nonsense teacher, Mrs Kanade, taught me a plethora of pretty ragas, as well as set-pieces for two people to play, the music intertwining, together and apart. She also taught me how to tune an instrument till every string sang out in joy or in empathic anguish, as you played the notes. (In later years, I found myself being able to guess what raga was going to be played by a performer when he began to tune his instrument. In the US, this came in quite handy, as friends would wager a dollar if I got it right. But with recession, this was quickly downsized to 25 cents.) This amazing woman became old and arthritic, but her hands remained beautiful, almost girlish, the disease showing some uncommon consideration during its rampage. Her sharp manner saw to it that I learnt the difference between any musician playing well and “doing high-jinks”.
My last music teacher, Siraj Khan, taught me much music and how to make biryani from scratch (including the trick of coaxing pudina/mint to grow). He had that priceless ability to switch you on to the beauty and magic of a phrase, and yet he could teach you to stop being gob-smacked, and get down to the business of mastering it. He would play it, say a 16-note phrase, in all its glory. Then he would ask you to undrop your jaw, and would simply deconstruct it for you, clearly showing you its components; he would then reconstruct it again. In this process, you could learn the phrase piece-meal, then put it back together and play it with panache.
To employ two overused words (favourites in award-acceptance speeches), I feel blessed and humbled by this mix of men and women who have walked with me a while, providing signposts, water, and food on my music learning and listening journey, while taking little or nothing by way of toll taxes in return.
Gouri Dange is an author, columnist and family counsellor based in Mumbai and Pune.

Thank you for the music!

http://www.thehindu.com/features/magazine/thank-you-for-the-music/article4396695.ece

For the longest time, I have taken a “musical ear” for granted. From when I was perhaps four or five years old, a varied mix of people made it a most natural part of engaging with the world around me. But in the classic human syndrome of counting what you don’t have rather than what you do, I have looked hungrily on at the prowess, exposure and astuteness of more evolved musicians and music-listeners’ ears. Only in recent years, when I see people at Indian classical music programmes or appreciation workshops, ask searchingly, earnestly, “What to listen for? How to recognise and enjoy a raga better?” have I begun to value my own abilities and how I came to have them.
My earliest memory of Indian classical music is not so much an aural one as a visual one. I would be sat (literally plonked) on the opposite side of a harmonium, while my mother’s music lesson would be in progress. At that time, it was not the music that made any kind of conscious impact on me, as much as the mesmeric open-close-open-close of the holes at the back of the harmonium and the pink-printed-paper bellows. I remember feeling extremely sleepy or soothed, I cannot identify which of the two. Then one day, there she was at her music exam, for which I was taken along because I was perhaps not yet in school. She kept toying with the opening swaras of her chosen raga, till her examiner kindly asked her in Hindi: “Have you forgotten the opening words of your khayal?” She nodded gratefully and sheepishly, but before she could consult her notebook, I remember prompting her with the opening line: “ Kaun gat bhayii.” My mother gave me a sharp, surprised and happy look, and proceeded with the exam raga that she had been asked to perform, Bageshwari. When she was done, though, her examiner and she and my father who had come along to accompany her on the tabla, treated me like they had suddenly encountered some sort of prodigy-savant — they were not sure if they were pleased or a bit spooked, because I was perhaps not four years old and talking not a whole lot as yet.
Fortunately for me, no one marched me off to a music teacher. But my mother did begin one practice, randomly and with no pressure or overblown parental hopes: If I happened to be sitting in on her music practice, after she hummed the opening notes of some raga, she would ask me the words of the khayal. I often got it right, and then she would simply say, “Hmm, that’s Shankara (or Jogia, or Malkauns, etc).” And that’s how some ragas got a name and face in my head by the age of perhaps five. I still didn’t know this as music learning; it was casually told to me like when she named condiments in the masala box while she cooked and I watched. “Hmm this is rai, see how it splutters… Can you smell the hing?... Only look, but don’t touch the red chilli…”
During this time (this was the late 1960s early 70s), my elder brother and sister became bhakts of Binaca Geet Mala. They would have vicious verbal-duels about who gained control of the new transistor radio during the programme, who could touch the tuning button, and who could decide on the volume. From those days, I got some more casual crumbs off the music table. For instance, Mukesh’s “ Janey kahan gaye woh din”, my brother said, was a raga called Shivaranjani. The name itself reflected the gravitas of the raga!
My brother and mother then began to ask me (the newly-discovered savant) — “what feeling does this song give?” And I would reply “sad” or “happy” to start with, and on to “like praying” or “like boyfriend-girlfriend” or “like king-and-queen” (much to my family’s amusement, because I didn’t yet know the words “devotional” or “romantic”, or “regal”, but that is what I was trying to express). And so there it was: the raga name, its identifiable face or mukhda in a film song, and its bhaav or emotional charge, all “taught” to me in a non-lesson.
As I grew, Hindi film songs of the time and older ones became a rich repository of raga recognition. My mother would then often “staple” a raga that she was learning with a song that we liked, providing one more approach-road to the rich farmland of classical music. Was this a thought-out strategy to transfer music knowledge to her kids? I don’t think so. There was very little that was premeditated in my mother’s personality. So it is likely that she was simply joining some dots for herself and us, in a casual, relaxed journey of discovery.
Later, she did make stabs at formally teaching me “ lakshan geets” — those delightful little compositions that embedded in their words and notes, all the attributes of a particular raga, for the beginner. This was a phase during which I would be trying hard not to yawn, and felt some amount of vague resentment, but all of it seems to have wafted into a music-memory reservoir of the mind.
My father practised the tabla every day of his life to his last day. Just for fun. For the mathematical joy of it. All he ever nudged me into doing was to sit at a harmonium when I was about 10, and hold the lehera for him, repeating the cycle of notes against which he would do his doubles and trebles and all the other mysterious maths of percussion.
When I was 14, a sitar found its way to our home in Mumbai, all the way from Bijapur. It was a modest little thing, made-to-order for a frail great-grandfather who had decided to learn in his late 70s. After his passing, it was wrapped in several old razais and made the journey from Karnataka to Maharashtra. From then on, a series of colourful, less-known and wonderfully good sitar teachers opened new inroads for me, to that heady field of music-marijuana. They taught me music and many other little life skills.
The first one, one Mrs Sinha, introduced my fingers to the pain of the string and the pleasure of finding just the right note and amplification. After the slog of the everyday sargam, one day she began me on a Kafi, and I fell in love with the sophisticated new note in my life, the komal-nishad. She also dismantled my visceral fear of the loud eunuchs who wandered her galli; she gave them tea and water and they dropped their aggressive act; they would sit in her little porch counting their day’s earnings, and half listen to some of us struggling students.
Then there was Rajamma, an elderly sitar teacher. She and I shared a virtually non-speaking relationship, both most comfortable in the other’s taciturnity. She lived in a small spare Chembur Mumbai flat, the aroma of rasam curling out of the kitchen and into the small front room where we sat. The room contained one folding metal chair on which she sat (she could not sit on the ground), one chatai on which I sat, and two of the best sitars that I have ever learnt on. Here I learnt how to work with the meditative notes of the kharaj from her, and watched with awe as she produced beautiful deep-voiced meends from her sitar, her face and body completely impassive.
With my non-existent Tamil and her sketchy English and Hindi, she communicated to me that I should tell her on the days that I had my period, in which case she would ask me to sit in the corridor of her little flat; I would have to listen to what she played, but not touch a sitar. The prospect of volunteering info about one’s newly-operational body plumbing was so appalling that I would duck classes rather than spell out those words.
In the right-royal style of insouciant teenage, one day I simply stopped going and omitted to tell her that I was leaving for college in Pune, and we lost touch. But when I hear a musician accessing the deepest lower-octave notes, I know something about where they come from and the work involved.
In Pune, a feisty, no-nonsense teacher, Mrs Kanade, taught me a plethora of pretty ragas, as well as set-pieces for two people to play, the music intertwining, together and apart. She also taught me how to tune an instrument till every string sang out in joy or in empathic anguish, as you played the notes. (In later years, I found myself being able to guess what raga was going to be played by a performer when he began to tune his instrument. In the US, this came in quite handy, as friends would wager a dollar if I got it right. But with recession, this was quickly downsized to 25 cents.) This amazing woman became old and arthritic, but her hands remained beautiful, almost girlish, the disease showing some uncommon consideration during its rampage. Her sharp manner saw to it that I learnt the difference between any musician playing well and “doing high-jinks”.
My last music teacher, Siraj Khan, taught me much music and how to make biryani from scratch (including the trick of coaxing pudina/mint to grow). He had that priceless ability to switch you on to the beauty and magic of a phrase, and yet he could teach you to stop being gob-smacked, and get down to the business of mastering it. He would play it, say a 16-note phrase, in all its glory. Then he would ask you to undrop your jaw, and would simply deconstruct it for you, clearly showing you its components; he would then reconstruct it again. In this process, you could learn the phrase piece-meal, then put it back together and play it with panache.
To employ two overused words (favourites in award-acceptance speeches), I feel blessed and humbled by this mix of men and women who have walked with me a while, providing signposts, water, and food on my music learning and listening journey, while taking little or nothing by way of toll taxes in return.
Gouri Dange is an author, columnist and family counsellor based in Mumbai and Pune.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Peanut butter bhakts do 'shramm-daan' and some out-of-the-box thinking too

So the two Resident Small Things wanted peanut butter. I bought some without reading the fine print. It was ridiculously sweet - like someone had pulsed and pasted a whole lot of pedhas or chikki or something together. Even the smallest Small Thing, with her long and wide sweet tooth, said yukk. It claimed to be 'honey-roast' in the small print. No honey, just globs of sugar.
On to producing it at home, then. Roasted them in our Philips Airfyer (my latest crush). And the Small Hands agreed to laboriously rough-up and rub the peanuts so that the thin skins came off. Then we blew at the big thali so that the skins blew off. Lot of huffing and puffing, for sure. Then a friend reminded me that my other love-of-my-life, the older one, Roland (see prev post) Food Processor, had a plastic blade that worked beautifully to take out the thin skins but leave the nuts intact. The next lot of roasted peanuts was skinned in seconds. And the Resident Small Things came up with the idea of blowing a hair dryer over the thali of peeled nuts, to blow away the skins.
Suddenly we are very mechanized. 
Peanut butter: 300 gm peanuts roasted (in oven or airfryer or kadhai) and thin skins removed. Bung them in small heavy duty mixer jar, add salt and a pinch of sugar, 1 tsp peanut oil. Keep pulsing till powder turns to moist creamy texture, pulse more if you want it smooth, leave it grainy if you like it that way. Done. Costs you 1/4th of the price of any Indian commercially available peanut butter, and you can be sure it is without any additives. Keep in fridge if you make larger quantities.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Ronald (not Reagan)

I love my Ronald. A food processor that far too modestly calls itself a 2-in-1. I call it, easily, a 7 in 1. It's the work-horse in my kitchen. Unlike most food processors, it takes up not a whole lot of place and does not pile you high with too many jars and fussy parts. Works like a charm, is almost fully clumsy-person proof, does heavy-duty work, has an interesting coconut scraper arrangement that takes a little getting used to. I also discovered that you can make terrific short-crust pastry dough in it. You can get that the perfect 'breadcrumb texture' that all the recipes demand in seconds in the Ronald.
And the best-esst part is that the after-sales is fantastically efficient and pleasant. I've used it so much, that I've needed a few replacements of accessories here and there. Never a problem - under 24 hours, it's done - without tedious and useless call-centres involved.
The pizza-spice and thin-sliced mushroom sandwich fillings that I make for Pagdandi Cafe takes me under an hour to make and to maintain the even texture and consistency, week after week, thanks to my Ronald. The dry mixer part is industrial strength and will pulverize anything in seconds. The wet mixer larger jar tends to be a bit tardy - that's the only very tiny complaint. 

(pic from the Ronald website - mine has worked so hard that it does not look so clean!)

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Magic Moon Milk

Kojagiri luminosity!


- in which a Pune family-business saves the day!

All the jokes (that I too make) about Pune's non-service culture, the casual attitude of shopkeepers and enterprises, the rudeness to customers....all those are turned on their head when I recall the sterling quality service and understanding that I was given by the Sakas people - a few years ago. I had just moved to a then remote suburb of Pune (at that time not even part of main Pune, and part of the 24 fringe villages). I had invited a bunch of young American students and my family for our customary Kojagiri Pournima night. It wasn't so much about the religious significance for me, as it was about the staying up late, watching a magnificent full moon, and enjoying the subtly spiced condensed masala milk that it is the custom to drink on this night. We grew up in Bombay with this ritual: a veritable cauldron of this sweet, spiced (saffron, cardamom, nutmeg, powdered nuts), condensed milk is taken up on a terrace, the moon is 'sighted' as a reflection in this milk, and warm cup-fulls are drunk. It is the full moon after the monsoon is over, and most times, the sky is clear and magically luminous with the ivory-yellow giant moon. Guests relax, sing, laugh, under the moon. 
This time, I had reduced or condensed 8 litres of the milk to a creamy consistency by evening, in anticipation of the 10-12 guests. I had gone to the one and only 'department' store in Aundh (Ozone - closed long since) and bought the neat little milk-masala packets made by Sakas. 
When I opened a few of them and simply tipped the powder into my giant qualdron of milk, I was aghast to see that what looked at first like bits of spices, were, along with the actual spices, also tiny worms and insects! Horrified at the prospect of throwing away litres and litres of milk and sugar, and having nothing to serve my guests, I marched angrily to the store where I had bought the milk masala. They were most pro-active and immediately called up Sakas. I was expecting little or no support, and muttered and grumbled on about 'these Puneris'... but within half an hour, I had a call from Mr Sahasrabudhe (I wish I could recall his first name, but he was definitely one of the family that runs the Sakas business). He assured me that first, he had had a man go and withdraw the entire batch of faulty milk masala from the shelves of the store. He then asked me for my address, and told me that he was on his way, and simply put down the phone. 
Mr Sahasrabudhe was there in my far-flung suburb in the next hour, arriving in a small van. He was carrying new packets of freshly made milk masala. I invited him inside to take a look at my 'evidence' - 8 litres of milk that had gone waste, with the floating worms and insects. But he was going to do no such thing. 'I take your word for it, Madam...And may I suggest, that you please filter that milk and feed it to the galli dogs and cats...let them enjoy Kojagiri Pournima too,' he suggested!  
And to make up for my loss, not only was he carrying fresh packets of  Sakas milk masala, he was carrying with him 16 half-litre packets of Chitale full-cream milk, in his little van. He handed it over to me, no charge for any of it, wished me a great Kojagiri Pournima and was gone! 
Our Kojagiri night was as magical as ever. 
Needless to say, I have been a devoted Sakas customer! 


Saturday, July 29, 2017

Those Page 3 foods

Remember the boy who shouted: ‘But the Emperor has no clothes!’? And down came all the pretend pomp and fake fawning. We need that little boy around sometimes, when it comes to the great fuss and frills of gourmet land. Or we can become that boy for a while, and refuse to gush and genuflect to a range of overrated foods that have forced themselves on international plates and palates. They’ve found their way to the Snob’s A list, and hung on there, without any real innate charm, one would venture to say. They’re foods that people have spent too much time, money and energy on. There are far too many of them which seem to have enjoyed good press for far too long. They’re your quintessential Page 3 foods. All strut, style and very little substance.

This A list has on it the usual suspects: quinoa, caviar, champagne, strawberries, salmon, tiger prawns, truffles, fugu, pate de foie gras …oh one could go on.

Actually why blame these foods – they’re really ok, and didn’t ask to be turned into some kind of icons and snob-badges. They were just sitting there, at the bottom of the sea, or underground, or hanging from a plant…It’s us humans that put them on a pedestal, paid obeisance, pushed up their prices, and dropped their names around to look like we’re so with-it.

Take caviar. What’s with that whole caviar thing? Such a big fuss for something, if you were given to taste blind, would pass off as a morsel of mushed green peas that have seen better days. But take a cracker, heap on the more humble smoked oyster, and feel your tastebuds giving a standing ovation. Or why even smoked Os. Simply offer people a well-made spoon of velvety scrambled egg on a piece of cracker, and the cocktail circuit will polish off a platter rapidly. The caviar they’re likely to talk a lot about, and shut their eyes and go ‘ummmm’ – but no one’s going to wolf it down, for sure.

Or strawberries. What’s the fuss, can someone explain? A whole lot of unsung berries, like the shehtut or mulberry, are hugely yummier, with loads more character. But they never find themselves cultivated, romanced and photographed the way the s’berry seems to be. As for strawberries dipped in chocolate – that seems to be just two members of the A list being put together to generate more snobbery. And that whole thing of strawberries with cream. Like it’s some heaven-planned combo. Comeon! Anything tastes fabulous with cream if you like cream. Even chikoos and bananas. 

Which brings us to that other big noise: the alphonso mango. Of course it tastes great – but so do 93 other varieties of mangoes from the country. But do they feature? Not even in group photos, the poor guys. The langda, the dashehri, the choosa, the kesar never walk the ramp and are rarely if never wrapped in individual tissue and put on a plane, for godsake. But sink your teeth into one of them and they’re as good, if not better.

As for truffles, those oh-so difficult to come by growths, sniffed out by pigs and unicorns or whatever mythical beast at the base of trees in pristine forests and what-not. Much ado about nothing. Someone pass us the abundantly available oyster mushrooms and button mushrooms please.

Tiger prawns, at their astronomical price, are no gastronomical delight really. Their country cousin, the plain petite prawn, wins hands down, really. They’re packed with flavour and cartloads of character. Tigers look good on the plate, and even better in photographs. But since when do pretty pictures fill the tum?

As for champagne, most times, only because it’s become so mandatory, a couple of bottles are popped and they do their fizz and everyone claps and laughs prettily at occasions. But when the six-packs come out, with their reassuring snap and hiss, the party really begins. Apple juice and slightly bubbly ale tastes better than champagne. But get someone to say this out in public? Difficult.

Smoked salmon is another of those red herrings, or damp squibs, if you will. Ask real foodies, and they’d opt for a sliver of well-cured smoked ham, any day. But smoked salmon is one of those globe-trotting strutters; the sophisticate’s ally. Ham just tastes great and doesn’t get around a lot. No one writes about the humble ham, and no one takes glossy pictures. But they should.

Quinoa - no doubt rich in something or the other - has clambered on to high-end Indian tables. It has got a thorough debunking, fortunately, by none other than Rujuta Divekar - who tells us that there are a 100 other Indian grains we have turned our back on, which could most easily and much better suit us Indians. 

Interestingly, the first time that they taste one of these much-hyped A list foods, most people’s secret and innermost thought is: “This is it?” But such is the power of the myth, that they’re obliged to cover up quickly and go ‘ummm’ and come up with a suitably ecstatic expressions. Then they have to come up with words like full-bodied, peaty, earthy, heavenly, bouquet, texture, al dente, and a whole lot of attendant words that are no use to man or beast really.
Gouri Dange