There are magazines who make it their life's mission to calculate someones riches, and prepare lists of the richest people in the world. These are declared every year, and avidly commented upon, by various print and electronic media , who are, at least in India, fed up with reporting grown men doing the fisticuffs in Parliament, various wardrobe malfunctions, by folks who make a living out of exposing more skin than cloth, fake interviews given between two urgent trips to Europe by people with size zero whatever, and political expressions of austerity by some wordy worthies, while actually enjoying dedicated rooms and loos at a five star , for free.
This same magazine, has now done a list of the Worlds most extravagant meals.
Makes me wonder. I mean, the food ingredients used world wide are finite, the human stomach has finite capabilities, and size, methods of cooking are finite. The only thing not finite seems to be an urge, to be seen , as having infinite amount of money, and the infinite ability of restaurateurs to fool the rich folks.
Why else , would millionaire types pay $100,000, through their (false ) teeth, to have dinner in a giant dangling crane (of German innovation) above a cathedral in France, to eat vegetables, grown by the chef at his own farm 90 minutes outside Paris ? At Daniel Boulds Caviar in NY City, you can pretend you are slumming at $205 a meal, unless of course you have caviar starters at $805 for 50 gms. Flying to Russia to steal the fish eggs for less maybe an option. Nino's Bellissima Pizza, in the same city , fools folks with a $1000 pizza studded with the same stolen fish eggs. Out West, if you are dying to eat in a Laundry, the French Laundry in Napa Valley, will present you with 2 menus of $240, with unique ingredients that are not repeated. In Istanbul, at the Ciragan Palace Kempinski, you can eat a $1000 cake made of French wheat, Jamaican rum , dry fruits, Polynesian vanilla, and finally sprinkled with Turkish gold dust, just in case you wonder whats Turkish about it. And then again, something called the Fleur Burger , with some ancient wine, for $5000, all this, appropriately, in Las Vegas, where money flows out of machines and card tables.
So does the sugar taste any sweeter, or the wine any tarter, because your account is debited more ? Does your digestive system find itself wallowing in floods of pepsin and renin of some special superior quality ? Does the hydrochloric acid in your stomach get an upgrade in view of receiving 50 gms of fish eggs stolen from Russian fish ?
They say having food is a state of mind. A mind, happy in wonderful company, removed of all anxieties, gets satiated with the simplest foods, which , far from debiting your life, credit your body in the most wonderful way.
Forty years ago, girls going to the US at 19 for graduate school was considered total madness on the part of parents. Once there, people wondered about the red dot on your forehead, admired your grasp of English, it was not usual to see thousands of Indian students wandering about on campus, and stores that sold Indian groceries were there only in big metros.
She was a vegetarian, knew how to cook the basic stuff, and had a wonderful American roommate, who undertook to make her initiation into America , a very enjoyable venture. The roommate would go ga-ga over potato subji, and dal and rice, but doing the chappaties (=fresh tortillas) was not a frequent occurrence due to a busy schedule at college, and the habit of always having had them hot off the griddle at home.
A year passed and she got a call from some folks she knew in Los Angeles . They were like 10 years older to her, just had had a baby, and the baby's maternal grandma was visiting to help with the first six months . Grandma knew she was at the University almost an hour away, and wanted to meet her, as she knew her folks back home. Would she like to come one weekend ?
She certainly would :-)
"Tell me what you feel like having when you are here and we'll try " grandma said, and urged her to let her know in advance so she could source the ingredients , if she didn't already have them.
The young girl really didn't have to think much. Visions of early winter mornings in Pune, the sun streaming in amidst jamun trees and mango trees shading the windows, and someone sitting at a table, amidst an aroma of burning coal, water boiling in copper vessels, rubbing her hands, eyeing a plate, as a fresh fragrant jowar bhakri slid on to it, wallowing in that little dollop of white butter , melting indulgently on it, winking at the fresh green chutney on the side, with besan pithla and spliced chilies to spice things up.
Grandma laughed. She didn't really expect this. But then she too was a Pune lady. So was her daughter. She understood the yearning. All those ready to cook tortillas and stuff were no match at all, but were OK for a daily rushed schedule.
"Let me try", she said ," I have seen some Mexican flour here that resembles Jowar flour. I'll figure out something. You come for sure ...."
The following weekend saw the young girl land up in LosAngeles mid morning, carrying some gifts for the baby, and a lot of anticipation . Grandma wanted a few things picked up before lunch, and she went out with the young couple while grandma attended to the baby . When they returned, cooking was on, the tawa(griddle) was on the stove, and there were a bunch of plates on a table in the kitchen with a lot of fresh vegetable mustardy pickles in bowls alongside.
"Wash your hands and come eat " she said, flipping a bhakri on the griddle, as she watched it puff up. It was just like a piece of home.
And so she sat , face to face with grandma's daughter (the son -in -law , a wonderful person, offered to entertain baby) , and the two of them , with blissful expressions, one even sitting crosslegged on the chair, kept getting layered bhakris in their plates, with the white butter, and the pithla and the chutneys and pickles.
No words were spoken for some time, as plates shone bright with all the stuff being wiped clean by the hot bhakrees. Hot and sweet lemon pickle, garlic chutney, fresh vegetable pickle of the type made here in winters.
And then grandma poured us some tall glasses of thin buttermilk, lightly flavoured with coriander, ginger, black salt and lemon, the type that is called "mattha" and is still served in some traditional Pune weddings.
The son in law watched, not terribly surprised at the gluttony of the girls, looking at his own daughter, and wondering what she would be like, at that age, born and brought up in the US . Of course he himself ate like a glutton when it was his turn, with his indulgent mother-in-law urging him to have a little more , but he , the epitome of good manners and bringing up, shook himself out of this food reverie and insisted that grandma join him in the eating, now that the girls were done with their Bhakri attack.
To this day, that is the richest meal I can recall. No fancy ingredients, implements, ladders, hanging from cranes, stealing from fish, sprinkling of golden dusts, and pouring of liquids from ancient cellars with controlled temperatures.
Just a comfortably cluttered kitchen, two wide eyed Pune girls ecstatic about the stuff coming of the tawa, a smiling grandmother, saree tucked in at the waist, turning over the bhakri on the tawa, with her bare hands, and then stirring coriander into the pithla on the stove alongside, getting it slightly burning brown at the edges.
And all the while, the young new father, waited his turn , looked once at his daughter, and once at his wife, shook his head indulgently at the visiting young girl, and looked for the TV remote to check out the latest football game.
We are not on the world's rich list.
However, should Forbes ever condescend to value this meal, it will find itself regretting its inability to find numbers , high enough, to allocate.