You may have heard of Mukbang – a South Korean craze of watching people eat in front of the camera. Though the reasons for its popularity are plenty, I doubt this trend of ‘celebrity-eating’ will ever catch on in India.
Why? Well, because we derive pleasure not from watching others eat, but from our distinct hand-to-mouth actions in which food is delivered not just as a morsel but as a treat.
A Trip to Chaat Paradise
For starters, let’s look at the gaping “aaaah” that
accompanies devouring golgappas in Delhi. The science behind this is simple – in the two seconds that the chaatwalla has placed the golgappa in your trusting hands, you must check for the shape – oval or round puri – and accordingly angle your mouth. Then comes the tricky part: a gingerly twirl of your fingers to protect the tiny bundle of water, spice and everything nice from bursting and creating a mess. All that remains then is the golgappa’s levitation to your mouth and the “aaah” that follows. Your trip to chaat paradise is then complete.
The next example is the baby food ball. This is mostly expertly performed by new mothers, nannies or indulgent grandmothers who try to pack in as many nutrients and love as they can in a single morsel.
A crump of boiled veggies, rice, dal and even a
snap of papad is first mashed to Play-Doh perfection. It is then mutated into a tiny ping-pong ball-sized morsel using expert swift finger motions. The next step calls for some guile: distract the the unsuspecting fussy toddler to “see the bird flying” or “look at at the big aeroplane in the sky” to place in its mouth a wholesome meal in one tiny ball.
The true desi, in any part of the world, will eat his
dal-chawal, sambhar-rice, thayir sadam and any other combination of rice and gravy, with relish after a quick mashup of the two in the plate. Then the fun carpal bending begins, transporting it to the mouth with a left to right action or a tiny morsel planted quietly in the centre of the mouth minus a loud slurp. Looking for a Direct Connect
The fork and knife dissections that we watch on television entice us enough to watch cheesy interiors of stuffed chicken breasts or double crusted pizzas. The slow motion is an advertisement for “goodness”. But we Indians know exactly how we would have devoured the food, with our own limbic system -- emotion, smell and dollops of nostalgia guiding our fingers. What bigger joy can there be than holding your own food in your own hands. A direct connect, and it is never a dainty morsel.
The chuski suck – big kiss on the ice popsicle, the hot- fried Momo bite – only teeth no lip, the noodle slurp – perfect for soupy Maggi noodles not for Hakka egg noodles, the mopping of gravy when roti/rice is over using only your fingers, etc. are art forms we have perfected. And not
to exclude non-vegetarian eating rituals, which succulent, bronzed Tandoori chicken leg be left without a firm grip, and a quick dunk in mint-dahi chutney. The soft touch of the lovely Galaouti kebab that gives as soon as you caress it. The stacking of an onion ring, a seekh kebab and chutney that gives you a taste of a perfect marriage (of flavours).
So while Mukbang draws dedicated fans -- people on weight loss diets or lonely souls -- living vicariously, back home due to our food rituals of slurping, burping, messy fingers and lip-smacking, there are no actual “stories” or visual feed. We know how a tongue-twisting satisfying, ‘tchaa’ at a
Kerala shaap after a swig of toddy is more convincing than an advertising campaign for the beverage, our bright, orange paneer-laced Chinese khaana is better than the real Chinese food. The well-done pasta is a heartier melt than al-dente.
In how we eat, as well, our hearts and hands know that the rotis have to wrap themselves around the sabzi, no spoon can mix rice and gravy together perfectly, and the papad will not sit pretty on a fork.
When it comes our morsels, we are all celebrities.
Sharon Fernandes is a journalist based in Delhi.