At the table, some sounds are acceptable, some annoying, and some totally appetising.
A sausage sizzles
The toaster clangs
The kettle whistles…
by Richard James
The sound of bacon sizzling in a pan — even before the smell hits me — can get the juices running. I’ve always found smell more evocative, even more than sight. And sound may be learnt response: when mustard seeds are dropped into hot oil, the spluttering sound announces that tempering has begun, I associate the sound with what it will bring, and the anticipation starts. The sound of a sil-batta in action, mere stone and stone: thud-and-crunch, thud-and-crunch, tells me masalas are being ground and I begin to smell them in my mind. The sound of a tandoori roti being slapped from hand to hand just before it’s smacked onto the hot clay walls, the hissing, singeing sound of tea being poured out of a steel pan, the dull thud of a glass of thick banana milkshake being plonked on a table, the put-put of halwa bubbling, of sarson ka saag sputtering, two cardamoms being crunched and ground in the small mortar and pestle, eggs being beaten, the toaster popping, the microwave oven going ping!… all these sounds make me hungry.
At the table, some sounds are acceptable, some appetising, and some plain annoying. It’s subjective — the crunch of crisp lettuce and the satisfied gurgle of a baby are okay. Someone slurping their soupy noodles isn’t so nice, but when you’re freezing, the joy of blowing and slurping too-hot tea is better than sipping, which is silent. And when you’re hot and parched, the sound of icy water being glugged is music to the ears. The crunching of a papad , the crisp crumbling of a brittle rusk, the hissssing with chillies, the sound of a dull knife sawing through to a porcelain plate, the staccato khat-khat-khat of cucumbers being chopped… some send shivers up my spine and some make me want to come closer.
And then there’s the wonderful invention that combines every texture and taste and every sound. That’s a gol gappa , aka pani phuchka and pani puri . Yesterday I ate gol gappas and, listening to myself first crunching noisily on the thin crisp shell, then slurping the sour, green, asafoetida-flavoured water, jal jeera , then munching near silently on the filling of boiled potatoes and chickpeas slathered in sweet tamarind sonth and sour green chutney, I thought that this was the perfect smorgasbord of sounds.
It’s said that Jacques Pepin, the brilliant chef and culinary guru, can tell when a student’s piece of meat is cooked by listening to it sizzle in a pan from across a kitchen. A regular can tell when the emulsification of the mayonnaise is done. It magically thickens and the sound of the blender changes from a jangling, high-pitched whine to a dull, slow sound. My mother taught me to cook a mutton curry in a sealed pot, which is stirred by shaking the entire pot. The sound changes from sloshing to dull scraping.
1kg mutton shoulder, cut into medium botis
1/2 kg onions, sliced
20 cloves garlic, peeled
1 tbsp ginger, sliced
1/2 kg dahi
250g khoya, grated
10 green cardamom
2 one inch sticks cinnamon
1/2 nutmeg, grated
1-2 blades mace
1tsp dhania sabut, slightly crushed with a rolling pin
1 tsp zeera sabut
8-10 dry red chillies, cut roughly
11/2 tsp whole black peppers
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp ghee
Combine all ingredients in a large, heavy bottomed pan with a tight-fitting lid. Place on high heat until steam starts escaping. Wait until the stream of steam reaches full volume and force. Lower heat to simmer. Every five minutes, wearing gloves, hold pan with both hands and shake to stir. After approximately an hour, you will feel a change in the viscosity of the contents when you shake the pan — almost as if the bones are scraping the bottom of the pan. Immediately turn off heat. Allow to cool a bit before opening and serving.
Traditionally this was made in a heavy pateela and the lid sealed with atta dough. The steam would gather momentum and force its way out of the seal, at which point a weight was placed on the lid. A pressure cooker MINUS the weight is a wonderful substitute. Resist temptation and DO NOT OPEN to stir — the loss of flavour and pressure isn’t worth it.