Boria Majumdar—cricket scholar, cricket television expert, cricket writer and frequent contributor to Open magazine on cricket—gets into the kitchen with Cooking On The Run and immediately starts with an apology. In the middle he apologises and towards the end he again apologises. The book, he emphasises all the time, is not for the fine diner; it is a survival guide.
Flavour and finesse are all very well, but in the hands of Boria, cooking is a simple idea: there is need for familiar food and something of taste must be made as fast as possible. For example, as you turn the pages, you begin to notice that none of the meat he uses has any bones in it. This is good for cooking speed, but one of the reasons God made bones in animals is so that their juices could suffuse man’s curries.
Food travelogues are interspersed with recipes in the book, and from that we learn that Boria was forced to learn how to cook during his student days in Oxford. A meeting with a visiting Indian scholar showed him that cooking does not have to be a disaster you live with. It led to the recipe ‘My First Chicken Curry’, and since there is only one way to review a dish, I tried my hand at it. The curry did come out tasty in a cumin-ish way and it was quick. If you discount the 30 minutes of marinating time, it was ready in less than 15 minutes. Anyone who makes chicken curry knows that that is something.
I also made the chicken biryani and that took me about 20-25 minutes, including the cooking of the rice. But then you also wonder, even though biryani is a loose umbrella term, was what you made one of the species? Because the recipe is essentially ‘My First Chicken Curry’ sandwiched between rice.
Cooking On The Run is a decent entry point for cooking. It makes the kitchen unforbidding. There is almost nothing in this book that you cannot fix in half an hour. Sometimes the instructions seem not very precise—‘Boil 2 large
potatoes but don’t boil them for too long’, ‘Make the rice a little harder than normal’. A majority of the recipes are of chicken and prawn. In between, there are token vegetables and red meat concoctions.
There is a chapter on Chinese dishes—in the original and also in pidgin Indian-Chinese (the difference, according to Boria, is something called the index of spiciness, where the Indian-Chinese dishes have a different ‘hotness’ due to the spices used as against the hotness of ‘red chillies and chilli oil’ in Hunan and Sichuan cuisines).
There is a chapter on sweet dishes, a Dummy’s Guide to Quick Desserts. A dish called Pauritur Mishti is bread soaked in milk, fried to a light brown colour and then dipped in a solution of water mixed with sugar. That’s it. Eat.
The travel experiences are so-so, like a visit to a Belgian chocolate factory or a eulogy of a cookie shop. It gets interesting when he talks about China, a dangerous place if your tongue is not malleable to the unusual. In order to be only offered chicken and fish, Boria tells his Chinese hosts that he does not eat red meat, leading to unexpected consequences.
He writes, ‘Knowing my apathy for red meat, they had resorted to feed me the most exotic of delicacies—scorpion, cicada and a series of other insects besides the usual fare of chicken and fish. Boiled turtle, too, was included in a few of the banquets and by the end of several such banquets, I had thrown in the towel.’ That is a good reason to know some cooking even if it is not fine gourmet fare. Anything is better than boiled turtle if you are not Chinese.