I switched the channels subscribed in our television through an entire cycle to find a program to relax (at least that was what I wanted). This is the third time and I am still not able to find a decent one. Being a Chennai based linguistic graduate, I felt honoured when I was offered to review restaurants for one of the leading magazines in UK. But the way I was made to think, observe, manipulate and express my views made me feel disillusioned. Either I am not the person for media, or media is not what it is defined to be. And now, even the visual media disappointed to ease me from my gloom.
“Mom”, I called softly.
My mom smiled from the kitchen and said “I told you TV was not your thing anymore. It is for wives/husbands alone. The PRs of televisions are clever enough to sense their audience and customize programs to satisfy us. You have YouTube channels. Maybe you will start liking these programs when you become a housewife”.
“Do you discuss these soap operas in your office?” I asked her because I was curious to know what amuses them in these operas.
“Not always. When there are no audits Suganya, Maran uncle, Javed uncle, Pavithra aunty and I would talk about some. Sometimes things get thrilling in operas too. Javed uncle even records the episodes. It is just that we find it amusing because we need something to talk about. You can see that we are not addicted like you youngsters who watch a complete season in a night. We are well off with just hearing what happened in the previous week’s episodes. Soap operas are just to keep us engaged and everyone someday will want to watch one”, she replied as usual with rational points.
“Hmmm… Let’s see”, I agreed as usual with no choice. I mean who can win an argument with one of the reputed economists in town that convinces millionaires to buy shares of the companies they like?
“Do you need anything to eat? Try watching the reality show with fried groundnuts. It’s not a great combination to hear. But when you experience it, you will never go back to the UK to review the dishes in star hotels. Amma knows many such combinationsda, Anamika”, she said the last line with such a sweet persuasive voice.
“Mom. Am already upset with the way I am writing the reviews; the way I am asked to write the reviews to be precise. We praise the dishes if the chef is familiar, a little strong if new; honest reviews only if the restaurants and chef are new to business” I sensed that my mom would start convincing me to stay back and said, “Anyway I have to go meet my friend now. So reserve your combinations for the dinner”
I drove my Vespa but that’s just the involuntary action I performed. I was in fact obsessed with the thought that I was not allowed to express the honest opinions on the dishes I tasted. My mind was overwhelmed with the ordinary food I tasted in one of the leading restaurants in Leeds, and how I wanted to pen down the impromptu baking of desserts which they called their special item in the menu, but how I was made to write only the bests about the dishes. With the helmet completely covering my face, I didn’t hear anything much to distract me either. My Vespa must have been going in some 40 Kmph and I saw nothing new in my native from when I had last seen it a year ago. Except for that overly coloured food truck.
At normal days, I would not have cared about its existence, but that day my dismal state prompted me to try a dish there. I craved something outside my circle. Something new, unfamiliar to me, and strange to my taste buds. When I was nearing the truck, there was a young lad setting up the truck ready.
I didn’t park my Vespa yet and asked what their menu was. I should have been a little more polite to greet him first. But he still answered me with enthusiasm, “We have a lot to thrill you with, but I guess you will have to park your scooty first to enjoy our dishes”. I could not resist smiling. I parked, pulled my purse out, hung the helmet to the rear mirror and approached the guy. He was still working on getting things ready with his two assistants. He said that he needed 5 minutes to get the geyser, toaster and pans hot and suggested me to taste sandwich as a first timer. Five plastic stools were arranged near the truck. I sat facing the truck as I wanted to see what they do. Just to see them, not observe or inspect. I was ready for a normal native recipe but astonished to notice the guy was handling Shun Classic Knife series which only the professionals use.
“Are you a Chef somewhere?” I asked, looking at the 8-inch knife he was holding.
“I did my catering, worked in star cuisines for 2 years, been praised by all the chefs I always dreamt to work with and here I am”, he replied with a plain smile.
“Is there anything more delightful than cooking your own recipe?”
God, this guy talks about humans and souls here. “I totally agree. So, you are the proprietor of this dhaba?”
“Yes. I am the proprietor of this VC culinary. Vignesh Chandramouli. Here’s my card in case you need any orders”, he stressed on ‘culinary’ to insist me that he is not running a ‘dhaba’.
He applied butter on the pan with low steam. Before the butter melt, he peeled off the onion and chopped them into slices with exact thickness. “What precision, like the vocabulary of a language” I wondered. I mean, the language would still continue to convey the message but the precise words make it more attractive and most importantly accurate. It is like if you have to say ‘Writer Kabilar lived during ages of King Pari’, you can say ‘Writer Kabilar was a contemporary of King Pari’. Nothing more; nothing less.
He stuffed the breads with much care and detailing on what he was adding for the taste. He was enjoying everything he was doing. He unpacked a banana leaf and I could smell mint and carrot. The shredded carrot was boiled with mint leaves. He was playing with every sense there. He gave the carrot shreds a new smell and stuffed it too with mayonnaise in the bread and grilled at 250 °C. Served it hot and vivid. It was the dish perfect.
I must confess that those 10 steps from the truck to the chair was the most curious travel I have ever had. I could not wait to taste what was in my hand that was intensely increasing my libido with the aroma of brown toasted bread, heated butter, and the mixture of vegetables inside. When I was about to sit on a stool, Vignesh Chandramouli suggested that I sit facing the other side of the road and watch people pass by while eating my dish. I did not understand why he said that but he was a pro, so I did what he asked me to.
I took the first bite and the crusty part of the bread was neither too crispy like adding an ‘r’ adjacent to a ‘t’ nor as soft as two vowels sound together. A little deeper, I started sensing the butter through my nostrils before I could taste it. Such was the grill that made the butter vapor waiting to escape at any bite. The next layer was the cucumber and cheese that slid greasily. Then popped the onion. It was smooth and the aroma of lime blended with butter, brown toast, cucumber, and onion was so fresh that it almost gave me the satisfaction I would attain when I find a new word that perfectly describes a situation. And then came the carrot and mayonnaise that filled my mouth like adding ‘h’ to ‘s’, like when we say ‘English’. Now the whole piece I bit was feeding my taste buds with surprise and adventures. One time there was crispy bread, the next second a smooth mayonnaise followed by the touch of spicy onion, immediately swapped by salty cheese, cucumber, carrot, lime, all together with a mild aroma of mint made me want to close my eyes.
When I was about to close my eyes, I saw little kids from the school walking with their parents going home. The tiny humans were so happy to be back with their parents. Why do we appreciate our pets so much that they show love every time we go home, but not our kids? Those kids had so many friends, new environment; their priorities could have changed but still, they are happy every day looking at their parents in the evening and sad while telling byes in the morning. We force them to stay away, get them used to new environments and later blame humans when their priorities change. On looking at those cute souls expressing their unconditional love, I had subconsciously taken another bite and was again pulled back to the palatal adventures and was enjoying the taste of the sandwich.
And then there were other kids going in the school van with so much excitement. Unlike the kids with their parents, these kids were even more excited about being with friends. Maybe their priorities have already changed or they were pushed to that. Some kids put their hands out, bid me bye. I was so excited to wave back at them. I just waved my left hand taking another bite.
Another bite. Another set of kids. The visual was harmonized with the taste. That was almost an all sensory treat. I totally forgot to add sauce to the sandwich. Luckily there was one last bite to accompany the sauce. Dip and bite. “Oh My God… What have I missed?” I exclaimed to myself. The taste was entirely different with the sauce. That was when I realized there was no tomato slice in the sandwich. The mild tomato flavor of the last bite with sweetness gave the salivary glands a heavenly aura. When I turned back to see if I could order one more, there was already a crowd for the dishes. I just decided to leave paying for the sandwich and not overdo the experience. He said, “Hope you enjoyed our sandwich with filling sights of happy kids”. I nodded with a smile and left the place.
While driving my Vespa I remembered my mom suggesting about the visual and gustatory and here Vignesh Chandramouli did the same. And I was able to correlate the texture with the language I was in love with. Maybe the delight of any sense lies in how much we distract from it and how we are pulled back to sense it again.
“I am going to write this in my own blog. I am going to write more of these. After all, Is there anything more delightful than cooking your own recipe?” I said to myself.