Sunday, December 13, 2009

Magical Cooking

A few weeks ago in the New Yorker this article appeared: Jhumpa Lahiri: Rice. The author describes how her father makes pulao: "a baked, buttery, sophisticated indulgence, Persian in origin, served at festive occasions." Lahiri begins with details of both the ingredients and the method by which her father -- "a methodical man" -- makes this dish. But then she says: "I have no idea how to make my father’s pulao, nor would I ever dare attempt it."

On a variety of occasions, she explains, her father has fed large crowds with his pulao, under difficult circumstances as well as favorable ones. He's compensated for missing ingredients, inadequate kitchens, and other challenges. Nothing unnerves him, and every batch is good. And thus the description can never really tell how to do it.

Lahiri is of course a writer of great facility (I have enjoyed her books). She portrays her father as a complex and appealing individual in a very short piece of writing. I think she also captures what is so magical about cooking, about the mastery of a dish, about the nature of good food and the events it can celebrate. Read it and you'll see what I mean.

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