Wednesday, August 08, 2007

What’s for dinner tonight?

Life has plenty of problems. Some are dark and depressing, some urgent but negotiable. Some go away when solved, and others persist. Some can be solved, and others just cannot. But there is one problem that never fails to bother me. It is said that an army marches on its stomach. And living in the States, I’ve been told enough times on TV that it is an Army of One. Well, in that case, I am an army, and my marching stomach comes home hungry every single night after a hard day’s work, and unfailingly asks

“So, what’s for dinner tonight?”

Thousands of years ago life was simpler. Humans were simple hunter-gatherers, and the evening meal depended on the ability of the group to manage to find some food. If they found and killed a mammoth, it was mammoth a la carte for dinner. If all they found during their quest were some gnarly roots, bitter berries or rotten carcasses, well, that was for dinner.

Then humans began to prosper as they learnt agriculture. Before you knew it, thousands of years had passed, fruit, grain and livestock had been domesticated, salt and spices painstakingly researched and then, finally, there was real food. With real food and prosperity came the joy of choice, and people the world over (at least those who could afford it) could choose what they wanted to eat every day.

Which brings us back to the problem at hand; that of my dinner.

Life growing up in India was exceedingly good. Mom was always there toiling away to provide the best she could manage for dinner. She would select the choicest of vegetables everyday, and bring them back from the market. Then, each day a different dish would be painstakingly prepared for dinner, with rice and lentils on one day, or spinach and chapattis on other days. A South Indian spread on some days, or a North Indian effort on another. All I had to do was to come back from school, finish some homework, show up on the dining table, consume unimaginably large quantities of a delicious dinner and then complain that I would have preferred puris and chole to rasam and cabbage. My poor mom.

But now life’s not easy for us. We’ve got to come back home after impossibly long and tiring days and then decide what to make for dinner. The body, mind and heart all insist that the only reasonable place to be is the couch, but that rascal stomach wills us on towards the kitchen. And here is where being an epicure really, really sucks (I’ve always wanted to use that word, “epicure”. Almost sounds sophisticated). As far as calories go, there is never a problem. There’s always the option of eating a sandwich or opening a box of macaroni and cheese or consuming some ever reliable Maggi or Ramen noodles. Pizza or takeout? Naah. Unfortunately, those are just calories. If they were ever used to describe food, food would wrinkle its nose and walk away. Sure, I can eat sandwiches or cereal on one night, but if I ate that two nights in a row, that dictatorial tongue and stomach just do not permit it.

And this puts me in a quandary. If I want good food, I’ve got to (to use an American cliché) make it happen. Now, don’t get me wrong here, I love cooking. But the problem is that I like it so much that it has to be done well. The tomatoes have to be lovingly sliced, and the onions perfectly chopped and laid out on the cutting board, and then caramelized to perfection. Simple rice and lentils don’t do it for me, but fried lentil balls, now that is something. The tongue demands a different taste every night, from spicy and tangy to mild and sour. These things require time and energy, and that, on weekdays, is like the proverbial Mastercard, priceless.

So here is the quintessential dilemma. I need to eat good food. In order to eat good food I need to make good food. In order to make good food, I need time, readily available groceries and energy. I don’t have all three of them.

But I still need to eat good food.

Can there ever be a solution for this? Can the stomach ever stop saying “what’s for dinner tonight?”


Anonymous said...

oh well in india you also have the option of hiring a cook :)

Anonymous said...

oh apu, I was going to say that! some people I know, Sunil, have reached a solution by cooking lots when they have the time and deep freezing it and so on - am sure you know such people too - then there is the question of good food versus tasty food versus healthy food. questions, always.

Sujatha Bagal said...

Charu, I was going to say cook over the weekend for the week. :) Now there are catering services in the DC area. Indian women cook in their kithens and you can pick up a homemade meal on the way back home from work! You can put in your order in the morning or the day before or something.

The ramblings of a shoe fiend said...

yenga amma solluva - naaku neelam (long not blue) :P

CuriousCat said...

Agree with the Shoe fiend here. Ungalukku naakku neelam like my common law. I am easily satisfied, by anything fresh cooked, uppuma of a 100 kinds, spagetti with tomatoes, beans and herb de provence, paninis made in the oven. But the man needs pudhina thogaiyal and pruppu usuli and avial and everything on a week night! So I have relinquished the kitchen altogether. Did your better half do that too?:)

Anonymous said...

Hi Sunil,

Nope, no solutions, unless you move to an big Indian presence region like the Bay area or NJ or even DC - then you can really indulge your naakku! :) Since my hubby is in the Bay area and he can get his food-as-good-as-mother-makes, any day of the week, he is always happy. If I rustle up something, he is happy - otherwise he is happy getting something from a 'dhabba' or a south indian equivalent. Of course when mom comes over, then the requests begin - vethakoyamb every alternate day, etc etc! :)


Wavefunction said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Wavefunction said...

You have got to read The Omnivore's Dilemma now. The author would probably lay the book at your feet, since you were exactly the omnivore he would most like to address in his book.

Sunil said...

Apu, the only way can afford a cook in Amreeka is if I become a "made man" (in true Al Pacino style). I'll need that side-job to supplement my postdoc millions :-)

Charu....I HATE the frozen option. Food should be fresh and warm, not thawed and overcooked. That option only worked at times of emergency, on very busy weeks.

Sujatha, I've actually heard of catering services around the Dallas area. But that's only in the suburbs where the Indian families live. I live in the heart of the city (I'm a true city slicker), in view of downtown, so that doesn't work :-)

Shoefiend....intha naaku rombave neelam (long, not blue, except in winter). Yenna pannarathu?

aah pudina thogayal and parupu usili! Bliss. Perhaps next weekend. My mouth's already watering.

Urmila....surprisingly, though there are tons of desis in the DFW area, the indian food here sucks (at least it isn't upto my neelam naaku standards). You certainly are spoiled for choice in the bay area.

Ashutosh....that sounds like an absolutely fascinating book. Have you actually read it? I'm a herbivore though (but I do laugh at vegans, that's too extreme for me), but a lot of things in that description fits me rather well!

Munimma said...

some might say, it is your biological clock, and not the length of your tongue, talking here. ;-) Hitch up, may be? Provided she can cook, of course.
Are you palakkad by any chance? This affliction seems to be more common in the males of that region.

Sunil said...

munimma.....i'm happily hitched, and yes she can cook. But though we both like cooking we have little time to cook on most days, and are so tired on weekends that it's too hard to cook!

Nope...not from palakkad.....just regular TN (and brought up in Karnataka). But i greatly sympathize with all males who have this affliction.

Anonymous said...

I'm so sad for you, I too have the same problem here. But luckily I'm in India only, that too in TN, so I've readily options like Muniyandi Vilas and Saravana Bhavan.
Car Recovery Service

Wavefunction said...

I have...bought it a few months after it was published. Especially his explanation of how corn has utterly and dangerously infiltrated American life is fascinating.