When we were young, and seated around the dining table, there were a few rules that my brother and I had to follow.
Waste not. Finish what you take.
Try everything. Fuss is not an option.
‘Gaal-e haath diye bosho na’ – Don’t sit with your cheek in your palm
Never eat in a hurry, nor standing up.
‘Khete khete jol kheyo na’ – don’t break your meal with sips of water.
No, don’t make balls of your rice to practice tossing into your mouth.
Say ‘uthhi’ before leaving the table.
Don’t talk while you eat.
Now, the last rule goes against the very purpose of family meals in the West. Where conversations are things that all dining tables must be sturdy enough to withstand. That’s where you agree, and disagree. That’s where you tell your parents about your report card. Or a new boyfriend. That’s where your parents tell you that a great-aunt has died leaving them enough money for a house in Lanzarote. Silence is swallowed up quickly. Because a family sitting in silence during mealtimes must surely be on the verge of falling apart. Divorce. Disease. Debt. Delinquency.
But in India, people like my dad grew up on ‘Silence is golden’. More so during mealtimes. You can either talk, or you can taste. You use silence to decide if the fish is fresh enough, the mutton soft enough. You use silence to smell the spices. You use silence to feel the rice stick to your fingers. You make murmurs of appreciation, the occasional ‘bah!’, to praise the cook. But all other matters must wait. Only when the plates are clean, and hands washed, do you sit and talk late into the afternoon. And only then do you tell your parents about your report card. When there’s no food for them to choke on.
Dhonepata-kancha-lonka diye mangshor jhol
Or, lamb stewed with coriander leaves and green chillies
Or, the lamb that you eat in silence. In fact, lamb so good, that I’ve never talked about it. It’s all very hush-hush. I’ve cooked it for many years, though. And my closest friends know it well.
It’s the simplest dish you’ll ever cook. And one that ignores all the basic rules of cooking an Indian meat dish. It has no onions, no garlic, no ginger. And no cooking oil – it cooks in the meat’s natural fat. Wide-eyed, already? Wait till you eat it.
The list of ingredients is very sparse, but very powerful:
500 gms boneless lamb (on-the-bone is even better, but boneless is what I had at home)
A very, very big bunch of coriander, chopped very coarsely
A bowl of green chillies, stalk on.