“What does a man need, really need? A few pounds of food each day, heat and shelter, six feet to lie down in and some form of working activity that will yield a sense of accomplishment.” – Sterling Hayden
A boy asks me about English food. I find it hard to describe, particularly without mentioning the delicate subject of roast beef.
“Is it burger? Pizza?”
And because it is hot I just agree with him.
Indian food is even harder to summarise. It is certainly very different to the Great British Indian Takeaway. It is rarely fluorescent orange. However, although there is undoubtedly a vast variety of food across the whole of India, in any one place, at any one time of the year, the poor people will eat a very limited repertoire. Most places serve the same one or two dishes. I eat them every day until a hundred miles or so later a new option emerges. The general theme, however, is always “curry”.
I eat curry for breakfast. I eat curry in the mid-day heat. I eat it three times every day. And I eat a lot of rice. I eat rice served on broad green banana leaves. I eat it in compartmentalised tin thali trays. I even pour water over it, mush it up with my hand and eat it that way. I eat idli (steamed rice cakes) and dosa (crispy rice pancakes) and rice served with various sauces (sambar) and curd. I eat in places where the rice keeps coming until you are full. I eat in places where I am presented with a banana and a smile at the end. The charm is that I never know what I will get next. Everything surprises and amuses me.
After eating curry every day for weeks I am sick of it. So one day, when I smell a different aroma, my taste buds explode. In greedy excitement I follow my nose to a stand where a boy is stirring a sizzling pan.
The smell of the spices is so different to what I am accustomed to.
Chilli, garlic, onions…
I am drooling and excited. It smells new and delicious.
Excited, I call out to the cook,
“What region is this food from?”