Saturday, August 22, 2009

Dorm Cooking 00: Prefatory Note

Another new series, and this one marks a fresh approach for the blog. So far I have resisted posting recipes. Like I mentioned in the recent policy update, the blog was envisaged as an attempt to understand food, particularly street food, in its larger social and economic context. Recipes tend to do the very opposite - their purport is to detach preparations from their origins. That is what they achieve when they instruct the Peruvian how to cook Tagine, or the Japanese the right way of making Borscht. Often they suggest how ingredients difficult to procure can be substituted with easily available alternatives; this has the effect of further distancing the dish from its roots.

Of course, it can be argued that recipes serve to bridge cultures; the Tagine recipe may well constitute, say, the Peruvian's sole exposure (no matter how tenuously approximate) to Moroccan Culture. My simple response is that true or not, this has little to do with what the FoodScapes blog has set out to do. It was started with an express remit (namely, to understand food in its context), and publishing recipes goes against this.

However, there does exist a genre of cooking that transcends context, so to speak. And for good measure, it is a genre which we ourselves, my friends and I, regularly add to. Most of us are either grad students or young professionals in academic or semi-academic streams. Money and time are both prized commodities, and yet we appreciate good food as much as, and may even more so than, the next person. In the face of such onerous demands, something or the other has to give way, and usually it is adherence to convention that is a casualty. Let's face it, our cooking is not conventional. It is dictated likely as not by what is convenient, what the local department store is offering a discount on, what is left in the fridge, and whether it'll fit into the microwave. Not conventional, as you can see, but boy, are the results good! I've gained quite a bit of weight in the last year, despite subsisting largely on nuked vegetables.

Incidentally, I find this genre of cooking has garnered some wider recognition even. Heidi Swanson's 101 Cookbooks blog recently featured an article on "dorm food ideas". Apart from anything else, that resolved the issue of what to call this genre. "Grad Student Cooking" didn't sound right somehow, not the least because many friends and potential contributors are no longer students. For that matter, even yours truly might gain a respite from studenthood within this week! "Dorm Cooking" sounds better - it conveys a feeling of haste, a bohemian disregard for conventions, a freewheeling lifestyle marred only by looming deadlines. And let's face it, that's mostly what both grad-student-life and early-professional-life are all about.

This series also represents another break with convention. So far I have been the only one writing on this blog. We start the series, however, with a guest post by Anita Dixit on chicken curry. More posts as and when. As usual, this prefatory note also contains a list of posts in the series.

List of Articles:
  1. Chicken Curry for First-Time Cooks of Non-Veggie (guest post by Anita Dixit)