Dear reader,

 

I don’t know if they were part of a generational wave in the late 90s, but both my parents went to work when I was a child, and apart from a brief period when we had a full-time nanny for my newborn brother, we all had a key to the house. To a six-foot door bubbling with potential to nine-year-old four-foot-two me, that flattered to deceive and led, consistently, to bread and ketchup as snack ingredients.  

 

For as long as I can remember, everyone in my house has always been in a hurry. Which could be because of how lazy we’ve been prior to being in a hurry.

 

From two variants of sides and three variants of carbs, my lunchbox for the school day would be engineered. The sophisticated side was a syrupy concoction of ghee and sugar. The other one, quite simply, was jam. One of these would be combined with either three idlis, three dosas or four chapatis. There was a rota. It was a minimal system built for and by a people in hurry.

 

This week’s story of the week is an illustrated (yay!) one, by Shing Yin Khor, that paints a picture which in many ways is the opposite of the one I’ve just painted. Her first language was her family’s fourth language, and there wasn’t a lot she could say to her grandmother. Inversely, her grandmother could never really talk with her either. But her grandmother cooked. And that was their language. Now, the author demonstrates, food is the only expression she knows.

 

It’s not just the story, but the responses under it that moved me. Wistful, compassionate people talking about how food is tied to their memories that makes you go aha-oho. It’s what got me thinking about how I interacted with meals as a child.

 

It also made me think about some Reddit threads I’ve come across in the past; in threads about what changed for people as they grew financially sound, food is often most cited. And the interesting thing was how relative it all was. For example, a lot of Americans said mac n’ cheese was their “struggle” food, or chicken and beans. Things that came to India as luxury food. Canned tuna showed up a lot, as did spaghetti. For Asians who were involved in the second World War, spam was a common mention.

 

Then, someone said instant noodles. Of course. An open face plain tomato sandwich. Sure.

 

And then, bread and ketchup.

 

It is extraordinary how many people have eaten bread and ketchup as a meal! It was the kind of un-spirational culinary invention that I thought was a family secret. But it has emerged that it was a staple for lazy people everywhere.  Or was it busy people? Or more a reflection of money?

 

Probably a mix of it all in our case. My father was a newbie businessman in a city he was still learning about. My mum couldn’t have been making a lot as a woman at the turn of the millennium. Chilli chicken Sunday could only be on a Sunday, when either of them had time to breathe. Four chilli chicken Sundays a month was probably also suited best, economy-wise, to send this dumbass to a nice school.

 

I should probably ask them, not you. It’s a story that deserves more words than I can fit in an inbox. Besides, there are other stories in this edition that will give you more insight into family dynamics and roles and food and how they all come together to create humans, than my divided thoughts.

 

Tell me what you eat as you read them.

Yours,

Varun

 

Story of the week – Say it with noodles: On Learning to Speak the Language of Food

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