Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Thursday, December 06, 2012


Story: Orin
Illustration: E R Ronny

If you analyse all the thoughts in the world, in all of humanity, you'll see one recurring theme: food. Little babies see moms and think 'food-machines', random aunties at wedding see us and think 'Must feed an entire cow', we see a cute girl and go 'must share food with at a mediocre restaurant that agrees with my wallet', friendships break apart on check-ins at restaurants, siblings hate each other for marking their territory by licking their share and putting it in the fridge… this can go on forever. The building block of our societal dogma is firmly based on cheeseburgers, brownies and pizzas, and we are not complaining.

But there comes a time in everyone's life, when sitting in front of the TV watching a cooking show they think, 'Hey, cooking shouldn't be too hard! Everybody's doing it!' Besides, you've boiled water before and assembled instant noodles - how far could fine cuisine possibly be?

The hosts on the shows do it effortlessly. They don't burn their hands, their makeup's perfectly good despite the heat from the stove, their cakes always rise and supposedly smell delicious, their chicken stews reduce faultlessly, making crystal clear liquid and they always, always smile when they eat their food.

Naïve and gullible as you are, you believe them. Worst yet, you think you can become one, and on a bright sunny (which is going to be scorching hot in Dhaka) day, you start cooking. That's when it all comes crashing down.

No, the cake's not supposed to be lumpy and smelling of egg, but it does. The batter was supposed to be silky smooth, the recipe said (liars, all of them) but it isn't. It breaks your heart to see your creation on the table. Burnt on the sides, lumpy and slightly uncooked in the middle, a glaring reminder of your failure as a pastry chef; Nigella's kitchen would have to wait. Unable to bear the weight of your failure, you go Sherlock on what happened in the past hour - yes, added the baking powder and eggs right, and mixed them up real good and added sugar, essences. Nothing seems out of place, until you remember with horror: Flour. Those 2 cups still waiting to be towed into a mixing bowl stares at you mockingly. You decide enough is enough; cooking food is beneath you. Your talent lies in devouring them in large volumes, and you shall continue that into your dying day. Smart move.

Others not so smart just keep on cooking. Till they burn their face while trying to create fried rice or turn brownies into biscuits, forcing parents to eat the whole batch as a way of showing their love. Then there are those who take the art of creating food a bit further, with fried cornflakes to be dipped in milk or deep-frying a half made pie. Chocolate mousses turn into egg-mixed-chocolates, khichuri pots threatening to burn the whole house down and always the real winner: boiled chicken and fried noodles by a certain RS loony called Ibrahim.

See, the problem with cooking indigestible food (and that's the only type you're likely to cook) is that at some point, you end up getting really hurt. Images of people not wanting to eat the mashed and disfigured version of a classic dish haunts you. What hurts even more is that all the street-food you've ever tasted in Dhaka tastes better than what you managed to produce in an hour and a half. It's probably their sweat and street-gunk adding to the taste, but ethical issues restrain you from doing that.

If you failed as a chef then you are only human. Rather than keeping at it we suggest you become good at eating, it's far more calming and rewarding. And if someone ever comes to you trying to sell the idea of cooking being a survival skill, tell them you can always bar-b-cue meat if it ever comes to that. Cannibalism never goes out of style. The Korowai tribe have been doing it for centuries.


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