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Family Fondue

October 3, 2011

I’m a Bengali, which in no way defines who I am, but there are certain traits -whether cultural or genetic that have latched themselves onto me like sucker fish. Food is the solution to every problem whether it be health, psychological or emotional. Food is what gets people together or breaks ties depending on the quality of the menu. It provides the medium for soul searching and scintillating arguments.

Yes my friend, a loaded table is a happy household.

A gathering of kindred spirits makes for a hearty meal.
I have observed since long ago that a meal eaten in the right order, in the right place, in the right company can satiate the soul in a way that I can hardly believe nirvana can.

There is something about the heat from the platter, the textures under one’s fingers and the ruckus that comes with every family meal that will never find a substitute.

Honestly speaking, I’m no gourmet. I’m never the first to grab a menu, nor one for patiently sampling wine. I never consciously mull over the firework of flavours that flare up in my mouth during a good meal. No, I’m the one who sits to a corner of the banquet greedily savouring each and every magical moment that the bites reveals. The sounds, the fragrance, the sudden secret chuckles or the passing gestures.

The expression on my brother’s face one warm evening in my grandma’s house in Paris when the mysteries of a mince pie were first revealed to us. He’d bitten into a little smiling train that he thought was a candy, now over ten years later, he still has it a tiny memory of a meal. There was the time a dear old lady made a six year old me comfortable in her woodsy house on the out skirts of St. Petersburg and watched smiling as I demolished an entire plate of steaming pelminis with single minded determination. My mother and my father dancing to Dean Martin on a Sunday evening as the thick meat sauces bubbled over in the kitchen and the spectacular burst of colour scattered over the counter top promised a delicious end to the day.

Dean Martin- That\’s Amore 🙂

I listen during meals, I learn. Our family dinners have taught me more about these people who raised me than chance conversations. There is something revealing in the way a person behaves when they’re submerged in an avalanche of flavours. They find themselves willing to let their guards down, their persona on the side board and join in the numerous arguments that are a traditional side dish with every meal.

The cuisine is varied. During the week we have a fairly regular menu that’s a precarious combination of convenience and nutrition. Under my mother’s critical eye the Vitamins march themselves up to an array of pots and pans and our Muslim cook churns out a series of highly delicious, usually vegetarian dishes. But I don’t pay too much attention to these.

It’s my evening ritual of either milk or tea that I look forward to on week days. I make this myself being ridiculously peculiar about the proportion of coffee to cocoa to cinnamon in my mug (which has to be the right colour with the right kind of handle).

The orgies begin on the weekends when my family finds itself together, bungling into one another as we try to navigate through our tiny kitchen. We make what suits our mood and our pockets- Lord are the prices rising!- and we improvise. My brother has a way with garlic, my mother with mushrooms and peas. My father with meat and fish. It’s rather entertaining actually.

As for myself, I’m the kid who can gently mold chocolates and bake. When I bake I feel like an alchemist or a witch. The funny thing is, once I’m done I like sitting back and watching again. Watching expressions chase across their faces as they sink their teeth into my creations. Sometimes I barely have more than a bite of what I’ve made. I get more pleasure from watching and listening.

That’s what I look for in a banquet- knowledge.

The Trinity- Or food i can’t live without.

I’m a milk addict.

And India is the world’s largest milk producer 🙂

There you have it. But there aren’t two ways about it- I’m hooked. If I don’t have my two mugs a day, I start feeling drowsy and glum or irritable. Yes you have it: I, an average nineteen year old girl, go into withdrawal if I don’t drink.

It’s not always the inherent flavour of the substance- heck that’s sometimes rather nasty with the adulterated crap one gets now a days- but it might be the consistency. I can’t really put my finger on it. Milk and honey; milk-and-coffee; milk-and-cinnamon; milk-and-turmeric. It’s endless!

The scary thing is, years from now I can actually imagine “popping” a bottle of milk to celebrate my wedding to a dairy farmer.

Paneer. Palak paneer to be precise.

Yup another milk based product but this one is submerged in spinach and my-oh-my is that good! Originally a Punjabi dish it spread like wild fire all over the country. It’s comfort food and the bane of my mother’s existence- I get her to make it at least twice a week. There is something about the flavour and of the thick, rich green gravy and the white delectable consistency of the paneer that makes me drool.

It absolutely hits the spot!

 A recipe for you 🙂


A Persian word meaning ‘bread’ this flat bread is popular in south and central Asia, it soon spread to Suadi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states. Well to be fair I’m and about all kinds of bread. Bread, bread, bread, bread. But I’m Indian after all, my taste buds are guilty of a little partiality. I could chew on these all day long. Plain or dipped in something. There was this one time that I came across Peshawri naan coated with nuts. Wow! I’m not the kind who has mind blowing moments very often but that day I nearly kissed the chef!

Give us this day our daily bread 🙂

– Meghna Saha

FoodLab Bangalore – is a 3 week workshop the Center for Genomic Gastronomy conducted with sophomores from the Srishti School of Art, Design & Technology in the fall of 2011. Students will examine innovation and conservation in South Asian food cultures, building on recent research of the Center (utopian cuisines, mutagenic meals) and working towards the next edition of the Planetary Sculpture Supper Club to be held in Bangalore on Nov. 12th.

Follow the conversation all week here on our Blog, join in the comments and use the twitter hashtag #foodlabbangalore to keep up to date.


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