Archive | Food Essays RSS feed for this section

Appetite Grows By What It Feeds On

12 Sep

In honor of Julia Child’s 100th Birthday, most major publications had a piece or two reflecting on the life and legacy of this culinary icon. “Learning How to Eat” by Tamar Adler in the New Yorker, really got me thinking about the French adage in the piece ‘L’appetit vient en mangeant’, that can implytheAppetite grows by what it feeds on’. While the article focuses on the dichotomy between eating right and eating what you like, it was Julia’s quote “Certainly one of the most important requirements for learning how to cook is that you also learn how to eat”  that left me soul searching.

Julia Child’s memoir recounts how her move to France transformed her as she let herself taste and smell differently. Her openness to the tastes and smells around her helped her find her true calling – giving food writers a lot to write about this week. While I can in no way compare my paltry talents to Julia Child’s, I decided to take a walk down memory lane to piece together what cultivated my love for food that led to my culinary zeal.

I had to revisit my first major food related memory. Back in 1990, China Garden was the most exciting addition to Mumbai’s nascent “foreign” dining scene. A 9 year old and a 5 year old settled into this noisy restaurant, on a table adorned with a Bamboo plant and paper place-mats illustrated with Chinese Zodiac signs. They eagerly awaited noodles and chicken – a Chinese restaurant favorite for most children back then.  Little did they know that their father who had travelled to places they could only dream of at that age was going to introduce them to Schezwan Crabs, a delicacy from the Far East.  This would be the very first “exotic” food they would savor in their lives. The dish arrived with much fan-fare and it took a lot of coaxing to get these children to use their hands to crack the crabs, extract the meat and dip it in the spicy Schezwan sauce. And then it happened – I, the 9 year old experienced love at the first bite when I ate the sweet lumpy crab meat dipped in the peppery and tangy Schezwan sauce.

This was my brother and my initiation into the world of global cuisine and the realization that discovering new foods is extremely gratifying. We promised our father that we would never reject a food without trying it first, and have always honored this promise. As we grew older we were blessed with opportunities to travel and savor peaking duck, sashimi, escargots, clam bakes, harissa,

Korean BBQ with my parents’ in 2010

mangosteens, persimmons and a plethora of foods we could not have dreamt of in India back then. While our father always encouraged us to take leaps of faith with our taste buds, our mother made sure we exercised portion control and stayed active. Like Julia Child, she preached that we “must have discipline to have fun”.  During our food adventures, there were several foods we fell in love with and only a handful that we chose not to swallow again. Our palates ripened and our shared love for food strengthened our bond as a family.

My appetite for food really grew deeply; it grew way more than the size of my wallet when I graduated college. For a gourmand (I use this as Julia Child would – “Happy Eater”), this was tragic. Just when I felt utterly distressed with my situation Food Network and the internet were my saviors. I started recreating delicacies I craved in my tiny kitchen at a fraction of the cost I would pay outside.  A decade later, despite being able to afford the occasional mind-blowing food experience cooking is still my all consuming passion. It’s a skill I’ve honed along the way and yet work at judiciously each day.

I only cook what I crave and love to eat. The results are meals that have been nurtured with love and delight, ones that are appreciated by family and friends. Most people say they learnt to cook from their parents or grandparents. I learnt to eat from my parents! They fostered a healthy and non-discriminating appetite for food in me. So if one of the most important aspects of learning to cook is learning to eat – well yes then I also learnt to cook from my parents.

%d bloggers like this: