27 June 2008


What are those things that stand out about yourself? If someone were asked to describe you, what would come to the forefront? To those of you that know me: what are those things that stick out in your mind about me? If someone asked you who I am, what would you say?

Appa (father, in Tamil) taught me just as much as Amma (mother, in Tamil) did, but in different ways. My earliest memories of the kitchen come from Amma. We'd be chatting about random things, while she would interject with "See how I'm doing this? If you don't do it this way, it doesn't come out properly!" I would take careful note of how she did whatever it is, and file it away into my capacious memory bank.

However, most of what I learned from both my parents came from watching, rather than talking. For example, I picked up (from Amma) the trick of quickly taking the pot off of the heat while popping spices, thereby avoiding the pitfalls of burned spices. She never explicitly told me to do such a thing, but when you watch as carefully as I did, you pick up those things subconsciously, and follow them through in your own life. And so, I'd like to set the record straight about Appa. Although his relationship with food was in a capacity of "Food should be medicine," he still did pass on a few things that I find myself doing to this day.

For as far back as I can remember, Appa was always fastidious about having some form of raw vegetable with every meal. Whether those vegetables were carrots, onions, cucumbers, tomatoes, or whatever else depended solely on what was available. Regardless of what it was, he ensured that he had some sort of salad-like thing accompanying each meal. I picked up on this habit, and make sure to have raw vegetables in close proximity to every meal. It's not always with the meal; sometimes I have to wait a little while because my stomach has no room left, but I do make sure to have it.

That leads me to the next point. Appa is, was, and always will be the ultimate grazer. Regardless of where he worked, he would forever have squirreled away some form of nuts, sandwiches, and raisins. He loves all nuts very dearly, but peanuts have a special place in his heart. In fact, now that I come to think of it, I recall that his bedroom always had bottles of peanuts, in various stages of emptiness. Mind you, his favourite nuts are cashews and pistachios, but those two can get expensive, and fast. If it's not nuts, it's potato crisps. Whatever it is, he's constantly munching on something or other.

Anybody who's watched me eat knows that I'm a big-time grazer. I don't like to eat large meals, but prefer to have a choice of a few different varieties, that I take in small quantities. This way, I split up my meals into eight to ten small meals throughout the day.

No discussion about Appa is complete without a nod to cocoanut. In every form, Appa loves cocoanut. Cooked, raw, in salads, in soups or stews, the water, the mature cocoanut, the tender cocoanut. All of them please Appa immensely. Come to think of it, he's actually not a fan of cocoanut that's been cooked too much. He feels that it changes the quality of it, and prefers to have it raw, or just barely cooked for the last couple of minutes in a dish that's done cooking on the stove.

Finally, there's the salt issue. Appa is vehemently opposed to cooked salt. That is, he (and my mother, once she met him) believes that to add salt towards the beginning of cooking means that you're letting the salt penetrate, and destroying the health benefits of the food. It's fine to add salt at the end of the cooking, at the table, or (preferably, in his eyes) not at all. To this day, I feel funny about adding salt while I'm cooking.

There are, for sure, many other things where Appa has influenced me, but these are the ones that really stick out in my mind. If you were to mention these things to any of his family, they'd give a knowing look, and respond with "Yup! That's him!" They are so quintessentially him that I had no trouble thinking them up, and writing about them.

I wonder if I have any such distinct features about me?