Sunday, 19 July 2009

Hospitals, comfort food and shame

Often when I'm sick, all I can think about is food. Just after the Delhi move I spent a week holed up in a guesthouse room saddled with food poisoning, I would lie awake at night thinking about chimichurri sauce: how I would make it and how I would eat it, once I was better. My top chimichurri experience was at last year's birthday dinner at London's Gaucho Grill where I had it with an exceptionally fantastic piece of steak. I decided steak might be a bit of an ask in India so I would opt to have it smeared on a great bit of sourdough, dripping in olive oil. I never did make the sauce; I still don't have a mortar and pestle or a food processor so chimichurri remains on the to-do list.

Now I'm sick again, but a different kind of sick, recuperating from emergency surgery two days ago. It was only a minor procedure, but they still opted to put me under a general. Maybe it was to shut me up: I was getting increasingly nervous and shrill; even after they gave me the shot I was still instructing the anaesthetist to "make sure you don't fuck it up, my husband is a journalist!" Then I passed out.

Now I'm back home and fine, but have virtually zero appetite. However I must eat to keep down the copious amounts of antibiotics I'm on, so food is still on my mind. Mostly I'm eating Vegemite on toast. To the uninitiated, Vegemite is like eating a gummy stock cube: salty and yeasty and disgusting. But it's immensely popular in Australia, one of those strange acquired tastes that develop in geographically isolated countries. I only started liking it during a sick spell two years ago, and now it's at the top of my comfort food list.

My other comfort foods are pretty much all carb-based: the obligatory mashed potato, plain pasta, toasted sandwiches with plastic cheese. Even though I've virtually sworn off local food - nine months of chicken tikka will do that to you - I could eat a tub of soft fluffy idlis, thus belying my South Indian roots. Without sambhar but with a healthy dollop of ghee and a scraping of mint chutney, that hint of flavour and fat them from being boring.

Unfortunately making idlis requires technique, patience and equipment, none of which I have. I could always order them in from one of Delhi's smattering of South Indian restaurants, or ask my Tamil maid to make them for me, but I feel slightly shameful for not having ever bothered to learn how to. Perhaps this sick spell is a wake-up call to claim back a bit of Indian-ness I lost when I moved out of home. But for now, I'm off to eat spaghetti laced with extra virgin olive oil and a smattering of parmesan cheese.

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