What in the World are ‘Shrimm Cakes”?

Each time my house help walked into the living room while we were watching TV, he was always amazed at how we watched only food being cooked. He hesitantly asked us once, truly concerned, if those were the only channels we got and that he would be glad to recommend his network provider. At least that way we would be able to watch some ‘normal’ programming like most people. I don’t blame him… It’s a different issue that I find most of the other programming rubbish and insulting to even the average intellect on a global level, but food shows to me are meditative, comforting, educational and far more real than even news broadcasts today. So every time I put the telly on, which is not very often, I’m watching someone’s culinary escapades from around the world and in turn learning about new cultures, food trends and techniques.

 Occasionally I turn to Indian regional channels as well, in the hope of learning some good home-style regional food. Most participating ladies are the matronly Goddesses of their own kitchens churning out stunning recipes handed down to them by their mothers over years…But nowadays, one largely sees a plethora of ‘fusion recipes’ that make little or no sense at all… The only criterion seems to be ‘anything but home style food. You have poorly conceived recipes that are shabbily put together and unnecessarily executed techniques to emulate a professional chef. Not only are these recipes full of incorrect food substitutions, thanks to our Indian religious beliefs and cultural hang ups but also the basic ignorance of foreign cuisine and the attempts to Indianise it at every level.

 My grandmother, another foodie (see the Barefoot Saga) compulsively watches a few Gujarati and Marathi food shows regularly, primarily because the recipes are mostly vegetarian and the language, familiar. And often when I’m visiting, we watch them together. And oh my god! These shows are like train wrecks. As a true blue foodie, you want to run like hell from the culinary travesty being played out but can’t because of some morbid curiosity to know what the hell they are trying to make. Sometimes, we watch the TV anchors expression as the recipe is being made and out of sadistic pleasure, wait till the end to catch them having to taste it and forcibly go ‘yummmm..’ for the camera. Those poor, poor sods.

 What can I say? There is no finesse to the handling of ingredients, the cooking techniques are faulty and any ingredient is paired with anything. It’s not the fault of the participants, really. Maybe this is what they make at home and believe is the only way to do it. I understand that the participation and viewership comes mainly from B and C tier cities in India and I don’t expect them to turn out a baby potato, bacon and blue cheese salad. Personally, I don’t see why not, it’s really simple and flavourful…

 But please, please don’t make pasta with French beans, carrots, cauliflower in schezwan sauce or any supermarket variety of pasta sauce straight out of a bottle. Then grate processed tinned cheddar on it. I wonder how many women from these small, growing cities will now believe that this is what true Italian pasta is. Shudder shudder. I have seen a recipe for tacos where good old rajma masala is heaped onto crisp puris of corn and maida topped with diced cucumber, onion, tomato and cabbage and garlic chutney. And of course, generous shavings of the ubiquitous tinned processed cheddar. Then I am told this is an American dish.

 Please also don’t tell me that all of god’s green earth has only two cheeses to subsist on, like most of India believes –  XYZ brand of cheese,(processed cheddar) and ‘pizza cheese’ (processed mozzarella). Ask most people to name the kinds of cheese they know and this is all they come up with. sad, isn’t it?

Also, if you are making pasta at least tell me something more about pasta, its types and the fact that ‘red’ or ‘white’ sauce are not the only things to toss pasta in. Something! Anything? Give me a great traditional recipe instead. A honest traditional recipe that your kids beg you to make on festive occasions. Now that is great cooking because it comes from experience and familiarity.

  But I’m assuming that if a television channel is putting out a food show then they have researchers and food consultants and hopefully a director who knows about food as much. I know my food show the Star Sunday Lunch did! (see the Barefoot Saga). I wish the current lot of regional shows would bring in some element of information and education to the show. You owe it to your viewers. I remember a star chef, blue eyed boy of Indian cookery shows and heartthrob of thousands of women viewers used to be like that. Entertaining, informative, relatable. Used to be.

 Why don’t the producers of food shows choose participants and recipes because their recipe has some merit. Someone has to reject the pasta in Sichuan sauce at the research stage itself!! Agreed, today one can do almost anything to be on TV but there are other shows better suited to that.

 Once, on a Marathi show anchored by a popular TV/Film Stage actor, a sous chef from a starred hotel was demonstrating ‘Shrimp Cakes’. Throughout the episode, the anchor called it ‘shrimm cakes’ and no one corrected him. Not even the chef. The anchor then asked aloud in Marathi why the recipe was called shrimm cakes when the main ingredient being used was ‘kolambi’ (which is Marathi for shrimp!) The chef simply smiled his way through this embarrassment. I thought maybe I imagined the anchors pronunciation was off and he was in fact saying shrimp cakes. But as the recipe was encapsulated in writing towards the end of the show, the graphics in Devanagari script said ‘Shrimm cakes’. I could’ve shot the TV that day.

 Today, what in TV lingo are known as the B and C tier cities are the ones with the spending power, big aspirations and a hesitant sense of adventure. Their kids are striding forward to catch up with the urban centres and their restaurants and stores will soon be at par with India’s big cities. Educate the viewer, broaden her horizons. it would serve you well to learn how enthusiastic and adventurous middle India can be. A food show is not only the straight demonstration of a recipe. It can be so much more…Mrs. Borate from Kolhapur can make a grilled lemongrass chilli chicken with Vietnamese rice noodles too, you know. But who is going to show her how, in the language she’s most comfortable in? Till then, enjoy her delicious kande pohe and shrimm cakes for tea.

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