Walking the taste line



Even as haute cuisine 
deliberately downgrades
 itself, are diners willy-nilly
 undergoing an upgrade?

The movement has all the
subtlety and finesse of a
glacier melting. Everything
 has happened at pretty
much the same time. Lalitha,
 give or take a ‘ji,’ now finds a
wide gamut of ready-to-eat, hatke packaged
meals on the store shelves. Kitchens transmogrify into cucinas, leading
 many young Indian couples to believe the enamelled pans that matches
 the laminates so well, come free with the remodelled room. The word
‘organic’ has started to grow and grow in meaning, if not quite in demand.
 And finally, the coup de foudre. Top-end restaurants have thrown open
 their doors to the hoi polloi: the prix fixe has arrived.

Now that restaurants are holding Chef’s Table weeks, becoming
 clued-in on all matters relating to food has become more of an
 imperative. I mean, you don’t want to come off looking totally
hillbilly when the chef himself saunters over to ask you if you
liked the sashimi he made just for you. This is interaction whether
 you like it or not, so you had better get ready to interact. You
don’t want to be staring at the artichoke hearts and wondering
why and how they expect you to eat this vile vegetable. And if
you are going to be a silent diner, you need to look like a celeb
 going conspicuously incognito.

It’s all about aspiration, see. If indeed our food choices reflect
 our cultural milieu, then right now, we are in a happy place.
 We dress well, we learn to wield that wine glass just so, holding
 the pinkie out stiffly. We learn to manage our flatware
soundlessly, swirl that spaghetti around the fork deftly,
break bread gracefully.

We, who used to consider Sunday lunches at the neighbourhood
 dosa joint an outing, now indulge in long leisurely brunches.
We do shots like we used to drink the kashaya our grandmas
used to force upon us, albeit with much more enjoyment. We
 are getting addicted to Brie in our malai koftas. From gourmands
 to gourmets-of-a-sort, we have travelled some distance.
 Munching all the while.

The upgrade cuts across all ages. We have silvers (once known
 by that sober sobriquet ‘senior citizens`) happily tucking into
edameme dumplings and sushi, displaying an appetite for new
 foods, even as they will feast on appams and avial or
takachi kadhi.

This being the post-fusion age of cuisine, at home we are
 buying Provencal granola, Mondrian cake and the makings
for an excellent ravioli, all with a spirit of adventure. We still
buy cold cuts but we also walk down to the farmer’s market,
 should we hear of one in the vicinity. Because we have
become conscious gastronomes.

There’s a lot we don’t know about fine dining but clearly, now
 is the time to dig deep. Molecular gastronomy is still a book we
 haven’t finished transcribing. Not all of us know our truffle from
 our mushroom or truly appreciate escargot (aka the humble snail)
 but here’s the point: not all of us aspire to be cuisine connoisseurs.
 A superficial, mostly tactile, mainly delicious relationship with
new foods is more than enough for us.

As of now, it’s all to the good, chi-chi chow becoming common
 or garden fare. We hear that spaghetti is India’s de facto
favourite food and we are not surprised. As we tuck into our
 devilled mushrooms and aubergine pate (bharta, anyone?),
 as we develop a tendresse for crostinis, game pies and pavlovas
 of all flavours, unconsciously we are honing our taste buds to
 expect better, to appreciate better. And yes, we no longer
make a beeline for food swimming in oil and masala.
Exquisite, subtle minimalism in flavouring and appearance
has passed the test, and we totally get that some foods are
good to eat as well as good for you.

Simply put, we have come a long way from the frozen peas
and spring roll days of yore. Now we can give the PPs
(Pretentious People) a run for their forex. When the chef
comes to our table, we can tell him/her that the sage lent
a most esoteric flavor to the terrine. We know our sweetmeats
 from our sweetbreads. With some practice, we can
 pronounce Sauvignon Blanc just right, too.
Achievement, achievements.

Where this movement has an edge is that never in the history
 of evolutionary movements has the method been as delectable
 as the end result. Let’s raise a toast to that, shall we?

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