We had Maggi for dinner last night. I bet every Indian of a certain generation (ahem!) has a Maggi story to tell. It could be about a cousin who loved to eat raw Maggi or that cute child next door who resembled the Maggi girl from that 2-minute noodles advert. I remember when it was first launched in India. We were all given free samples at school and I brought mine home (my brother had eaten his share raw during lunch break). My mother demanded if it was vegetarian. If I was sure, absolutely, 100% certain and only after I had sworn on my sister’s life (better hers than mine!) she let it inside the kitchen.
Once in the kitchen, the pack was opened, examined, its contents sniffed, inspected, held up against the sunlight and even passed through the x-ray machine. Finally, when it had cleared all of Pattu maami's stringent and demanding tests satisfactorily, the green signal was given. There was a tremendous sense of occasion as we watched Gomathy mami heat up a vaanali, pour a generous ladle of oil and throw in some mustard seeds, ulutham paruppu and kariveppilai. A minute later, finely chopped onions were added and sautéed. She poured some water, covered the pot and let it come to a boil. She paused for a moment debating whether or not to touch the offending noodles with her bare hands. She closed her eyes and sought pardon from the gods for what she was about to do. Then slid her hands inside the pack, brought out the brittle noodles and dropped them gingerly into the pot. You’d have thought we were at a Michael Jackson concert the way we jostled for a vantage point from which to view the noodles being cooked. They squiggled and wriggled and swam in the sauce. I was no longer sure that it wasn’t meat and looked at my sister on whose life I had sworn that it was vegetarian. She was alive and that could only mean I was right. I was relieved and returned my attention to where the action was.
Gomathy mami had turned off the hob and had spooned out the noodles into our quiveringly held plates. I scooped a spoonful and stuck a slippery eel of a noodle cluster into my mouth. The strings of noodles dangling outside my mouth were expertly sucked in. And this soon caught on as we each picked up a noodle strand and vacuumed them in. Gomathy mami and the rest of the household watched on with horrified fascination. How does it taste? Is it soft to the bite? What does it feel like as it worms its way down your throat? they demanded to know. But our vocabulary was not yet fully developed to descibe the wonders of instant noodles. So we nodded our heads and said that it was delicious.
Soon thereafter Maggi became a regular in the household and a few years later, I started cooking it myself. Often making inspired variations. Like adding a spoonful of sambar or eating it with mango pickle. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it flopped miserably. But for the first time, I found confidence in my cooking and realised that I wasn’t fussy when it came to food and was willing to try different combinations.
Last night’s dinner was delicious. Perhaps it was the addition of tender vegetables to the usual. Perhaps it was the Maggi stories we were sharing across the table. I cannot tell.