Last year felt like being pushed through a pasta extruder while dealing with a truly bizarre news cycle. To dispel the pandemic blues, I turned to food. A piping hot bowl of rasam fragrant with freshly chopped coriander, brightened with spices and curry leaves floating neatly is capable of instantly lifting my spirits (except when eating it at weddings, as it almost inevitably threatens to breach the confines of the banana leaf).
There is a lot to love here, not least of all the fact that you can prepare rasam with even the barest of cabinets and sip on it under a blanket or mix it with rice to make for a full meal. Rasam has no rigid identity. You can experiment, even with herbs like lemongrass and basil. The dish can alluringly be transformed into what you want it to be.
Rasam also feels restorative because of its association with my childhood and familial reassurances at a time the pandemic disrupted everyday life. I now realise that food isn’t just physical nutrition: it also provides emotional sustenance.
Sample how social media digests one of the world’s most famous diets. Jack Dorsey, former Twitter chief executive officer, is one of the Silicon Valley tech executives who subscribes to what is often termed as “biohacking” – the idea that your body is a system that can be quantified and optimised.
Earlier this year, a discussion on Dorsey’s own platform speculated what he might feed you if you went for dinner: “A single plum floating in perfume, served in a man’s hat”, “raw water, it has all the nutrients you need”, “sad quinoa”, “room-temperature alkaline water”. Beyond the laughs, these comments reveal our association with food, emotion and personality.
Surely a billionaire who ran a social media poison chalice couldn’t serve you the comfort of a warm bowl of soup? Anyway, here I am at the end of two unimaginably long years, eating around a table with pangs of anxiety as we stare at another season of uncertainty. Another of the family, thousands of miles away, has tested affirmative to the benefits of hot rasam: warmth that binds the family, in sickness and in health.
Read all the articles in the Comfort zone series here.