Ink on my Apron: Persistence and a prawn curry
This is the sort of food you want to dive into while also serving as a reminder that the things that once embarrassed you are the ones that make you truly you.
“Who do you cook all this food for?” is a question that has begun to irk me no end. For myself, I say, in a resounding tone that invites no scope for debate. I deserve to be celebrated daily, I tell myself reassuringly. It’s the ultimate act of self-care. Taking the time out every evening to remember that you matter.
My post-work ritual has come to be sacrosanct. There’s a half-hour window between the flinging off shoes and inhibitions at the doorway and plonking down on the couch, which if surpassed can prove to throw an untimely spanner in the works. Recipes are then skimmed through and I’ve found that the most unlikely sources of authority are the slightly cringeworthy clumsily shot YouTube videos uploaded by amateur home cooks that make up for their lack of finesse with big flavours that pack a punch.
This is the sort of food you want to dive into while also serving as a reminder that the things that once embarrassed you are the ones that make you truly you. Like going in fingers first. Eating with your hands is a basic instinct and something I longed for in the UK. To really connect with someone who understood how there is something so basic about the simple act of making that intimate communion with your food, which cannot be explained until experienced firsthand.
My younger self had a heightened sense of consciousness about the unspoken but subtle differences in “hand-eating etiquette” between my north Indian friends and I. The great Indian north-south divide, it seemed, trickled down into more areas than one would imagine.
Photograph by Jehan Nizar
For years I struggled with the travails of mirroring the three-finger roti scoop that seemed second nature to my Punjabi, Sindhi and Gujarati counterparts. Rice eating, it went without saying, was restricted to being consumed with cutlery as an intervening medium. It was either that or risk being teased mercilessly for my “Malabari” ways. On occasion, I find myself wondering whether there is an entire generation of people who have lost out on the joys of one of the most inherent ways to connect with what you eat. I have, however, made my peace with this fact and choose instead to preach to the choir.
Dinner is usually a hearty, fuss-free affair and I wonder what it is about being in India that has made me forget all other cravings. Is it geography that determines culinary preferences or the unavailability of ingredients such as flat-leaf parsley and Omani dried lemons that have temporarily derailed me and made me give up my affinity for Middle Eastern food, which I have always considered my cuisine of preference? Out of sight, out of mind, I find myself thinking on more than one occasion.
Friday lunches are usually a grand affair back home in Dubai. It’s the one time of the week we ensure we eat together as a family. Mounds of rice will be drenched with indulgent coconut milk-based seafood curries and an entire spectrum of accompaniments - from vegetable thorans to dried fish chamandis and glasses of cool “more” with curry leaves and grated slivers of chilli and ginger to turn up the heat in an unexpected way – will see us being spoiled for choice. It seems only natural then that as a person who is used to this sort of an indulgence, it’s the one thing I’d not just miss but try to replicate on a slightly less ambitious scale. A visit to the ophthalmologist and eye dilation later, my grand Sunday lunch plans this weekend may have been temporarily thrown off track but I had prawn curry on the brain, leading me to venture into a more-elaborate-than-usual weeknight stint in the kitchen. Going all in is not a concept I can say I’m unfamiliar with.
As for the ultimate act of pampering - setting the table for one is what I have discovered is the most glorious act of everyday adulting. It’s what distinguishes the basic act of cooking for sustenance from cooking to nourish one’s soul. It’s about making a conscious decision to not eat sloppily over the stove to spare yourself the hassle of washing up.
It’s why I go to great pains to ensure there is a little melamine bowl of fish pickle, which takes its pride of place on my dining table for four, with a matching one for “set curd”. And everybody knows a thick velvety gravy must live alongside a dry sabzi with some textural relief in the form of crispy appalams. So the next time, I’m casually asked “who I cook all this food for”, I might invite the offending party in question to break bread with me. To really inhabit the space of that fully-loaded millennial word self-care. For now, I’ll continue to take joy in the little things.
Jehan Nizar is a lifestyle features writer and food blogger at www.inkonmyapron.com.