Thursday, May 10, 2007

Gastronomic foreplay

While researching for an article I am writing, I came across a fascinating essay on the geopolitics of culinary traditions by Zilkia Janer. She argues very cogently how Indian cuisine should not be tailored to suit western culinary traditions that are "driven by the need for efficiency in the restaurant kitchen" and has to do more with the "ease of production and predictability than with taste". But what really stands out in her piece are these two paragraphs that describe the joy of Indian cooking:

Cleaning and preparing legumes and vegetables is a purer pleasure since it does not involve any guilt. It also provides many of the unsung delights of cooking. Only the cook gets to enjoy the dance of rice being washed in cold water, the snapping sound of beans coming out of their pods, the graininess of flour becoming smooth pliable dough, and the intoxicating aroma of onion, garlic, ginger and spices releasing the premiere of their aromas in the grinding stone. After cooking in this labour intensive way I realized that eating is only half the pleasure that food offers us. By the time my meals were ready I felt almost completely satisfied and needed to eat very little. I wonder whether the tendency to over-eat in industrialized societies is a way to compensate for the alienation from food production and preparation.

Eating a proper meal in India is a full sensual experience. Dishes of contrasting colours, aromas and tastes are enjoyed following a relatively flexible order. Learning to eat with my fingers was another revelation. Touching your food allows you to extend the pleasure of eating by anticipating how the texture of the food will feel in the mouth; it is an exquisite gastronomic foreplay.

Brilliant, isn't it?


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