I first learned how to cook in a rusty, make-shift half-kitchen out of a dusty Gurgaon balcony, overlooking many other dusty Gurgaon balconies. I burned my first dal, buggered up my first wok-tossed fried rice and finally got it right with a simple home-style Indian Chicken Curry. At first, I didn’t use a recipe book, but went simply by what I knew: years of watching mothers and aunts and friends and house-help shuffle around the kitchen leaves you with many intuitive skills, you know how to sprinkle the dhaniya, simmer the oil, turn over the eggs. There are things you don’t know too, how much water to add to the dal, how to cut onions, how it is to clean meat.
Yet, you begin to fall in love. You begin to pore over recipe books and grandmother notes and notes from friends and cook Sundays, then Mondays, then everyday. Some days you get the salt wrong, and some days the spicy tomato chutney will be dismissed but some days the house will fill up with the smell of biryani and you know you must go on.
Suddenly, so many things are about food. Friday evening cook-outs, new places you visit, restaurants you never tried, friends you make. You connect over the smell of mustard oil, the perfect shepherd’s pie, Saturday fish markets. You come together over Friday evening barbecues. And, when you leave you do not forget.
When I left Gurgaon, I left a little of my love for food. I still turn to the kitchen occasionally for snatches of peace and warmth, but largely miss the swirls and smells of my kitchen in another time. In Bombay, food can often leave you wanting. But on a recent trip to Singapore, it all came back to me.
Not just a dying urge to chop, and stir and serve: but an overpowering love for food.
Perhaps, it was the way the satays came piled up with peanut sauce, or the sights and smells of the hawker centres where you could pick your food by 2 vegetables, 1 meat. And come away with sweet and spicy pork chops, and greasy and spicy chicken, and yellow curry, and wok tossed beans. Then, there is the chicken rice in the food courts, the dim sums, the egg fried rice at 2 AM roadside stalls, slightly sweet wasabi rolls, perfectly sweetened lychee martinis. Greasy sausage buns, pungent steamboats with wild mushrooms, chilli crab and perfectly tempered tapas, and chocolate cold coffee.
Singapore is among the most delightful places for food. A mix of cultures, and loves, and flavours from all over the world.
With a shared characteristic: you can eat anywhere, alone.