My adventure with pasta started in school when mom used to pack a dish that sounded suspiciously like the radio-inventor’s name for lunch. I liked it: maybe it was a stress buster since I could pierce my fork into the short fat tubes. But sometime later, it went out of fashion. To be seen having macaroni was a short cut to teen fashion suicide. I don’t know why the tide turned against macaroni. I am ashamed to admit, I gave into the craze and stopped eating macaroni. Then again, one cannot totally rebel against mothers who decide to slip fashion-forbidden foods into their children’s tiffin boxes. Vegetables with macaroni were sometimes staring at me during lunchtime. I am unfussy person by nature so I let it go since it was a rather rare occurrence.
Sometime in the mid to late 90s, when all things European were suddenly all over the supermarket, I came across macaroni this time in a jazzier polythene wrapper sitting harmlessly on the dusty shelves of the neighborhood supermarket. I decided to make it for friends for a rooftop party. Of course, it turned out quite bland. Mom stepped in out of pity for those friends and added enough spice turning it into a (Indian) Chinese noodle dish with vinegar and maybe even ajinomoto. No one complained though! I swore never to make macaroni again! My friends tried to encourage my first cooking effort. Unfortunately, I had to tell them about Mom’s corrective measures.
It was sometime around this time that with the influence of the increased exposure to European cuisine that I started calling macaroni pasta. I was not wrong but I had my own logic. To me, macaroni was what I took to school, pasta was this new dish that was exciting and promised a pseudo travel expedition through my taste buds into exotic lands far away. Never mind that it was prepared with desi onions and desi vegetables. Slowly pasta was creeping back into fashion. Suddenly, it was “the” dish to be seen cooking. I tried cooking it and learnt some tricks in the process (Add a teaspoon of oil when boiling pasta so that the cooked pasta do not stick together). But nothing compared to the level it was lifted up when I started reading Haruki Murakami.
Murakami makes a case out for pasta known to him in another avatar as spaghetti. In the opening scene of the Wind-up Bird Chronicle, the protagonist is seen making spaghetti when the adventure of his life and for us the book begins:
When the phone rang I was in the kitchen, boiling a potful of spaghetti and whistling along with an FM broadcast of the overture to Rossini’s The Thieving Magpie, which has to be the perfect music for cooking pasta. I wanted to ignore the phone, not only because the spaghetti was nearly done, but because Claudio Abbado was bringing the London Symphony to its musical climax. (Murakami, 1)
He makes cooking sound like a spiritual adventure in which all of us are drawn in. Perhaps, it is.
Murakami also wrote an entire story on the spaghetti.* Published in the New Yorker, Murakami has done what no writer has done before. Took a rather not too bright noodle (What is pasta but a noodle?) and made it into a literary star next only to coffee in terms of literary value. Now, I will forever associate a certain amount of seriousness with pasta. Instead of pretty cooks in Italian cookery shows who keep saying Alora, we can now discuss the consistency of pasta over a cup pf coffee wearing probably a beret (Would that make it French?) and a book (preferably a Murakami) in hand.
Viva la pasta!
*Thanks to Falstaff for pointing it out.