The Internet Personified: I guess I'm a flexitarian now
Now with added recipes!
Hello my fellow self-isolationers,
This week I had a tweet go super viral. Like, I’ve always wondered what that must be like, because despite writing at least two books’ worth of words on that platform, my Twitter account has stayed fairly niche, sometimes something will echo for people, but mostly, I fly under the radar.
Then I wrote this
I mean, it is a pretty obvious bait-y tweet. I chuckled to myself as I wrote it. Three days later, I was still getting replies to it, mostly in the form of “NO! XYZ food is so much better!” or “YES! It’s the only food that counts.” I mean, I’d have liked to remind people that I am just a person who likes to eat, I’m not the Ultimate Judge of Food (what a great job though), and people do generally like what they ate growing up. But I thought, “Eh, let them battle it out.”
The first wave were the Punjabis all “how dare you” but they were quickly silenced by people who sneered, “Paneer” at them. Then a couple of smaller factions, a bunch of Odias, or Biharis, a couple of Kashmiris, but the most vociferous were the Bengalis. (Obviously.) There was even a whole other thread—tagging me—talking about why I was mistaken and why Bengali vegetarian food is, in fact, the best. (I mentioned preferring beef fry to tandoori chicken if there was a gun to my head in a follow up tweet and got a bunch of sanghis but I blocked them quickly.)
Anyway, the popularity of this flippant tweet got me thinking about the food we prefer in general. As you know, I am a mix of two cultures, half-Telengana, half-Malayali. Add to this my third culture, Delhi, where I grew up, and a smattering of a fourth culture, Bombay, where I spent four years, and I’ve got a pretty mixed up palate. I love the food specifically of Telegana and Kerala—vegetarian or meat—because it’s what I grew up with. I don’t love everything about the foods of Tamil Nadu or Karnataka (Kannadiga sambhar is SWEET, from my limited experience of it in Bangalore) but I’m still pretty excited about eating them. If you gave me a large menu with food from all over India on it, it’s likely I would veer towards that section. I love spicy food, but I like the bland richness of a daal makhani, or the comfort of a good kadhi or the smell of a nice chhole kulcha, served with onions and green chillis on the side to give the softness of the dish a little crunch and bite. When I eat non-spicy vegetarian food, I suppose I’m trying to say, I like it Punjabi. When I’m eating the food of the South, I like it to light up my mouth like a Christmas tree.
I mentioned before I’ve been cooking a lot these days. K and I take turns, and it’s also surprising how much the human body needs to bloody feed. Three times a day! And my picky palate wants a fresh meal every two days, I can’t eat the same thing twice in a row, because then I get bored, and wow—I am rolling my eyes at myself, but it’s not that much hassle to cook a little extra so I get variety even in our leftovers.
Anyway, my mum sometimes gives me recipes for stuff I always liked and never knew how to cook because the meats are always the stars at her table, and here’s one for a surprisingly simple potato fry that turns out excellent despite its lack of onions or garlic. (It’s an Andhra Brahmin recipe she got from a friend.) (I serve this with an Instant Pot rasam that is delectable):
Chop potatoes small, about the size of one section of your little finger and soak in a salt water bath for about 20 to 30 minutes.
Heat a tablespoon of oil in a kadhai, add potatoes and cover and cook till half done on super low heat.
Remove lid, add salt and chilli powder, stir to combine and cover and cook again.
You have to unstick some from the bottom of the pan every now and then, but mostly leave them alone until they’re browned and they are like magic, small, crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside.
The last time I made it, I forgot about the salt water soaking, so they were nice, but not as crunchy as the first time. The soaking takes out the starch, I think, so the potatoes cook faster and crisper.
The thing is vegetarian food has always seemed sort of boring to me, a committed meat-eater. I’m the person you joke about at dinner parties, the one who has not even tried the pretty salad, the vegetarian main course, preferring to step around it for the meat. Vegetarian food was something you ate on a busy weekday, quickly and secretly, a workaday meal, certainly not something to be boasted about. Sometimes you might say you liked bhindi, but that was always accompanied by the silent-but-obvious caveat: for a vegetable. “For vegetarian food it isn’t bad,” I’ve been known to say in the past, in that time of plenty, when meat was to be had just by opening an app and any food your heart desired came right up to your doorstep. I keep thinking I’m going to give up meat, but I never do, so I try and stick to “ethical” alternatives. Free-range goat, farm chicken, animals that can roam basically, and aren’t stuck in a cage before death. Fish as much as possible.
But then the lockdown happened and all my rules are out of the window. We have a pork butcher nearby who we just discovered before the lockdown and he’s still sort of open so we’ve bought pork from him twice now and stocked our freezer. There’s a chicken place in the village attached to our colony, so we got some chicken also. No mutton at all, and if we tore through our meat the way I’d like to, we’d be finished in about a week. Therefore, vegetarian.
Before our gardener was parted from us, he had planted tomatoes in every spare planter there was, because we like the bumper crop. These are now ready for harvest, so we have tomatoes coming out of our ears. I tossed it in with some potatoes yesterday for a curry, I’ve made pasta sauce, and now I’m going to puree. Previously, we harvested all the onions, and now little baby karelas are growing on the vine, which I love (not so much K, but karela isn’t for everyone.) The lauki is growing quickly, and has started to flower as well, and best, our baby pomegranate tree is developing its first fruit, which I’m watching every day like a proud mother, making sure it’s still on the branch, still doing well. The mango sapling upstairs might be getting its first fruit as well, but it’s too soon to tell. Before, our garden was fun, because how nice to grow your own vegetables and feel proud about it, and now it’s like a lifeline. If our market suddenly closed, I can concoct meals from what’s left in our stores plus the garden and have enough to live on for a week or two.
It’s funny thinking like this, I’ve always been—we’ve always been—a generation of plenty, and now with things getting scarce, hiding from something that we can’t fight for another year at the very least, worried about the way the world will turn out to be by the time you hit forty, you start to eat vegetarian food and you start to enjoy having the food, and it is exciting just for being there, and being available to you.
I’ll end with my mum’s recipe for cabbage daal, which has turned me from a cabbage hater to a cabbage lover. My last proof about the superiority of South Indian food. (No, I’m only joking. All food is great and I miss Maggi noodles of all things.) (Apologies for a VERY SCATTERED newsletter, I’m working on something at the moment, so all my brain-writing-energy has gone off in that direction, but I couldn’t not write to you.)
Pressure cook a cup of channa daal and drain it. It should be enough pressure cooking time to just get mushy, and channa daal is pretty hard, so extra is good. I added three cups of water to be on the safe side.
Separately: in a tablespoon of oil, add jeera, rai.
Then add a cup of onions, cook covered till transparent.
Add a teaspoon of ginger garlic, cooked till no longer raw.
Add cabbage chopped thin and long, stir, and cook covered for a bit with a pinch of haldi.
Then add daal, chilli powder (enough to change the colour to mostly red if you can stand it) and salt.
Daal has to be very dry and mushy. Serve with rice (and this is essential) and ghee.
Before all this, I read all three of Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell books back to back so I could review the latest one. That review—mostly an essay about Henry VIII and writing—is out now in Open.
Also I will be doing a Facebook live with Harper Collins tomorrow morning at 11.30 am. It’s just me talking about the Girls of the Mahabharata, but I’ll take questions on anything, really. Here are the deets I’ve got
Productive Pandemic Hobby Links Section
Here’s a nice open source cookbook featuring mostly foreign ingredient type recipes but which are easily adaptable for the Indian kitchen.
You might already know about Peter Griffin’s Facebook group Simple Recipes for Complicated Times but it has blown up and has inspired at least one think piece.
I’ve been teaching myself line drawing from this old French textbook that someone was kind enough to upload online.
And if you’re just looking for a way to pass the time, this is weirdly fun.
This week in publishing news
Roli Books launched their digital arm called Roli Pulse.
Another story about how Indian readers like non-fiction more than fiction.
And another story about how publishers are marketing books in these end times.
Here we go, the non-corona link list!
Here’s a searing essay on India’s descent into social media terror, that you should definitely read.
Balanced out by a sweet profile of Bill Murray.
Hindustan Times refused to print Ramachandra Guha’s latest column about the Central Vista project so he gave it to The Wire where it became extremely read so that’s something.
Balanced out by this funny travel piece about a trip to a weird town in Australia. (WHENNNN WILL WE TRAVELLL AGAIN??)
And COVID-links, because I can’t not
Is this near-future fiction or is this a surprisingly accurate blog post about stuff that’s going to happen?
Raghu Karnad in the New Yorker about how nice the lack of pollution is. (It is nice.)
Loved this piece about Brazil’s largest apartment complex during a lockdown.
And this piece about re-reading The Secret Garden in quarantine.
What’s going to happen next? Probably this sort of future.
Of course, we’re all going to read Margaret Atwood’s quarantine diary.
Three cheers for this week’s featured gif animal, the otter, also Hermione Granger’s Patronus!
Have a great week!
Where am I? The Internet Personified! A mostly weekly collection of things I did/thought/read/saw that week.
Who are you?Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan, writer of internet words (and other things) author of seven books (support me by buying a book!) and general city-potter-er.
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