Palate pleasures

Eat local, eat seasonal, eat organic was the mantra at a recent family conclave. It set off an elaborate discussion on home-cooked food.

"For one thing, it is clean, wholesome and fresh. For another, there are no additives or preservatives," enthused one, button-holing a gentleman whose leg was in a cast. He looked around and found that most people were engaged in private conversations.

"It comes straight from the kitchen to the dining table, steaming hot and mouth-wateringly aromatic," he corroborated, out of politeness. That was a mistake. His companion launched into a panegyric on home cooking. He was saved by the appearance of his nephew who had brought him to the venue. "I am ready whenever you are," he said. Like a drowning man clutching at a straw, he looked at his saviour, as he struggled to his feet.

In another part of the room, a second person could be heard eulogising about home food. That the remarks were in general not specific to the person who had cooked and served the food, soon became apparent. It was then that a third, a brash youngster, felt compelled to add his contribution. According to his evaluation, the vegetables were a tad salty, the curd could have been a little less sour, the rasam tended to be on the spicy side, the pachadi had more curd than cucumber, the payasam was much too sweet. As an assessment, it was brutally honest.

After this detailed analysis, there were valuable suggestions on how the meal could have been improved, how the bar could have been raised. (I perceived shades of TV debates). I don't suppose the unsolicited feedback was meant to be offensive. One has got to take adverse comments in the right spirit.

After that damning summing up, the conversation strayed to restaurant food. It started with a heated debate on the margin of profit, ranging from 30% to 90% until it was vetoed 100% by an SME (Subject Matter Expert). "As prices go up, the quality comes down," he added, rather facetiously. This led the argument to a different level, drawing out more opinions.

"It is very filling without any nutritive value."

"There is a layer of oil on the gravy - probably used, re-used and used all over again!'

"The food is smothered in standard ready-made masala, added indiscriminately, which successfully kills all natural flavours of the vegetables. And I suppose all the meats as well ."

"Not to mention over-cooking and excessive frying."

There were also scathing remarks - chapter and verse - on the standard of hygiene and cleanliness. After this ruthless downgrading and condemning of food in eateries, the critics reached an astonishing consensus. "Say what you will, these places dish out delicious stuff!"

By and large, humans as a species, are contradictory. As contradictions go, this complete turn-around did take the cake!

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