In my younger days, I used to be a voracious eater of practically every item on the menu. I would fall for anything that appeared delectable — whether it was some meat preparation, a well-cooked vegetable, fruits, sweets, confectionery or some ice-cream.
While enjoying my food, I would often forget how much I had consumed and how much more was left to be picked up. That gave me a sense of guilt. So, I was always wary about being watched by some inquisitive person like today’s cctv (surveillance camera) in a departmental store.
I would look from the corner of my eyes to ensure that nobody was seeing me eating. Mercifully, despite heavy intake, I never had any complication. At the most, it was indigestion which I tackled with home remedies.
Years passed by. At one stage, I realised I should not have been so indiscreet and should have exercised restraint while eating. Wisdom having dawned on me, albeit, so late, I became cautious. In a role reversal, I started observing people devouring dishes at social luncheons or dinners.
Quite often, I felt like counselling them to be kind to their stomach. But my conscience reminded me that I could not preach what I had not practised myself. Ok. Done, I mean, not done. But having been a keen observer always, I changed the tack. I started scanning the patterns of guests’ appetite and their preferences for foodies at buffet lunches and dinners.
From ‘how much’ my focus now was on ‘who eats what?’ Still, my jaw would drop on watching some diners, including women, building in their plate a pyramid of mutton biryani topped with chicken pieces. How somebody has aptly said that some people eat to live while some others live to eat! The sight reminded me of a Hindi movie titled, Kal Ho Na Ho (Who knows there may be no tomorrow?).
Well, coming back to preferences I found that most food lovers had granted the status of ‘most-favoured-dish’ to chicken and all its variants. Paneer and peas curry had the same amount of universal appeal with vegetarians and even meat eaters. It is a widely popular dish in more than half of India.
A close look revealed that invariably every chicken lover, irrespective of age and gender, would scoop for leg pieces. This portion (also called tangri in Punjab, Delhi and neighbouring regions) is hugely popular in most of northern India. I am told that in the West, the chicken breast is to the diners what the leg piece is to most Indians. But the tragedy is that a chicken has got only two legs.
At one wedding reception, I saw a little girl, who, being just about table-high, could not help herself. So, she tugged at her mother’s apparel imploring: “Mummy, give me a chicken leg”. The poor girl did not know that her mom had already ‘hoarded’ three leg pieces on her plate, probably including one for her loved one. And importantly, she was not the only ‘tangri collector’ in the crowd.
The trend set by this craving has led shops to sell chicken legs exclusively. I don’t know how they manage it.
This reminds me of a co-professional, P. Singh, a stockily built six-footer, who had a weakness for all good eatables — in particular roasted cashew nuts. During press conferences, he would quickly cleanse the stuff served to him and would then trespass onto the neighbour’s plate. We detested it and even tried to rein-in him, but could not.
On one occasion, when only a few plates of goodies were placed before a fairly big crowd of newsmen, I quietly passed on to others the one that was meant for Singh and those sitting near him. Even as the press meet was in progress, he kept nudging me to put back the plate. I just ignored. By the time I responded, only three-four pieces were left. He looked annoyed. We thought we had taught him a lesson.
But, no. It was going to be the other way about. He devised a novel strategy to beat us at our own game. From that day onwards, he would sit next to the chief guest. Singh would consume his stuff and then put some question to the chief guest that forced him to indulge in talking.
While he talked, Singh would empty his plate also.
We were stumped.
Lalit Raizada is a journalist based in India.