Home » Blog » Change in taste

Change in taste

After five decades of seeing life in my own culture, destiny pulled me to a new land. I entered Bhubaneswar, Odisha far from my Kodava land and culture where I have been living for the past decade. As I arrived into Bhubaneswar to join in the Regional Institute of Education, NCERT I was in for a total culture shock. Let me just say about the culinary differences as one of the major differences apart from the rest ranging from people, dress, language and weather. But now let me talk of the shock I encountered on my plate and palate. The place introduced me to the flavour and taste of mustard that is so frequently used in East Indian cooking. Initially I had no option than to eat the local food as I was staying in the guest house. The taste and smell was so aversive I didn’t know what to do. I had no chance of getting accommodation immediately and adjusting into the workplace culture of the new place left me with no time to go out searching for restaurants and food of my taste. The boiled potato in mustard sauce, fish curry with mustard paste, brinjal in curd seasoned generously with mustard oil, everything had a touch of the tiny black seed that was insignificant in my plate till then! The pungent taste and strong aroma made me struggle to eat but I had to eat to survive.
Generally I am not a fussy eater and more over my hunger made me consume the food that I got in the plate full of colours and flavours of the small yet gigantic mustard. Unknowingly, today when I look down that decadal lane, I realize that, I had started enjoying the very mustard. That very mustard whose colours and flavours that after shifting to my own accommodation, found a place in my kitchen cabinet. My grocery list invariably include mustard oil and de-husked mustard to grind to make gravy!! After a decade though I still enjoy my coconut gravy and groundnut oil for my Kodava and Karnataka taste of curry, the tiny mustard also has easily occupied a pride position in my kitchen. This is what is called cultural homogenisation where your life gets expanded by accepting the nuances of other culture into your own. There is nothing to lose rather everything is a gain. I have transferred the taste of my liking back home, where my typical Kodava family gets to eat potato and fish cooked in mustard gravy!! I bet the best of “Hilisa maach” is when it is in the company of its best friend mustard.
After a decade, I again set off to make a home away from home with my Fulbright fellowship to Florida. I travelled from Bhubaneswar to Delhi. The airport immigration line was too long and slow, and it was hectic. Just got in time to the flight at the right time. After some sleep, they served a basket of cakes, salads, and pastry with “so called” tea. Imagine our twisted and curled Darjeeling leaves being brewd and leakers vanishing within the right proportion of milk and sugar that suit every palate! Reached Paris at sunrise with that onboard breakfast. . Changeover was easy, I had a lot of time to look around the airport. The flight got delayed by an hour. The Air France aircrafts are huge with 3 + 4 + 3 seats in one row and 40 such rows. The next flight of Paris to Atlanta had lunch that was served as soon as the flight took off. No rice, no roti somethings soft and soggy, some bits that are hard and dry. Absolutely no taste and no flavour. They call it lunch!! Our lunch even in flights must have Biriyanis and Rotis ending with Gulab Jamums and Kheers. We in India cant imagine a lunch where you will skip the whole food pyramid and still call it lunch. Anyway these people do not know cooking at all, I realised.

Thus from Bhubaneswar to Delhi; Delhi to Paris and Paris to Atlanta I met variety of plates but nothing soothing to palate. Atlanta airport was huge. Had to wait again in a very long line for customs and immigration clearance. As this was my first port of entry, the luggage was also taken out for a customs check. I was getting delayed to take my next Delta airlines flight to Tallahassee. The staff were very helpful to carry my luggage and put it across to the Delta flight and helped me to reach the security check. Soon after the security check, I had to take a metro to reach the gate. By the time I reached the gate the final call was displayed. I could see the aircraft but could not get into it. The staff at the counter helped me to rebook my ticket for the next flight at 7 pm to my destination. I used the two hours to freshen up, to look better for my first look when I reach Tallahassee. Brushed, washed, combed my hair, applied lip gloss and felt good. I understood how important grooming is for internal health and felt nervous like a 16 year old trying to look prim and proper.
My kind hearted host had come to pick me from the airport and took me to his home. He showed me the kitchen and the food stuff in the fridge. The family gave me all freedom to take and make anything I wish. I was very formal and said I got food in the aircraft. Had a glass of water and went to bed. Had a good sleep as per their time 10 pm to 5 am in my style. All the family left for work. I made my coffee and sandwich with tomatoes and felt good. Food is not for the body, but for the mind. When you have your own comfort food, your stomach rumbles and tells you all is well. The stomach as much as the heart is often scared of the newness of the palate and the change in taste. The feeling that it will get to absorb what it knows comforts it as much as it does the heart and soul.

At this age and stage of my life I realised, reflected why I feel so light, happy, fresh when I eat “Otti – Pajji” or “Kadmbutt – Pandikari”. Because I am genetically carved to relish and digest that!! But I have the potential to adjust and adapt to the new taste if I am positive to its goodness and open to cultural amalgamation.

As I sit by the window trying to take the newness in of the place which I will call home for the next 8 months, I understand that my stomach has to take in as much new as I have to. The change in colour on my plate also brings a change in colour in my life, as I wonder what new recipes I will take home to Kodag and Karnataka and what stories, I will tell back in Bhubaneswar.