Missing the Taste of India

It was way back in 1980; I had recently joined a prestigious college in Chandigarh as a lecturer and was staying in the college hostel with the students. On one Sunday evening, I could sense palpable excitement  among the girls. I wondered why there was so much of commotion in the corridors. Lo, I found out. The  dinner menu of noodles and fried rice!  This entire hullabaloo about noodles may sound weird today, but it was the pre-Maggi era when ‘two minutes noodles’ had not invaded Indian kitchens.  Even I felt excited, though as a teacher I could hardly show it. Being a small town girl, I had heard about noodles but never tasted. With loads of expectation ,I went to the mess but was in for a disappointment. The taste of noodles was queer and the flavor distinct, certainly not to my liking. That was more than three and a half decades ago. Over a period of time I have developed taste for Chinese food and in fact, now I love it.

As I talk about noodles I cannot help recalling my first encounter with pizza. At least, I had heard about noodles but I had no idea about pizza- its shape or form before coming to Chandigarh. In the mid 80s, Narulas opened a restaurant in Sector 17 which specialized in Pizza. On my brother-in-law’s recommendation, my husband and I went to the eatery to indulge in Italian fast food. Far from relishing the pizza, I could barely have a slice of it. Back then I might have rejected pizza, but now it is my favourite. At this age when I should be counting my calorie intake and cutting down on fats, I cannot resist a pizza loaded with cheese and crunchy vegetables.

We were visiting children in Australia who left no stone unturned to entertain us. As a special treat, one evening after her office my daughter-in-law prepared Thai curry. I was in a predicament. She had prepared the dish so lovingly and laboriously that I could hardly say no, but found the distinct flavor of the spices and peculiar smell of the herbs in Thai food rather repulsive. I had a tough time explaining that the dish was wonderful but the fault was of my taste buds which take time to adjust. I found myself seeking validation in pizza and noodles that  I found unpalatable initially but relish now.

On that evening, I might have been able to wriggle out of the situation but the problem persists. The food does not taste and smell the same overseas. What to talk of anything else, the taste of burgers and pizza, that  I relish otherwise, is different even at international food chains like Pizza Hut, McDonalds and Dominos. Cookies and ice creams also don’t taste the same. Far away in an alien land, I yearn for Indian food, crave for desi touch in videshi cuisine and miss the ‘Taste of India’.


(Published in HT Sunday Read Feb 28, 2016)

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