These posts are getting increasingly difficult to write because I’m covering content that’s less focused on stocking your pantry and feeding yourself, and more on the emotional repercussions of COVID-19 affecting mental health, which in turn impacts our lifestyle choices and what we eat.
The easiest way for me to veer conversation towards a non-corona topic is to ask “what’s for dinner.” Everyone has to eat and what they’re feeding themselves tells me a lot about their current mindset. There are tons of phenomenal culinary projects that we can undertake, and I’ll focus on those in a subsequent post, but many friends I’ve spoken to have stocked up on white bread and Kraft singles since nothing says “the world is a safe place” like comfort food. A taste of childhood combined with the knowledge of consuming something naughty makes it all the more pleasurable.
My roommate (Marianne) and I are good friends, we have a beautiful apartment, and Montreal isn’t under quarantine (yet) so we can still go out for walks. But we spend the majority of the day doing our own thing, and I’m struggling with feelings of loneliness and isolation. I’m so grateful for the meals and activities that Marianne and I do together, but I’m aware that a lot of people are solo (literally) in their social distancing and they have to feed themselves thrice a day.
Blended parsley, garlic, lemon, and oil – frozen into ice cubes
Parsley, garlic, lemon, and oil
Freshly squeezed lemon juice and zest – frozen into ice cubes
Before this whole thing went down, I kept thinking to myself “what would I do if I only had 90 days to live?” Though we’re not about to perish (everybody, breathe), I would visit my friends who’ve moved away since I miss them deeply. Though it’s not the same as actually seeing people, being socially isolated has brought my long distance friends and I closer. We’ve taken to chatting on the phone whilst cooking/cleaning – catching up on personal anecdotes, reminiscing times gone by, and providing each other with comfort in this uneasy time.
Backpack filled with groceries
I turn to the kitchen in times of sadness and joy. Right now I’m shaken, fearful of both the long and short term repercussions. Everything is off. Culinary escapism feels like a perfect reason to avoid the news and engage in something so tactile, rewarding, and predictable. Cooking is full of encapsulating magical moments; the sounds of a gentle sizzle, the smell of onion frying, and the (usually) delicious reward for your efforts. All this free time, plus the guarantee of my roommate being around for meals, means that I’ve been thinking about food constantly and cooking voraciously.
South Korea surprised me. Seoul, a bustling metropolis, is a dynamic modern city with efficient public transportation, pristine outdoor pedestrian areas, and people dressed to the nines. I recalculated its seemingly immaculate image as older ladies by the side of the road harassed me to buy their gimbap (Korean sushi) and I watched people jostling each other as they rummaged through large bins of 1000KRW (1USD) clothing. I squeezed through “noodle alley,” an indoor cafeteria with wall to wall bar stools in front of female vendors with their towering bowls of banchan (Korean side dishes) and noodles, crumpled napkins covered the floor.
I was in the ancient land of pharaohs and mummies for nearly two weeks before venturing north to Cairo. Coming from India where vegetarian food is bountiful, spicy, and vibrant, I knew that eating in Egypt would require an adjustment period. What I didn’t expect was how much of a gamble the tastiness of a meal would prove. I’d tried koshari from a popular spot in Luxor, a wonderful mix of large and small noodles, brown lentils, an oily tomato sauce, crispy fried onions, and a thin vinegary hot sauce. A few days later in Aswan, the same dish was lackluster at best; undercooked noodles, mushy lentils, and minimal seasoning. Same thing with fuul (fava bean strew) and tameya (fava bean fritters, Egyptian falafel). The slow cooked beans could be creamy and delicious, with fritters crispy and hot. But more often than not the fuul was bland and the tameya was dry.
Fried Rice – serves 2 (generously) or 3 (normally)
I’m well aware that the point of fried rice is use up leftovers, but I make this most often as a planned ahead-yet-super-lazy-supper. Though the days are getting longer, it’s still chilly out and we’re all craving delicious, carby, comforting foods (and even I am starting to out-noodle myself). Running to the grocery store to grab a few veggies for dinner becomes much less enticing between the coat, boots, hat, scarf, gloves, and four flights of stairs (no elevator in my building), so I need meals that I can make with ingredients I always have on hand.
I had a Hinge (the dating app) boy over for dinner. We ate a delicious Indian-Thai hybrid of a curry: red curry paste, coconut milk, and a medley of Indian spices formed the broth which held asparagus, red peppers, mushrooms, and cauliflower. Served over thick rice noodles with lime and cilantro, I can only assume he liked it since he devoured three bowlfuls. I had baked this banana bread earlier that day, and we were just finishing a piece as my roommate Marianne) and her girlfriend walked in. Greetings were exchanged with much enthusiasm, and as he watched Marianne cut herself a slice he proclaimed how incredible it is, how he would have eaten more had he any room left in his belly, and that she was going to love it, LOOOOOVEEE IT.
I landed in Singapore to stifling heat and humidity and coincidentally, a hostel bunkmate from my hometown. There’s nothing like making a friend on the other side of the world who shares your accent and area code. As Roxanne and I journeyed North to Malaysia, she told me about her plans to head to the Perenthian Islands for inexpensive PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) certifications. My prior experience diving was in Hurgada, Egypt, towards the start of my seven month voyage. I shouldn’t have gone as I was fighting an oncoming cold, but my couch surfing host had organized the excursion and I didn’t want him to think me uncool. Inevitably, the high-pressured chilly water kicked my sickness into high gear, and I was only able to complete one dive before spending the rest of the boat ride throwing up and sleeping. I spent the following two weeks wickedly ill, needing three doses of antibiotic butt injections to shake the infection. Now three months later I was ready to redeem myself and venture under the sea anew.