I try to have a focus for every year from the point of view of food blogging and this year it's learning. Exciting or interesting food so far has been mostly about chance encounters - a meal at a restaurant, a meal at a friend's place, a meal at a wedding, a pot luck somewhere, goodies sampled at a food event, food explored while travelling, recipes recreated in my kitchen, recipes developed for Katy's Kitchen, etc. There has been a randomness attached to my food experiences and I have enjoyed it thoroughly. But as I encountered food in this random fashion I developed a thirst to look beyond the immediate experience of eating and subsequently finding out the recipes. The way I was looking at food was changing, my questions were changing. I discovered a need to delve beyond the obvious and a need to learn more than the superficial.
My visits to Kolkata were the usual trips to meet family, have fun with the cousins, eat out at the usual haunts, check out the new joints, and shop for a predictable few things. A few years ago out of sheer boredom I went to wander around in produce section of Gariahat market instead of the usual shops that sell clothes, jewellery, cosmetics, etc. It was an experience I will never forget. I saw vegetables, fruit, fresh meat, fresh fish, household paraphernalia, accessories used in pujas and rituals, and lots more. I was looking at it all differently because I went with a camera. I came home with innumerable terrible photographs but the experience was a revelation - I looked at produce differently. I paid attention to the names, I looked at the appearance of the ingredients with more attention, I literally saw things with a renewed eye. I hadn't realised it then but a new journey had just begun.
Of course I had been to Crawford market a zillion times before, especially to shop for the business, but I never really looked at things. Not properly. Not with this kind of interest. No questions popped into my head. I have, since that time in Gariahat market with my camera, found great joy in markets. I have been lucky enough to travel quite a bit in the subsequent years and I have trawled the markets in Cochin, Guwahati, Shillong, Goa, Old Delhi, Gurgaon, many villages in the Konkan, and of course, Kolkata, Mumbai, and Navi Mumbai.
But the point was not in wandering around and clicking photos. The point was to look and to learn. And I did. The sheer variety of produce available in this country is mind boggling and I can confidently say I have seen new things, stuff I'd never even heard of before, in almost every market I have visited. The next obvious step was finding out about the new things - what is it called, how is it eaten, what does it taste like, where does it grow, and so on.
The curiosity about Indian foods, ingredients, and cuisines meant I was also looking for reading material and so I started buying cookbooks that focused on regional cuisines of the country. In no time I had a huge pile of new cookbooks frowning at me from the book shelves. So this year I will move the learning from my comfortable chair where I read these books and drool over the photographs (and props!) to my kitchen. There's no better way to connect with a dish or a cuisine than cooking it yourself. When you do it all from scratch, follow the processes, handle the ingredients, and ultimately taste the results, your connection with it is stronger, your understanding is better.
This year it's time to cook. And learn.