Comfort Foods

I’ve always been a fussy eater. I am a vegetarian. But I hate green, leafy veggies. I avoid them like the plague. And I occasionally eat prawns. I hate dairy products except for butter and ice cream. If I set out to list the food items I can eat without wrinkling up my nose…the list won’t even cross the hundredth mark. I don’t eat stuff that I’ve already decided would taste “yuck” just by the look or smell of it. And refuse to even taste it. But I’m forced to do so at times by my father who would drive himself up the wall seeing me play around with the food (something I must have decided to be “yuck” earlier) and counting seconds till it’d be appropriate for me to leave the dining table. He has made it his mission in life to shovel nutritious, wholesome food down my throat even if that meant running around the house with a salad plate in hand, chasing me the whole day. It has become a game for us now. If he’s stubborn…I’m no less. I don’t do this to irritate him. I’ve a very narrow range of food items I prefer, and I’m happy eating that simple fare daily. But it’s a tough for everyone at home to accept that. They too have a reason apart from worrying about the lack of nutritious food in my diet. My fussy food habits create a lot of problem when we visit someone’s home. My relatives and close friends know by now what are the basic dishes I love eating…and I get them whenever I visit their homes. It’s the new acquaintances I dread visiting. I hardly stay for meal times…often bringing up some excuse or the other to go home. I still remember the day I visited a friend of mine whose mother served four different varieties of green, leafy veggies for lunch and a thick, creamy glass of ‘lassi’ as an after dinner drink. Time stood still that day for me as I painfully gulped down the food. The food was tasty for everyone present…I know. My friend’s mother is a good cook…I even know that. But how do I explain to them my eating habits? And now that I’ve grown up that has become a major issue in my life. If I find myself in a situation where the food I prefer is not available for a considerable amount of time and I risk starving myself…I eat whatever is available then. But I can’t continue it once I get back home.

It’s not that I ever regretted my lack of interest in tasting new dishes. I am happy with my choice of few simple dishes…everyday fare in most homes. They are way too simple…almost boring. But these items have etched very fond memories in my mind. And that’s what I want to share with you today.

1.My earliest food associated memory that I still fondly recall would be “orange ice-cubes”. My mother used to fill the ice-cube tray with orange juice…and by the time I’m home after hours of playing out in the sun…I would have those “orange ice cubes” waiting for me!

2.Coffee. I’ve a nagging doubt that I’ve more caffeine running in my veins than blood. The pleasure of waking up to a hot, steaming cup of coffee beats everything. Just the smell of it…that rich aroma…is so comforting for me. It makes the job a lot easier when I stay up late to study for exams. Just writing about it makes me crave for another cup of coffee now. A caffeine addict? Not yet. But on the verge of becoming one. Need desperate control measures soon.

3.Buttered toast dipped in dal. This had been my evening snack for years as far as I can remember. With a gap of two years in the middle…when I shifted to hostel where the rule was “maggi noodles” for lunch or dinner. Mostly out of laziness after a long day at the college hospital.

4.Come rainy days and there are a few things that I look forward to…Pakoras dipped in imli chutney, roasted corn, samosas, and hot jalebis.

5.POTATOES!! Bake them, roast them, fry them, mash them…cook them any way you want…And I’ll love them. That explains the extra flab around my tummy. Aloo(potato) parathas on Sunday mornings, roti and aloo ki sabzi a couple nights a week, mashed potatoes with chopped chilies and onions eaten along with rice…have been part of my every day diet always. And aloo chops. There was this shop in my hometown where I ate the best aloo chops ever. It was triangular in shape, about 2 inches thick, no stuffing, just plain boiled potato fried in little oil and few select spices and an amazing chutney go with it. Unfortunately the shop closed down a few years earlier…And I knew I’d never taste the chops that I was so fond of ever again. My mother knows these are the select few dishes I really love eating…So she prepares them without fail since so many years. Waking up on a Sunday morning and knowing what exactly would be laid on the breakfast table…two aloo parathas, mango pickle and chole…the taste rarely varying all these years. And that’s why I find it so comforting.

6.I love tea. No milk, no sugar. And the biscuits from the local bakery. Salty ones preferably. I love orange cream biscuits too…Licking off the orange cream in between first and then eating the biscuits.

7.Prawns. Only exception to my vegetarian diet. When I was about ten years old, I used to catch prawns for dinner myself. There’s a huge pond on the backyard of my home where I spent my childhood years. On Sundays and holidays…I used to carry a wide bamboo basket with some bread crumbs in it and kneeling down on the edge of the pond would dip the basket in the water. And wait. Without making the slightest movement. And soon enough I would see tiny prawns swimming into the trap to eat the bread crumbs. And I triumphantly ran into the kitchen with the catch of the day, handed it over to my mother to cook for dinner later that night and asking her to cook them as spicier and crispier as possible.

8.Ice creams. Love vanilla and chocolate flavors. Hate strawberry and butter-scotch flavors. During my school days, my mother used to hand me and my sister money to get one ice cream each on our way back from school. Once every week. Always on Thursdays. My sister would excitedly wake me up to remind me it’s Thursday and we would spend a good half an hour on the way to school debating which flavour of ice cream to buy that day. We weren’t allowed to have aerated colas. But we didn’t protest. For us the mango drink “Frooti” ruled! As it did for most of the kids growing up in the nineties.

9.There was this food stall run by an old man outside the primary school I attended. He used to sell a lot of snacks…paani puris, chole bhature, aloo chops etc. But it was the chole along with the spicy chutney that I was interested in. Some days I used to carry an extra tiffin box with me to school…a small round steel dabba. And bring back home the chole to eat for lunch.

10.And now onto what has been my staple diet all these years. It’s rice and masoor dal. Simple dal- chawal. I crave for nothing more. The other items to go with it vary…but not too much. It’s either stuffed capsicums, soybean curry or mashed potatoes. That’s it. I’ve ate this for lunch and dinner every single day since the past 20 years almost. Since the time I was capable of voicing my opinion about what I’d like to eat. Every single day. And I never got bored. I still look forward to it after a busy day in college or hospital, or after coming back from a trip. I associate it with “home”. I associate it with my ‘mother’, who by now has perfected the art of making these days just the way I like them.

Going through the list you must have guessed why parents panicked over the kind of foods I loved. My parents used to force me to eat spinach saying it’s good for the eyesight and I would end up with thick glasses by the time I’m 20 if I carried on with my unhealthy diet. But within a couple of years, everyone in my family started wearing glasses for poor eyesight. I still have perfect vision. That’s why I don’t fuss about my unhealthy diet. I know I don’t eat most of those healthy foods. But I was growing up well. So the nutritional requirements of my body had been met. I must be eating at least something right. If not everything! I recently turned 23…still staying with my parents because I attend college here. I know in a year from now…I’d have to leave home for further studies. And I would have leave behind my comfort foods. The sense of security I feel coming back home each day…knowing my mother would be at home…and has kept my favorite dishes ready to eat. I know once I leave home…my fussy eating habits would stand no chance in the hectic pace of life that I’d be thrown into. Maybe I’d be eating a spinach sandwich for breakfast a year from now! But as of now I savour these comfort foods…And I will always savour the memories.

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