032 - Writing and Food

Part 1

Hi!

Good food, as with travel, is better when they are fewer things on the plate. I suppose the same goes for all that’s good around us. I write this as a reminder to keep myself in check today, because today I write about food, I mean I can write on and on about it.

But I won’t. The things we make to preserve are all, after all, born out of reduction.

This is Maneesh, writing from a mildly cloudy, horribly humid, heading to a lockdown soon Bombay. Welcome to the April editions.


The bulk of my 2021 till now was spent in the kitchen.

In January, I spent hours foraging for new recipes, ingredients, masalas, to make one offbeat dish after another. By February, I was better prepared. Yet I was stressing over matching the recipes to the T. Precisely then I found Bombay Chef Thomas Zacharias’s post on cooking intuitively. It was what I needed.

Three months in, I now understand it is better to work with fewer things, to keep them simple. That sometimes just one veggie, some water, and a spice or two is all you need to bring a dish alive.

Reduce, reduce, reduce.

*

To read an essay on mushrooms, is to understand this idea of reduction.

And to read the line ‘mushrooms thrive in opposition to tech and capitalism’, is to understand the whole of Alicia Kennedy’s writing in a sentence.

In Kennedy’s newsletter you will find her writing layered with flavours of music, culture, sustainability, politics - all around and with food, and it is always fulfilling. Her latest issue was on veganism, and I had no idea it had such a bad rep globally. She practically pleads to not look at the vegan movement as a white supremacy fad.

Another newsletter I have spoken on the Daak before is Craig Mod’s. This week, he unveiled a short but beautiful mini documentary on one Pizza Toast, in one Kissaten.

The Kissa owner’s nervous energy, yet the precise cuts of the knife; the Kissaten’s own personality with its CDs, kitchen kitsch, and its dark wood appeal all blended so well. It’s a beautiful way to travel into Japan, and its history in some way. Like the Pizza Toast, there is very little distraction in it, much reduced, yet tasteful.

The Pizza Toast, from the first time I found out about it, always reminds me of Bombay’s Cheese Chilli Toasts. I don’t know its history, but I believe it is unique to Bombay. However, if I’d like to read about its history anywhere, I am certain I want to read it on the Goya Journal.

Goya is one of the few, perhaps the only India made publication that I really admire. The variety of voices, the variety of perspectives and topics, the recipes, the city guides like this of Bangalore Breakfasts and photo essays of places like the Sassoon Docks, and good old reporting, man, it is the gold standard on food writing.

It is an excellent archive of the subcontinent’s food culture without being a taxing read. The stories always fresh, their flavour deep; it’s an absolute treat.

*

As I acknowledge the summer with my mild protests, I am taking the idea of reducing from my kitchen on to my plate as well.

In a bid to motivate myself, I looked up and watched again the Chef’s Table episode of Jeung Kwan. There is a certain peace to watch her cook, to listen to her story.

I kept grinning as she spoke of how she avoids garlic, onions, chives and leeks. My friends discover and always look surprised that I don't like garlic and onions. Somewhat like the reporter in the show who couldn’t fathom that dishes without them and without meat can be so flavourful.

Clean food keeps your mind cleansed. I am no champion of clean eating or veganism, but I try and remind myself that what I eat isn’t just to feed my hunger. That to keep the food light is to keep the mind nimble.

*

And that’s all I have to tell you on food for now. This letter is reduced by a third of the others you’ve read.

Make your Andaaza great again. Have a great summer you!