‘If only I could find a nice, warm plate of good food to comfort my tired bones…’ These were my thoughts as I was walking around Venice, in May 2014, during a particularly wet and chilly evening. It was the 6th day of our budget trip that consisted of walking from mid morning till late night, exploring beautiful cities and monuments, running to catch buses and trains to take us across Italy. So far, food had consisted of rice and ready-to-eat packets of chole, sandwiches, and Haldiram savories. The high that comes from being in a new place was wearing off and the body had begun to demand comfort food and rest.
A few weeks before I embarked upon this trip, I was spending an afternoon at my friend’s place. I teach him Hindi. He, who speaks 12 other languages and teaches Spanish in high school, gives me a chance to spend two glorious hours learning more than I can teach him! On this particular afternoon, we were in the mood to exchange recipes. I often describe, on demand, how to make Indian subjis and, on occasion, have even demonstrated the same in his tiny kitchen. I happened to ask him about ‘spaghetti, aglio, olio e peperoncino’ and he cooked it for me and we had a good Hindi lesson over spicy, warm yet simple spaghetti. He insisted I try to find and have some when in Italy.
So on that chilly evening in Venice, I found myself pining for some warm, fulfilling ‘spaghetti, aglio, olio e peperoncino.’ It’s not too much to ask when you are in the heart of one of Italy’s most famous tourist destinations, right? Turns out it is! After settling into a cozy and well-established restaurant, I had to settle for watery spaghetti that remained warm only for the first two bites. So you can tell that, while it was a fresh preparation, the pasta was pre-cooked and then heated in a microwave, perhaps? I was not alone as my husband too felt that his ‘spaghetti pomodoro e basilico’ could have been better. We paid through the nose and remained unsatisfied. This dissatisfaction was in continuation of a long quest to find good, heartwarming food that is worth its penny.
I was left comparing the two versions of spaghetti I had had. The first was cooked right in front of me, using fresh ingredients. The second was cooked in the kitchen of a good restaurant. Was that the only difference? Then why, when eating out is so normal, are food standards coming down? Why must the average Joe not be able to afford an enjoyable evening in a restaurant that serves ‘good’ food? And from the looks of it, why is it becoming so easy for restaurant owners to serve mediocre food? Should we be scared? Personally, this only strengthens my desire to invest in good kitchen ware to be able to dish out delicious food from the comforts of my own kitchen.
‘Good’ food for me isn’t that what comes in 3-4 bite-size morsels, decorated with green sprigs and a few ribbons of colourful sauce, served on a mile-long platter. It is that which is true to its origin and gives satisfaction, all caps. Even something as basic as daal-chawal and roti-subji can go wrong when the rice in even slightly undercooked and the roti arrives ten minutes before the subji.
With such essential things going wrong for restaurateurs and clients demanding food to match their developing tastes as their exposure expands, I will not be surprised when a new legion of critics arises. This time however, the critical point of review will not be whether one should have chicken tikka or chicken kolhapuri, but whether the chicken was cooked at all!
[PS: Soon after I wrote this, a bunch of people I know started www.ahmedabadfoodcritics.com, as if to make my wishes come true! Public service takes place in many forms. And they serve by guiding you through the millions of upcoming fancy eateries in Ahmedabad! :)]