Festive lunches

There was a point in time (maybe early childhood) when I used to look forward to going to weddings just for the food. Maybe my parents’ network was such that most weddings we went to served good food, or I was too young to be discerning, but I would love the food at most functions and absolutely belt it.

Of late things haven’t been so kind. Maybe the general standard of wedding lunches has fallen (the last “function” where I remember the food being spectacularly good was my sister-in-law’s wedding, and that was in early 2017), or I’ve become more discerning in terms of the kind of food I like, but it’s not the case any more.

Recently I had written about how several functions serve lunch and dinner really late, and that we should make it a habit to eat at home before we go for such functions. The other problem is that even when food is served promptly, it frequently leaves me rather underwhelmed.

It doesn’t have to always do the quality of cooking, though. For example, most of the food at the wedding I attended today was cooked really well, and was tasty, but it was perhaps the choice of menu that has left me rather underwhelmed and hungry even after eating a lunch with 3 different sweets!

The problem with Indian wedding food is that they are massive carb fests. The main dish, if one were to call it, is rice (people like my daughter don’t mind at all – she belted a whole load of plain rice today). And then there are accompaniments, most of which seem watered down (and really, what is it about functions just not serving huLi (sambar) nowadays? At least that’s usually reasonably think and has lentils in it). ¬†And then there are sweets.

There are some fried items but they are served in such small quantities that you can’t really get “fat nutrition” from it. There is a token amount of ghee served at the beginning of the meal, but that’s about it! There’s not much protein and vegetables in the meal either.

So you “belt” the meal and fill yourself, only to find yourself hungry an hour later. And this has happened on the last four or five occasions when I’ve eaten “function food”.

Maybe it has to do with my regular diet which has of late become more “high density“, that I find these low density meals rather underwhelming. Maybe all the wedding meals I enjoyed came at a time when my regular diet was low density as well. Maybe people were more liberal with ghee and vegetables back then (this is unlikely since people in India are, on average, far more prosperous now than they were in my childhood).

Oh, and did I mention that my daughter belted copious amounts of plain rice at today’s lunch? An hour later she too was complaining of hunger. I guess I’ll let her figure out about density of food her own way!

How “non-vegetarian” is India?

Last week, after Master Chef India announced that the next season is going to be all-vegetarian, there was considerable outrage on social media. Most of the outrage contended that this was a result of the Hindu right dominating the narrative, and quoted studies that said that over 80% of India eats meat. It didn’t help that sponsors of Masterchef this season are Amul (the milk cooperative) and the Adani group, which is known to be close to the Prime Minister.

In this context, this chart from the Washington Post is quite instructive. The chart indicates the per capita per year consumption of various meats across different countries. It takes a lot of effort to find India in this chart, since it is almost non-existent. This chart shows how little meat per capita is actually consumed in India.

source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2014/07/14/the-coming-global-domination-of-chicken/

While it might be true that 80% of India’s population is not averse to eating meat, the actual fact on the ground is that very little meat is actually consumed. Which makes is okay to term India as a largely vegetarian country.

Whether that should necessitate a vegetarian-only cookery show on TV, though, is another matter and one that this blog has no opinion on.

Health and fitness not a rural concern?

It is now well accepted among nutritionists that excessive consumption of cereals is actually harmful to to health and can lead to problems such as high cholesterol, triglycerides, diabetes and fatness. In response to this, we have a number of new-fad diets such as the paleo and the keto and the Atkins which restrict intake of cereals. Even though the number of people practicing such diets might be low, in general there seems to be a trend away from cereal consumption.

Anyway, yesterday Mint put out a set of charts on malnutrition in India and the relative success of the Public Distribution System (in terms of prices for the end-consumer and nutrition only – not in terms of efficiency). What caught my attention was the last chart – the one on per capita cereal consumption in rural and urban areas.

I wasn’t comfortable with the dynamic chart on the Mint website (they have a slightly better multiple-column chart in the paper this morning), so I redrew it using lines. I’m still not sure if drawing it using lines (since the X-axis is deciles which is ordered but strictly not numerical) is the most appropriate but haven’t been able to find a better way to draw it so here goes.

cerealconsumption

The Mint piece talks only about the ratio of consumption of top and bottom deciles in rural and urban areas and stop by saying that in urban areas the poorest consume more cereal than the richest. The “trends” in the above two lines tells me a different story, though.

As you see, as we go towards the right (i.e. richer people), consumption of cereal in urban areas (the red line) actually drops! I would put this down to greater health-consciousness among the richer people of urban areas who are cutting down on cereals (either voluntarily or following the discovery of a lifestyle disease such as diabetes or cholesterol).

The blue rural line doesn’t show the same effect though – in fact, the richer you get the more cereal you consume if you are in a rural area. It either means that rural people are immune to lifestyle diseases (unlikely), or their lifestyles means that they aren’t as affected by lifestyle diseases as urban people (rather more likely) or that their lifestyle diseases go undiagnosed (perhaps even more likely) or that they have no choice but to eat cereals (unlikely again) or non-cereal sources of nutrition are too expensive for even the rich in the rural areas because of which they just consume more cereal.

Nevertheless, the trend shown in this graph is extremely interesting, and definitely shows among other things the power of aggregation when it comes to analysing data!

Buffet Strategy

Skip the main course. I’ve come to this conclusion based on three buffet meals I’ve had in the recent and not-so-recent past – Khansama in UB city in early July, Barbecue Nation in JP Nagar last weekend and The Higher Taste at ISKCon tonight.

In all these meals, there has been significant variety in the starters. There have been various kinds of starters and salads (and anyways Barbecue Nation’s USP is the barbecues – which are starters). And significantly awesome desserts too – wtih a couple of Indian sweets, variety of cakes, fruit and ice cream.

The problem with main course in all these restaurants is that it’s too standard. There might be the odd innovation here or there but it is usually a close cousin of some standard item itself. The nature of North Indian main course meals (which is the main course of the main course in all these places) doesn’t lend itself to too much radical innovation and hence the main course ends up being not too much special.

So this is what you need to do at buffets – load up on the starters. They are usually the best part of the meal in these buffets. And if you combine all the starters judiciously, it should give enough nutrition (except maybe for calories). Maybe have a little bit of main course (something like rice) to fill up your stomach (density of food fundaes). And then thulpitmax on the desserts. I’m sure you’ll leave the meal feeling happy and contented and full.