If you’re like me, you might have also spent the better half of your lockdown attempting (at first forced) to cook meals in that strange part of your house called the kitchen. My YouTube feed has now casually evolved into a stream of fixing mixies, learning khichdi and then cleaning swiftly any sofa stains that have surely been induced.
The purpose here however, isn’t so much to talk about our experiences cooking in the kitchen, but rather on the experience right after. Food, in my mind, has now become intrinsically linked with the experience of watching Television. It’s like chilly flakes and oregano. Rai and kadhi patta. Parsley and sage. Any of the phorons within the 5 phorons (ahem). Dinner time, in particular, is the chief highlight. After the struggle of a working day, perhaps filled with unsatisfactory quickies like aloo sandwich (we are not Europeans) or khichdi (very tough water mix, how much daal? Is this the second or third seeti?), Dinner is the time to feast, experiment, and watch without a care in the world.
But this is precisely where I’ve been struggling lately. What food goes best with what I want to watch? Or what can I watch that goes best with what I’ve spent the last 2 hours cooking?
Let’s say, you and your partner/relative/roommate are cooking a delicious lemon spaghetti aglio olio after learning the recipe from Gennaro Contaldo on YouTube (a legend). Would this delicious pasta work best with the plot of Midnight in Paris, the sunlit lanes of Before Sunrise or with the bullets of Sonchiriya? How important is food in bringing alive the ambience of the watching experience? And more importantly where does that leave the status of popcorn, momos and nachos that have been served to unsuspecting cinema goers for years?
What about our staples – daal, chawal and bhindi? The question of watching an episode of The Mandalorian or Paatal Lok while eating daal chawal is out of the question. For starters, certain foods require you to rush for a second helping (you know the ‘double dash’, because chawal is never a one time fling), which naturally forces you to stop the content right in the middle of a crucial plot point, say when Baby Yoda (not Jaideep Ahlawat) is about to do something important to a Stormtrooper. You might even think about postponing the moment, or waiting for the episode to ride out, or letting the movie reach a boring point worthy of a second pause, but by then the food is already cold and you need to heat it again, which takes even longer, and it’s time to sleep. Why not something simple like a grilled chicken or soup in such situations, that can be eaten in entirety without the need for a a ‘double dash’?
Or let’s take the dilemma of a foreign film. I saw Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon recently, but really struggled with the veg pulao I was eating along with it. Why? Because unlike a wrap or noodles, which might have been a wiser choice, I was forced to repeatedly look down to see what I was scooping from my plate (lest I bite into a badi or chhoti elaichi which, I’m sure you would all agree is absolute blasphemy). This naturally creates a problem while reading a subtitles and before I knew it, I was missing chunks of the movie every time I looked down. Li Mu Bai was suddenly holding hands with Yu Shu Lien. I had completely missed the moment.
And let’s not even get into the difficult days of ghiya, turai, lauki, dudhi and parval. What shows can save this gastronomical nightmare and what movies can help us forget about the decisions made by our maids/mothers that day altogether? (P.S. Check out this YouTube channel called First We Feast and watch a burger scholar explain the history and origins of the world’s greasiest burgers. It really helps the tindas go down.)
All this really makes me wonder, why don’t we have a more organized system that formally recognizes the synergy between the Food We Eat and the Stuff We Watch everyday? Why is it not merely integrated into the recommendations engine to help us deal with this problem once and for all? Simply put, can I manage to make The Debate with Arnab more palatable if I had just been prompted to put palak pakori in my mouth?
This is probably a task for more reputed thinkers of our time, but I have still tried my hand at attempting a simple 2×4 matrix. You can stick it on the fridge if you like.