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How do we learn something, one way is to do what Indians call tomorrow rote learning, learn some instructions by heart, and then hope that works out. But that's a horrible way to learn anything. If you want to figure out how to play chess, for example, a good coach won't make you memorize theory on day one. If 45 years, a Sicilian defense, 45 C for the Queen's Gambit and so on. Instead, you should first be taught the basic principles of the game, the importance of space, of occupying the center, developing your pieces, the importance of initiative and so on.


This way, whenever you encounter an unfamiliar position, you can just apply these principles and figure out what to do. Similarly, a good poker coach won't begin by making your Mugabi ranges in different sports. This is your 15 Beeby shoving range from the hijack. This is your 20 to be reached range from the big blind and so on. Again, you're better off learning broad principles. First, there should be common sense, but it isn't. So many of us, me included, try to learn about cooking and food by reading and trying out recipes.


But to understand a subject, we don't just need to know what to do. We need to understand why we are doing it.


Welcome to the Scene and The Unseen, our weekly podcast on economics, politics and behavioral science. Please welcome your host of. Welcome to the scene in The Unseen. My guest today is Polymath Tinka, an unassuming artist of Szulc. There has never been a guest on the show who is such a perfect blend of the artistic and the analytical. Ashoke has been an Internet legend in India for over a decade now. He's known as a brilliant humorist and musician, but he's also a systematic thinker about any subject that interests him.


And in this episode, we are going to discuss his brilliant book, Mazola Lab.. This is a book that gets meta about cooking. It takes a step back from the world of recipes and looks into the science behind cooking. It approaches everything from first principles in the process. It shows us why so much of the traditional wisdom about food that we get from our grandmothers is back on. The book also contains an immense number of vital revelations, even jaw dropping ones.


I love books to get me to like this that go back to first principles. I've done an episode almost a year ago with Richard Kalkarindji on the book in Service of the Republic, which looked at public policy from a similar madeleines. And I am now writing a book called Hacking Cricket, which takes a similar approach to cricket strategy that made me want to masala lab right away as I love books that take this kind of approach. And Ashok's book is spectacular.


It's accessible, insightful and inspiring. In fact, after reading The Central, I'm probably going to head on over to my kitchen and I should probably see this in a biscuit, but I might just end up making Maggie a quick note. Before we begin, though, we used a specific software I won't name or use again for the remote recording of this episode. And while the sounds seem fine to me, to my monitor headphones, my audio files, Ashok's my audio file got all messed up and distorted.


The conversation was so wonderful that I was pretty upset. But my editor Viji managed to salvage it enough for us to be able to release this so kindly. Excuse the quality of my audio. I hope the quality of the conversation will make up for it. Before we start, though, let's take a quick commercial break.


By the time this episode ends, you'll be dying to dive into the rabbit hole that is food and learn more about cooking and cuisines. The links in the Shownotes should help you, but I have one more resource for you. This episode is sponsored by the great courses plus at great courses plus dot com. And I've spent the last couple of days lost inside. One of the courses called Cooking Across the Ages by Ken Albanna. Discourse is divided into twenty four lectures and discusses cooking and food science and the various cuisines of ancient Rome, Imperial China, medieval France, Renaissance Italy.


And it takes us into the kitchens of the Vikings and the Aztecs, the Germans and the Brazilians mouthwatering stuff. Check it out at the great Kosice plus Lockbaum. There you'll also find a fantastic library of online courses from subjects ranging from music, math, cooking, history, political theory and so much else. We also have an app where you can listen to the audio of these courses the same way you listen to podcasts. What's not to like to try it out?


It will cost you nothing. You get one month of unlimited free access if you use the following you all the great courses plus dot com slash on scene. That's right. Unsign the great courses plus dot com slash, unsign for one month of unlimited free access. Go for it. Ashoke, welcome to the scene on the scene. Hi. It's been a long time coming. I have to by the way, you tell my listeners that before the show started, I figured that there was an awkward question I had to us.


So I did not make an awkward mistake through the show, which was to ask what I should call him to show the show. And he told me the name to use as a show. So I have saved myself from committing what I would call and admit mistake.


So, you know, I'm sort of going to say that how glad I am that you are here. We have sort of we've never met in person, but I have been following you all the way since of logging days and all of that. And when I started the show, I thought it'd be great to have you one day on the show. And we spoke about it a couple of years back. And you said, yeah, when you're in Bangalore, just give me a buzz.


If I happen to be making a business trip, there will kind of do it and that that will happen. But, you know, who has to leave the city in these crazy times? So I'm going to start off with my podcast version of, you know, drop some onions and sauteed them in order to get translucent, which is, you know, the cliched way in which so many Indian recipes start. And I like to kind of start my podcast by not talking about whatever the subject in question is, but rather by asking my guests about their personal journey, which is specifically interesting to me in your case, because even though we speak much of this episode talking about a wonderful eye open book, you're a man of many parts.


And I did not know you as a food person back in the day. I knew you as a humorist and then a music person. So tell me a bit about your journey. What's your journey been like so far?


It's been a I mean, I think tremendously unique about it, except that I was born in Chennai and then but my father had had one of those rare jobs that involved him getting transferred all over. And he was actually in business, a very rare thing for a time probably to be in. And my mother worked in a bank and then we literally lived all over India.


So we changed schools every few years and so on. And so I grew up everywhere. And my father's side of the family is slightly odd and that his his father was an atheist. And about it, which is very strange to be for someone like that in the nineteen thirties and forties in the Deep South, very, very religious place. So I mean, so it least to the point that he did not allow idols or any kind of religious worship in the house.


I mean he was quite militant about it. And so my father grew up in a very interesting environment. He later in life, he became pretty religious. But I think he had that sense that children should have the freedom to do what they say in the sense that I think normally when you kind of question religious tradition and all of that, you'll get a very stern put up. If you are one of these traditional sort of religious families, which I wasn't on.


My mother's side of the family is mostly priests. I mean, what, two generations ago they were just all priests. And so you can see sort of the contrast. They were just my mother tried very hard to get us to be religious and so on. So from what you can see on my blog and other things, clearly that didn't work on any of us. I mean, we were three of us, so by me, by middle sibling who works at Microsoft, and the youngest was a graphic novelist and illustrator and books.


And so I think the mother's side of the family is also predominantly beautiful in the sense that a part of her female relatives are all professional musicians. And so obviously, I think music was something that I had to learn the violin. I had no choice. It wasn't very enjoyable when I was eight or nine years old. It's a painful instrument to play. It takes six or seven years before you like the sound of what you playing. In fact, later in life, I tend to read musical instruments by an acronym called Meantime for Sonic PALATABILITY, which is that, you know, a keyboard is that you pick it up and it has some decent in about five minutes.


Right. But the violin takes, you know, six or seven years and it's quite painful. But I think once I kind of got the hang of it, I became reasonably good and I was actually through my college. It was actually done under a very famous scientist who recently passed away, I think. And he was one of those serious guys who said, you know, you need to quit your engineering and come join me, you know, become a professional musician, so on.


And my father said, not quite sure, but he kind of he was smart enough to realize that this is a very long play in that very few people become very successful and restless and they didn't quite have the connections as well. This is one of those very insular Carnatic music is one of those places where you still need the connections. You still have to be reasonably vicenzo up. So so I think that's how my musical journey kind of began. I was at till my mid 20s.


I was still thinking, should I do a full time career in music or not? And then one thing led to another. I essentially picked up a profession that I felt at the time was the in the in the late 90s was the most amount of money for the least amount of effort, which is software, and also the one that kind of gave me the most amount of free time to pursue other things.


I mean, I. 99 to 2000, having Saturday and Sunday off was was a rarity and the industry was literally the only one that that I've actually had. So I joined 26th straight out of college. I went to. So what is now called the Tattoo Institute technology used to be called it part of the Daily College of Engineering. And I I worked in software. And every five years, every time I would get bored, I mean, I just had the fortune of having a boss who said, I'll give you something interesting to do.


And so I get the sense that I've been with my job for almost 20 years and I absolutely love it. I mean, it is all the it's my livelihood and it pays for all of the fancy stuff that I have at my studio. But it's a job that I would not think of giving up, despite the fact that I have all these other hobbies and hobbies is something that I kind of continuously picked up. I was living in the US for about seven years.


That was when I started seriously getting into Western music, kind of learned composition, went to a conservatory and learned to play the keyboard, started learning the guitar from YouTube, first generation of YouTube and so on. And I think I've watched more YouTube than most people, so I watch it at to three X. So I so I get through a lot of it. So I think so. That is how I started getting into a lot of these hobbies.


I was always into writing or humor writing since school was mostly cheesy stuff. But it was I think it was around 2008 when the financial crisis happened at my father's business kind of went on and it was actually about until he was terribly under debt. And, you know, we were all sort of struggling to stay afloat. And I had to sort of use every little bit of my sort of financial resources to sort of bring things back under control. That was actually when I decided find, you know what, as a as an outlet, let me to sort of go on to social media and start expressing those and get feedback.


Before that, I was a very private person. I still have the sense that I don't I don't go to parties. I don't I don't like small talk and so on. But I enjoyed putting out crazy creative stuff and engaging with people online. And that's when I ran into you. You were one of the superstars of the Indian blogging environment already when I just started blogging and so on. And I think that that generation of people who kind of, you know, started expressing these interesting ideas and had the feedback from people.


So that is how I started blogging. And then I used that medium as a I was always into sort of more visual creativity. So I like making a lot of pictures and Photoshop memes and and also mixing music and visuals and so on. Amidst all of this. I mean, I was always cooking, so I was always someone who learned to cook very young. But I was a teenage boy. My mother was working. So when she was either away or on travel, I would be the one to cook at home.


So I was always there. It's just that I started sort of taking the same spot a lot more seriously, I guess, about seven or eight years ago, which is when I started, I would say writing down pieces that ultimately went with this book didn't come together in like just the first three months of the pontificate. I'd noted on a lot of things that ultimately I did a lot of experiments at home to be able to over time, sort of like this.


Right. So so that's that's been my journey.


And one of the things I found fascinating about the book, in fact, the thing that I really liked about it particularly is that this is not about you not giving us about food or giving us recipes or whatever. You're taking a step back and just talking about the sort of first principles that actually made the art and craft of cooking. And I was going to that because that's something that I try to do in some of the various things that I've done, whether it was, you know, playing poker or whether, you know, the first thing I tell people who do my writing course is that, listen, I'm not going to give you a bunch of guidelines, like I'm some kind of free speech writing show.


Good. And these are the Ten Commandments. But let's get back to first principles and then build our all three. Is this way of thinking something that is inherent to how you approach everything but example, even learning music with so as to start the world as it did. And I guess it's in the galactic tradition. As you have pointed out, not much is codified. A lot of it is just like passed on from Shusha and so on. You you wrote in your book about how Indian cooking is so much like Indian music in that sense that there is no codification.


It's almost treated as a mystical art that has to be based on whether it is from a grandmother in the kitchen or something to start with. Will you sort of go and learn? So did you always have that kind of mindset that to trying to break things down, you're taking a step back and thinking so? Absolutely. I mean, I've always greatly enjoyed science right from it. It was very young, especially our physics, chemistry, biology and mathematics.


I think the one caveat being that I I was not such a big fan of speed in the sense that a lot of your entrance exams really test for speed. But I mean, I like solving very complex physics problems over a day as opposed to fifty problems in ninety minutes, which was very bad. And in that sense. So when I, when I attempted to do that, it was almost like the system was very bad at memorization. So very early.


I really had sort of picked up this habit of trying to kind of drive first principles so that I could derive anything I wanted rather than the price. So so this was something that was always there. And in a sense, it also some people in my software area, because that's basically it. Right. At the end of the day, you're trying to solve a very, very hard and complex problem with people who are largely very young, inexperienced, al-khalidi, terrible court.


So therefore, you need to really get down to first principles and you need to let the process be documented to the point where you don't blame the person, but your software still does what it needs to do. So I think, you know, a lot of the approach to the book in some sense is also that it's algorithmic. It's really rather than memorize or learn, you know, recipes. Is that a more simpler way to break it down or to teach people?


And in a sense, this is the reason I saw that this was an opportunity in the Indian cooking space. You know, there's a fair number of science books in the West can George Lopez and Harold, Becky and others, and have really broken down a lot of Western cooking, largely European cooking, if you will, into into very, very granular, easy to understand principles with a great amount of precision. And for some reason, that's not for in cooking.


And it's not surprising. Most cooking is and was largely done by women with little choice in the matter at home. And then about 50, 60 years back, they did not have access to education either. So and we are largely an oral tradition kind of culture and so very little. So it's literally think about this. You can you can literally name just one famous cookbook called Upon US All about it and like it that was said to be in Sanskrit by the can inspire.


And even that really doesn't get into the specifics. It doesn't get into clearly the guy. I think it probably. I mean, it was apparently written by the emperor himself. So clearly he didn't quite. But but what's interesting is that this seems to be a complete lack of craft, if you will. So that's the distinction of being retail. Art is something inscrutable. It's exotic. You know, you just need to get it. It's you have any new intuitive sense and so on.


But craft this craft needs documentation, craft needs precision, craft needs explanations for why you're doing what you're doing as opposed to and also a sense of a lot of the grandmother's wisdom. Tacit wisdom ends up being right. It works, but we don't know why it works. And in the Internet, this information universe that we have, it's now becoming increasingly hard to figure out what is actually verified and what isn't verified.


Yeah, yeah. Like Domenik during covid and so on and so forth. Or tangential question since you mentioned autographed is that my sense of art and craft has increasingly come to be that. That is really not much of a difference. The key difference is that art is that part of the craft which you haven't thought about consciously or can't articulate, but they amount to the same thing. And since you're a musician as well, I'll ask your opinion in that context that in music also, I am sure you can sort of take a step back and get back to first principles that this combination of all of these effects in the brain.


And that is why we find them pleasant and we find something else noisy and blah, blah, blah. And I think part of the art of coming up with something that sounds pleasant is actually using this internalized knowledge, which you haven't yet put into words or articulated. And whatever you can articulate automatically becomes a craft because you can, you know, and I'm just kind of thinking aloud. But what's your sense of this?


I think it's I would say music and other sort of traditional arts if you would be a drama art film or anything. Like what?


Slightly different. Definitely, I think is just culinary arts is that. But I would we're really talking about a Michelin star or a famous chef who's creating something that you simply cannot reduce down to just the technique and so on. There is clearly something magical about that. It's just, you know, you can analyze jazz music all you want, but the reality is that when jazz music came out onto the stage in the 20s and so on, a lot of Western classical musicians and critics were like, this is just atonal.


This is violating every bit of harmony theory that we knew. But yet, I mean, it really just went on to become the predominant popular form of music and it actually influenced classical music. You know, the last stage of Western classical musicians to Shostakovich, the that a lot of the Russian composers and so on, Mahler and others really stopped doing the usual formulaic harmony arrangements and started doing things that sounded a lot more jotting and so on. And if you will really set the stage for the kind of cinematic music that you hear from Hans Zimmer or anyone or John Williams, so that you kind of set the mood in a way because we need a wider range.


You need to be a lot more experimental beyond just what the rules of comedy tell you, that in a sense that's true for a painting or sculpture so on, that it's hard to break down, say the the David in Florence, just down to the fact that that it's about these are the proportions and that the distance between the eyes is so and so. There's a golden ratio in. All all of this, so there's all the post facto analysis to try to craft or not is definitely is a very common phenomenon.


In other words, in this case, the only distinction I want to make is that I think cooking at home should not be done, because at the end of the day, it's a high-pressure daily thing that you do three days. It should not be it should not be something that you need to be mentored by a seasoned person for many years to not. It should be something that you can just pick up quickly, because at the end of the day, you know, cooking by yourself, fixing your nutrition is one of the single most important things that you will do for my health.


And so in that sense, I think that's the distinction. As I clearly say, the book is aimed, not aimed at making a great chef. It's aimed at making you a better home cook. And home cooking is an engineering. It should not be like it should not be. This inscrutability is, of course, even in home cooking, you sometimes have these you'll remember your grandmother or your mother or some relatives. Fantastic. You know, a chicken brownie or a doll or something like that.


I remember that a lot of that has to do with nostalgia or perception of flavor is done at the same part of the brain that processes nostalgia, memories. And this is something that I call that flavor chapter. So that's where your restaurant can't compete with your grandmother's dog, not because it's objectively better, because you simply have better memories of it. And when it's tied into those memories and memories are formed, that's what you know, that's what enhances the experience of food itself.


So it is very much a you basically, for the most part, that's the that's the sort of magical experience you're thinking about. And that's really just, you know, neurology of the craft essentially is fundamentally about saying, look, you know, this is a documentation problem. People tell you things like cook, you know, until the raw smell goes away. Those are terrible instructions. How does that translate into writing? How does that translate into knowledge that you can actually pass on to somebody else?


Because you can't literally describe smells in that, but you can say, you know, cook that until it tastes as sour or as sour as you like it. That's a better than structure right now. I mean, if you want to be really precise, you've got the food industry. You would say use a drip and measure to see if the pitch is between four or four point five, because all great food is typically in the range of forty four point five, which I mean, that's what chefs at Western food scientist.


So that's the idea is to bring some basic level of craft and engineering and a better knowledge, if you will, to what is essentially a very daily laborious activity. And so that's that was the point.


You know, what I was kind of getting at is that trust is underrated. You know, people will often have this hierarchy that art is up there and it's mystical and blah, blah, blah, and traffic is below that. You are just going through the motions. And I think that that's really unfair, that ultimately, you know, the finest art is what will eventually one day perhaps become craft when people understand it well enough. Absolutely. Before we get to the sort of final question, that is not to do with the book or not to do with food, which is I'm very curious about your methods of knowledge management and how you organize all of that.


And also what I do to question how do you listening to it to once mention that you listen to my podcast and when I tell others that I myself listened to between two and 2.5, they're like, how can you do that? And I'm like, no, the way normalizes everything. And and I listen to all you do. But it works, by the way, except that you you mentioned you listen, do you do a bit higher, but there is no way you're sitting in your duty.


So essentially, I think knowledge management is something that I've paid a lot of attention. So, again, something that I've learned from one of my bosses at who's the chief technology officer, and he was he was big on what he called personal project management. He said that people are great at following other people's project plans, but they don't have a project plan of their own. Do you know how much time you spend on reading? You know, how much time you spend on talking to others?


So if you have the right balance, I actually the sense that I kind of got serious about efficiency, of learning, if you will, as an individual and let me be absolutely clear here. I don't recommend that other people simply blindly follow this. If it works for me and it's something I like doing, I have multiple interests. It's not for everyone, but in general. So one of the things I do is that there's this Elkadi sort of put a bit of luck to something that teach teachers attitudes.


Right. So if you read something, apparently you remember about 10 percent of it. And if you watch a video, you remember 20 percent. And if there's a life demonstration, you'll remember 30 percent. And ultimately, if you meet someone else, you're about 90 percent. So it's sort of it's the sort of bit of it. And even within that, what you read on screen, you retain a lot less than if you read on paper.


So there's this sort of big part of it. So I'm always sort of I'm very wary of the fact that I don't want to only consume content. So it is important that if I watch a video on, say, some kind of illustrations and digital illustrations, which I did because I do a fair bit of the illustrations in the book itself, I do it right. And so it's just watching hours and hours of videos. And so I love to sort of break it down into saying, look, I'm going to pick up the videos that I'm going to basically in increasing order of difficulty through illustrations that are more and more so similar.


How you loved music, you don't get on the guitar is the first song, and then you kind of get into, you know, Pink Floyd or something more sophisticated. So it's this same. So the second thing is, is around I had a colleague who was who is a visually challenged, and he was one of my colleagues who used to work on some of the applications that we used to build some years back. And he was working with us to test for accessibility.


So these Web applications accessible to people with disabilities and so on. And that's when I learned that how to actually use the web is use something called a screen reader. It's the thing that they wear headphones that they wear and literally it reads out the code on the pitch and to one. So you need really clean and stable court order to be a mess and to show that the navigation and the menu and all of that is there. And by the way, because, you know, and they do not have any other distractions, it leads it at six to seven x, the normal voice to be it was just complete gibberish.


And he said, yeah, he was able to get it. And he said something rather by blue. And he said that at six, six, nine he can listen to an audiobook faster than a sighted person can be well above average sighted person can look at blind people, can read books, pass to the be, then clearly I think there's some improvements to be big. No, I wasn't aiming for six X, but I said, OK, let's start with the X.


Yours was one of the harder podcasts because I think as an audience we tend to speak faster. The American podcasts, you know, the NPR stuff, except I was what I started increasing the speed to one point five and slowly, gradually you kind of get used to it. In fact, when I get to the podcast, I realized that I've never heard your voice this low ever because I've heard was the last two years and I've only heard that three.


So that was a funny moment. So obviously I kind of, you know, therefore I realized that I could consume a lot more. But I also have to do stuff. And then I also have a I have a very specific style of documenting or voting down things in a way that I remember. I tried all kinds of tools and ultimately just decided on I mean, I use a box. I just use notes that it's not great. It can sometimes be buggy.


I've tried Evernote, I put all those kinds of Google keep and all of that just set it down on just take no notes in under a different topic areas in terms of facts that I that I think that I want to remember, because they would be useful to sort of shed some light or learning journey. So if I find it, I used to watch later functionality really well. So I say, hey, it's a one hour lecture by, say, Daniel Kahneman.


OK, I'm going to watch it at some point or so. And so the other is also in a sense of figuring out the time of the day so that I'm not sitting and doing this like all day. So I need that balance. So there's work. And since the pandemic, so I have childcare duties, I have to spend two to three days of the week shepherding my son through his online classes. Otherwise he and I get distracted and so on and cooking and all of that so that I boxset so that, you know, there's a I have to constraint as well.


And in a sense, there's a lot of synesthesia. I constantly kind of think about what I hear, some music and I try and see what it reminds me of visually and so on.


So I kind of notice things don't because I have a terrible memory. So now a lot of a lot of is foundationally about writing stuff. So which is why it wasn't too hard to write this book because I had like a ton of thoughts. But, you know, that's completely fascinating.


I like these days I'm using something I find pretty useful coolroom, research, regraded. I was taught. I want to buy one of the designers I worked with the recommend. I did see. I have not given it. I try it sort of mind mapping and not taking kind of bootloader mind mapping is one part of it.


But it does a couple of things. The first of which many other apps will also probably provide, the first of which is you can have these nested little sections, which is a good way of organizing stuff. But the second is bidirectional linking, which is useful to me because then it seems that over a period of time, as you input more and more all all of these connections formed between them. And I just find out much earlier, I used to take notes for my episodes and Microsoft Word.


Yeah. And that's just amazing. You used to lean over writing your book. Tell me a bit about that.


How did that I that was actually a fantastic source. Criminalities, before I set out to write, I was like, OK, what role should I use? I had you have it at the past. In fact, I used to use Scrivner when I was still actively writing my blog. So I used to jot down these ideas, interrelated ideas, because there were several teams that used to repeat across posts and so on. So I used to kind of use.


So essentially I think what I liked about Scrivner is that it really focuses your part on structuring how you want to think about the narrative as opposed to the visual that one of my everlasting gripes with the Microsoft Word or PowerPoint. Right. It's that it forces you in a way to constantly think about the visual representation of something as opposed to purely the the flow of the narrative, which is actually why I kind of tend to use the tools of latex. And so it's separated out into two tools, one for writing content, which has no visual represent.


You just get your white paper down and then you do formating a typesetting only at the end, right? So in a sense that I think have a really sort of forces that mindset. So it allows you to lay down the layout of the book. You dump all your research, lay on the chapters. And I think my favorite part of the fact was the fact that it exemplified the entire process of saying that, hey, you know what? Set a target.


You want to write three thousand words a day, set it right and I'll tell you how you're doing. And then it sort of kept me motivated to really just quickly get through to about sixty thousand pages. And I think it tremendously. In fact, I had to do very little restructuring after I moved out of Scrivner into work because that's how Penguin or any other publisher really works. They work out Microsoft Word changes and so on. So that's how the industry works.


But I think we never really had to do anything major once I came out. I think it was fantastic. And just in terms of sort of getting your style down, like, again, if I sort of question in writing and you also said in another interview that you thought fairly deeply about science writing, especially from when you were talking about the pyramid earlier, that, you know, 90 percent of absorption happens when you teach it to someone. I think the phrase you used in one of your earlier interviews was explaining to me like, you know, so how hard was it then to like how hard was the process of writing or, you know, just relentlessly practicing this kind of writing through the years to make it much easier than other ways?


So this in a sense that my first drafts of some of the chapters, I did a fair amount of rewriting. And the reason for that was because I think the tone of the language and the style was very similar to what you might find on my blog. I was always thinking about two things. So there's you know, there's there's a style of writing that I keep for the blog, which is sort of humor, snarky, a lot of pop culture references, sarcastic and so on.


And then, you know, the style of writing that I would often do, either at work or when I'm really putting down and explaining something to someone at all, or when I'm writing a column used to write columns for the Hindu or Indian Express back in the day, simple science and technology columns. And clearly, I think the editor then that said that, you know, don't show off your humor here. So if you're aiming to educate, focus on that broader joke.


But the the the explaining part has to be deported. And so I ended up rewriting the first couple of chapters because I felt that it was just more than my blog site. It was more snarky, more jokes. And then my editor also was like over time as I started rewriting and and my inspiration was largely present, in my opinion, as one of the absolute best writers of nonfiction, purely for a couple of things. One is how he's able to explain complex scientific ideas to people who may not have a science back.


That's number one. And yet he does it with a tremendous amount of warmth and humor just to write book in a way that it doesn't get in the way of trying to show off your human right. I mean, so I you know, in a way that, you know, if I if I look and read back some of my blog posts from, say, 2008 or 2009, it now feels like I was trying to show off that I was funny rather than it didn't come naturally.


So I was so in a sense that I did a first couple of chapters and then in reality, because of my decade long of multi decades long sort of experience of literally breaking if understanding everything only by first principles, it actually came easier. So I ended up being far more productive. I didn't have to stop to think, OK, what can I make you? You just came naturally in the sense of, you know what, it's easier for me to explain thermodynamics to you without calculus explained.


I can fight with gallons, which which implies that I need to remember some of those things. I remember at a higher level. I would rather just go right down to the fact that there's heat, there's electrons, that these particles, the colliding with each other, they transfer here to be transferred, energy and so on. That's a far more intuitive, if you will. And I think some of my inspirations were obviously people like Feynman and others who really had a way of explaining things without expecting that you had a science to write.


So I think that was a general style.


No. In fact, I'm glad you didn't cut all the human out because the book is delightful like that. Just to go out and just to give the listeners a taste of that, I'm going to read out a couple of lines which I absolutely love and hear a great school. Learning to cook by reading recipes is like trying to learn chemistry by only reading equations or the biographies of chemists. Imagine walking into a chemistry lab and finding an instruction textbook that says good thing to a gentle, similarly exotic mélange of acid and that ideas colors of potassium.


But you would probably respond with a little easy on the adjectives and stick to explaining how and why things were so good, which is almost like a I think a representative, a summary of the entire book. So at what point did you actually then start thinking that the lake was in a moment where you felt that there should be a book like this and there isn't? So why don't you write it? Or was it other people? To you and saying, hey, you write so wonderfully about food, why don't you do it?


How did the book End of the Ship?


Funnily enough, I sent Penguin to propose. So, you know, Mansi Subrahmanyam has been sort of pursuing me for a while. So I was I was busy at work. I somehow kind of didn't get into the frame of mind to say commit to this and say, let me do this. Right. And actually, to be honest, but say three or four years back, I still had this sort of weird post digital notion that books are self publishing.


And I'm not a fan of how the publishing industry talks about authors and so on. So I decided that if at all I do something, I do something very unique could be an interactive book. It'll it'll be somewhere halfway between a book and a video game. So those are the kinds of crazy ideas that I had, not that I had time to actually put it down and so on. Obviously. I mean, those those youthful ideas give way to the fact that I said at the end of the day, books are books, books have been around.


Books have been the predominant, preeminent form of transferring knowledge for mankind. I mean, at least widely for the last 500, 600 years. But, you know, since the dawn of writing and so on.


So clearly, I think my first proposal was not for the full title, it was actually enough. So she basically said, send me some ideas and I'll tell you which ones, which I think might work. So my first proposal was a speculative science fiction sort of set in India, six or seven stories whose synopsis had already written a while back. So I kind of said, hey, sort of speculative fiction, near future science fiction, addressing a lot of these very typical Indian themes about how cost might intersect with sci fi themes.


And so those kinds of things. And I wrote that and then after that, as an afterthought, she said I said we are nonfiction. We're not. I said, OK, what do I write a nonfiction? What what are my areas of expertise? If I didn't want to write about software that I said, OK, give me the next, I could either write about music, which which I've always found is very hard to write about. Music is a team.


Krishna's a fantastic writer, which is why I enjoy it, because I think he's he's not really talking about the music. He's also talking about the social and cultural and the wider historical aspects of it. And I said, well, I don't have the background. I mean, I can't write about music in the same way. So I said, you know, hey, you know what? I let me combine two of my other favorite passions, writing and cooking.


And let me put together that was the time when I bought Candy Lopez's food lab and the Lord of the Kitchen. I think I had all and so on. And I was so I was blown away by the fact that they had really reduced a lot of these cooking principles into very simple explain like I'm five sort of explanation's. And I said, OK, fine, you know what? I gotta do this. And I quickly put together a proposal as an afterthought.


And and she got back immediately, said, I want to do the fixing later. So so that's how the whole thing actually kind of started.


I'd love to read fiction also as well, but, you know, so of get down to it at some point in time. And you started this book about this really charming story about how you ask your grandmother for the recipe and she gives you the recipe. And then she says is one ingredient I kind of forgot to tell you about, and that is patience, which is both deeply true and also indicative of the way this almost kind of mystical aura about this art of cooking.


In the book you write, Good Indian cooking in particular is supposed to be an art wrapped in Oriental mystique, soaked in exotic history and decided tradition and culture. Western food is supposed to be scientific and bland, while Indian cooking, we are told, is all about tradition and flavor. Stop. So what was your process of kind of like? You know, I imagine that you are, again, as in music, someone whose first exposure to food would be Indian food.


But then you you're eating everything is you know, can you tell me about like is it an aha. Moment where you start thinking about food in a different way or when do you sort of start taking that step back and looking at these first ones and looking at it, you know, and deciding that you need to figure this out? I think so for me, that moment, obviously, first is it has to be the fact that exposure to other kinds of cooking, clearly one I mean, I I grew up in a strictly vegetarian, no garlic household, but my father and my grandmother were like, you know, make sure that you eat everything outside so that, you know, you don't suffer by being too restrictive.


And so obviously by exposure to food outside my home was pretty much during my high school and college days eating at creams, kabobs and so on. So that was obviously the first exposure to food outside and obviously the realization that so there are signs of cooking that can actually bring about so many other different kinds of flavors beyond just the narrow confines of was he in a coma? And yet, fascinatingly enough. And I often tell this to people that Indian vegetarian cooking is not an afterthought.


It's not like meat dishes minus it is an entirely original ultrarich cuisine that has evolved over thousands of years in really extracting flavors without the advantages of the advantages of meat from vegetables and all these ingredients. So it's by no means the flavor profile of food. It was was less. My mother was a fantastic as a grandmother. It was a fantastic cook again.


So one was obviously exposure to food outside. And then I lived seven years in the US and then that obviously opened up to a lot more avenues and had an opportunity to obviously eat Thai food and Chinese food and Mexican food and a lot other pizza whenever I wanted it to, so on and and sure. And also over time, the realization that trouble that my grandmother was having writing the recipe, it kind of stayed with me for a while. She was finding it hard to kind of say how much exactly?


You said no. I just you know, I just use a sense of just salt to taste, you know. Ah, so a lot of the family expressions or of ingredients, spices are not in sports because people don't have spoons. So they're all based on the configuration of your fingers or body is actually sort of what you can hold in your fist. And then other words, to describe what you can hold in two fingers. Other you can hold a small pinch and so on.


So there's very specific there's a language that kind of describes how much you put based on that. And she would essentially use that kind of thing and realize, one, that if if she's able to cook without this kind of broad adherence to authenticity or recipe and and so on, maybe there's nothing to that. Right. So the fact that all food writing is just all recipes, and if you read it, you kind of get a sense that if you put water at one fourth teaspoon of the powder, it is different, is fallacious.


But a lot of beginners think it is important that a lot of beginners think that the sequence is important. So I think the AHA moment, I think happened over a period of time when I essentially realized that a lot of Indian cooking and I contrasted to specifically baking, which is a lot more precise. And if you don't get the proportions right and there's no undo button for a cake or a bread, a lot of Indian cooking is in a sense that you can fix stuff, but you can get to the same kind of rich flavor in a million different ways with different ingredients, which you can replace a ton of things and it'll still be right.


And so and the recognition that no two homes have the same recipe for a video, not the same recipe for sambar, and yet people are still crazy about this is the authentic or you know, somebody actually said to me that you are ginger and Ginger. And I said, that's fine. But what's wrong with that, Ginger? Many people do in my home for for example, my mother would not add garlic and yet garlic. And Rassam is quintessential.


I mean, that's really what really gives out a kind of taste.


And so, therefore, the realisation that a lot of these recipes are not quite capturing the kind of better knowledge that is actually useful, they are kind of painting a picture of authenticity and specificity that not exist. And so which is why I said, do you know what? I think there's a way to step back and think, OK, can I instead think of a genetic way of making rice, a genetic way of making it grab, a genetic way of making a cooking beat, the one so that fit like a far useful thing to really you know, I've done an episode ages Back with the Doctor about Indian food.


And, you know, one of the things I realized by reading the groom's columns in your book also has a lot of that is that pretty much everything we cook with came from outside, whether it is a tomato or the chilies or the potatoes or whatever. So what even is authentic and, you know, and that seems to be a pet peeve of yours, because you've come back to it a couple of times in your book about the snobbery, about patheticness and me a little bit about your time as a cook, because at one point in your book, you write, quote, Cooking is essentially chemical engineering in a home laboratory known as a kitchen with an optional quote known as an stockwood.


And elsewhere, you speak about the importance of if you want to learn how to cook, of doing a B tasting with you cook a particular thing one way and then you cook it another way. And sometimes, you know, in the same session you divided into two. And you also kind of pointed out. Tobin Arizpe talks about how many decisions there should be in a pressure cooker, that's basically nonsense because it depends on what kind of gas you're cooking with and the distance will be discreetly spaced and in induction, cooking and all of that.


So as it will use someone who perhaps when you started going abroad, just started it in a utilitarian way of life, we just fix something for myself so I can have something hot now, or did you then get curious and you always kind of experimenting around and maybe tasting with every meal? Well, I think the testing part probably started a little bit later. I mean, in the early days, it was just just functional, utilitarian, as you said.


I just wanted to make sure that I'm just eating outside or eating pizza or burgers every day in the U.S. was not going to be a healthy lifestyle. So and by the way, those are designed to be so addictive that it's incredible. I mean, it is really hard not to have every day I want to eat pizza. So it's not that way. And obviously, it also started out and remember that this was year 2000, 2001, the way I lived in Texas.


That was just one Indian grocery store, which was tremendously expensive. And you wouldn't get all the ingredients that you needed, particularly you wouldn't get salted ingredients. So Shop was run by a Punjabi gentleman and he would get curry leaves once in like two months, and he would charge like eight dollars for this tiny dried leaves. And I kind of got to thinking about, look, I need to be able to replace these ingredients. It's obvious that if someone says that I cannot make sambar because I don't have this or I cannot make sambar because I don't have Garrity's or if I don't have a specific ingredient.


So clearly, I think it started out that way over time, essentially became this wider principle that looking at the best recipe for your dish is, is what you make with the ingredients you have on a given day. It's the technique that matters. It's up to it to an extent. Maybe there are some dominant ingredients. I do agree that the the flavor of leaf is very hard to replicate, although I subsequently did discover that if you have grated lime zest and basic and Italian basil, you can kind of approximate some of the flavor profile of a leaf and so on.


But yeah, I mean, that's like postulator. So in a sense, I think a lot of this was started out utilitarian and then later reached a point where I would say about a decade or so ago, I started writing down every day what I was cooking, broccoli, nothing too much. I would just say, you know, I did this and just don't own the things that I kind of like for, for example, not entitled, not designated recipes.


So if I'm making party, I would say, look, I used about 80 percent water and it turned out to be quite bright. So the next day I was, you know, the next time I would try 90 percent and say, hey, this turned out to be slightly better. So same thing with Dahle and so on. And that I would try replacement's like, for example, if you don't have a camera, you can use vinegar.


I mean, at the end of the day, it's an acid and vinegar is actually fantastic. And in fact, coconut vinegar and other vinegars are actually fantastically, very flavorful. You can actually make it out and put vinegar if you don't have. So in a sense that also over this time I started documenting replacement's saying that if you don't have this, you can obviously use this. At the end of the day, this is the function of this.


So you can do it. You don't have to marinate your meat. Nobody's marination does very little. Just use your lime juice and and spices and then focus on brining the meat, which which adds a lot more flavor. And that way, you know, you can feel it was actually a lot of daily documentation. I kind of also talk about the methodology section, say, look, I don't want people to read this book and go, oh, this is the exact way to cook.


This is the absolute precise. If I do this exactly in ten minutes, it'll happen. Remember that it's as much as I say it's a laboratory. It's not a laboratory has standardized conditions. They use like standardized equipment, standardised conditions, standardized temperature and things that work for me in a changing climate that essentially has indoor humid all through the year will look very differently in other climates and with other ingredients. But it's better you learn kind the of how you test for different ingredients on different days that AP testing and then figure out, OK, this is the way I like it.


And then sort of, you know, as I said, it's a lot of data and it's a completely fascinating and even what you just said about, you know, one of the myths that you busted in the book is that imagination is important. And actually, you know, nothing seeps through the meat and gives a flavor, even if you keep it for twenty four hours. And you pointed out why dining is much more effective. And what's more important is you pointed it out in chemical terms so one can imagine the dozens of elements and photons and all of that and come to the taste that one comes to.


Let's start talking about the book in the first chapter. Very fascinating, because and it seemed to me that it must have been right, because that's where there is so much science happening. It's all about energy and heat and conduction and conviction. And then you talk about the four major chemical reactions and all of that. Tell me about why you decided to start with this subject in your first chapter to begin with and how you tackled the difficulties that arose?


Well, I would say about 30 percent of the time that I took to write the book was when did the. Into the first chapter. The other ones were relatively simpler because they were focused on very specific things and the first chapter was important because it was I had to kind of decide how far back do I go in terms of the basics. And at the same time, I didn't want it to be gratuitous just to show that I understood thermodynamics right up.


The usefulness of understanding collection and convection in the kitchen is only in the context of understanding how a stainless steel pan books differently from a cast iron works differently from another medium or something else.


And doing that is useful because it's less likely that it's less likely that you'll be able to estimate how much time to cook something. And it's again, part of the problem is that recipes will tell you cook for eight minutes or whatever it is. They don't necessarily tell you exactly what level of heat and what material and all of these all of these actually impact. So, one, I knew that I wanted to talk about basics of materials and basics of heat transfer just so people know that in a sense, I really wanted to kind of highlight to people that if there's one skill, what mastery to make you better forget all the rest of the stuff, it's master temperature, get a good sense of what happens.


But and trust me, will become a better cook without even learning anything else. I just understand when x when meat cooks, when vegetables start to scoop up, when waterboys when bad reaction happens and when different happens. And that's, that's really it. And if you understand this and you can see visually, because I don't expect everyone to have a thermometer, although I recommend that you start this is that can kind of see your Wittstock gelatinous as it kind of becomes softer and so on.


When meat proteins denature they become hot, which is why chicken is so easily overcooked all the time. And so that's the reason why I sequence the first chapter, roughly the order of what I think was the most important skills you needed in the context of the Indian kitchen, which is why it starts with heat and materials and pressure cooking and then goes into rice because, you know, most people eat. Rice is the single most consumed grain, a staple food in the Indian market.


So rice and then wheat and then, you know, vegetables and the meat and eggs and fat, because these are things you're going to encounter almost every other day. So you kind of get those basics right. And then, of course, I can talk to you about spices and acids and and Browning and all the other fancy Obama and all the other things. But so that's how I kind of sequence the first chapter.


You know, it was this quite fascinating. And at one point you later in the book, I was struck by this. So bytecode cooking is a strategic application of heat to transform an ingredient into a narrow range of acceptable flavors and more importantly, textures. Stockwood and I was struck here by the phrase acceptable flavors. And, you know, one of the things that, again, where you've taken that sort of step back and you looked at it is that we tend to assume that, you know, there is something absolute in terms of judgment about tasting good and white, tasting bad and all of that.


And the truth is that all of these are kind of contingent on the circumstances in which we evolve. And, you know, for example, like you pointed out, that we don't like, you know, alkaline sort of tastes and substances. But as it's the other way around with acidic and there is an evolutionary reason for why they are the way we are. So there's no sort of we are basically catering to the way that we are wired in terms of taste.


Whenever the kind of makes you want to talk a little bit about this, because this is sort of a very interesting aspect to me, because then what it implies is that figuring out food begins with figuring out human beings who we are and how we evolve.


And so absolutely, I think, you know, one of my all time favorite books is this book called Neuro Gastronomy. In fact, I read it much after I wrote the book, but I was just obviously struck by because I read a lot of the kind of white papers that he cites in the book when I did the research for my book. But clearly when I read the book, I think it kind of it's a fantastic book up. So essentially he talks about how we perceive flavor and it is up.


There are just so many layers. So for starters, the fact that flavor is 80 percent smell. It's only 20 percent taste from a contribution standpoint, and you can only taste five things, you know, salt, sweet, bitter, sour on Obama and then but you can taste you can smell apparently close to 10000 different orders. And so your olfactory cortex plays a tremendous role in how you combine both taste and smell. So, for example, something like a cardamom actually tastes better.


So if you have a cold, if you have a bad cold, you can smell it just is better. But it's a combination of the taste about mouthfeel and the and the aroma that really sort of makes the whole thing. In fact, things like say how saltiness and sweetness amplify the tastes. So you actually have cardamom with a pinch of salt or a pinch of sugar. It tastes it'll smell more. So there's a tremendous one. A lot of the tasting actually happens in your brain.


So that's the fun part. And the amazing thing is that it's one of those weird senses where all the experience is happening in your brain. Right. And with sensors mostly in your nose. But the brain needs to fool you into thinking that it's all happening in your mouth because otherwise it'd be very hard because it's one of those really bizarre senses. When you touch something, you know, it's your hand that is touching it. And so that's how other senses you see it, you see it with your eyes.


So it's not your brain doesn't perceive that you're seeing it with the back of your head. But taste is bizarre. Taste has been a flavor is bizarre because you eat with your mouth and when you break down these molecules, they go through the back of your mouth into the retronasal, olfaction, as it's called, because most of the taste of food comes from not spending inside, but from the the molecules actually going from behind your mouth up to those same receptors.


And then the brain has to combine, taste this, both feeling everything else and give you the illusion that all of it's happening. So it's a very slow one. It's very, very individual that are gender variations. Women have more olfactory receptors. Other women have higher density of participants. On average, there are exceptions, but on average there are sometimes cultural variations, which also account for things like salt, for example, to one of the common questions that have is how do we estimate it's very hot?


Because salt is one of the things that you cannot undo all those tricks that they tell you that if it was altered something other than add water, more water, you can't actually fix it. But so the amount of salt is is always a tricky thing. So but Western food scientists have actually figured out that for American tastes between one and one point five percent by weight of the food is a good place to start for.


I mean, if you're not going to weight everything in your kitchen all the time, but then again, if you really think about it, most of the weight of everything in in your cooking pan is the weight of water. Water is the heaviest thing and it's most of this water, and so therefore, if you have a mental heuristic of being able to estimate volume and therefore weight of water, you can actually get very, very good at estimating sort and things like that.


If you kind of know that you know this, by the way, this cuppers 200, that's 200 grams of water because water density is what likewise, if you have a part that has about a half a liter of water, but then, you know, agree, that's about three, four is about 350 grams of water. Even if it's a dish of sambar, you can literally just assume that it's mostly just the weight of it. So therefore, you can actually therefore use that kind of metal heuristic to estimate salt that's wanted.


This varies by culture. So Indians clearly like food a lot more here. And we are also OK with food that is a lot harder in terms of chilies. But other people may not have that sensitivity and likewise a lot of the aroma because it's related to nostalgia and so on. Some of these things are very hard to fix. Like, for example, a lot of Indians find it very tough to deal with the smell of a fish sauce in Southeast Asia or the smell of certain kinds of meat in China and so on, because a lot of those smells.


Let me take another example that you take dried fish, which is a quintessential smell in China if you're near the sea coast and so on, bright, shiny fish are essentially the only fish that the fisherfolk can afford because the larger fish tend to be sold to the rich people, the larger, less tastier, largely useless fish they get the bomb pinay that, the dried fish and so on, that one of those sulphurous molecules in fish can be detected in like one molecule in a quadrillion.


I mean, that's how sensitive. But if you are someone from the sea side, you're used to eating fish all the time. Your sense of detecting that is going to be at a much weaker level in the sense that you will need much, much more for you to be able to detect. But people who do not eat fish can smell it from a mile away and they don't like it. So there's such a tremendous sort of individual variation, your own state of mind itself.


I think people taste food differently when they are stressed. People taste for differently depending on their boards and many other things. And, you know, famously. But you can also get an answer, which is that you lose the ability to smell for a long time. In fact, it is actually affected the careers of some chefs who have taken months to get their sense of smell back and they can't cook without a sense of smell and so on. So in a sense that this is such a the reason I say that this is a is that acceptable is because it is acceptable to you as an individual.


And why is it acceptable to you for many reasons, history, nostalgia, your own making your gender, your conditioning, your culture and of other things. That's what so some people will like brinjal, really mashed up and some people find it very slimy and they needed a gunshot and some people would find that very wrong. It's just that there's such a tremendous variation individually that it's it's just completely pointless being positive about food agenda, because all you're ultimately saying is that I like this food in a very specific taste that I experienced 30 years ago.


And every other way it tastes better. I mean, that's essentially what you're saying, which is what I see. Yeah. Yeah.


But, you know, I think humans in some respect must be wired to think of their preferences as being universal in the sense if I like this, this must be good. If I think this this must be right. You know, so many things to unpack here. What is it you're talking about? You know, the sense of smell being so important. I was just chatting with a friend of mine who recovered from Kuwait, and he had lost his sense of smell.


And he offered to, I think, sent me some ground by the child that his mom had made. And I said, don't do having so many say that I can't taste anything right now. So that kind of drives it for the sake of my listeners. I'll just give a quick elaboration on the kind of scientific explanation that can form valuable moments. So in your book, like when he was speaking about Solito, you spoke about how zero point four percent of our saliva is salt.


Yeah. And therefore anything less in that it would seem like that is a problem. And like you said, beyond that, Indians can go to one point five percent in the West. It'll largely be around the one percent mark. You also busted that myth. If there is too much salt, put some potato rice. And what Ashoke points out in his book is that, no, all that will do is absorb the gravy. It does nothing about the essential saltiness.


And I'm sort of also struck by sort of one of the delightful things about your first chapter, which, you know, I love things which make me look at what is otherwise mundane and see it as spectacular. And that's what you do with water. In the first chapter where I was just filled with the sense of all at what you know, what is this freakish thing that we drink every day is. So tell me a little bit about why it is so remarkable.


I mean, is that this was something that actually sort of it's inspired by something that I heard Carl Sagan say many years, I think, in the original cosmos that used to air on Doordarshan, which I used to watch it religiously every Sunday morning. And it stayed with me. It stayed with me. And he basically said that water is just magical. There is no reason for water to behave the way it does, and if it didn't behave the way it does, there would be no life.


I mean, we are mostly water. What we eat is mostly water. Our planet is mostly water.


In fact, so much so that even people who search for extraterrestrial life there is it's not like they open their minds and say, let's look for hydrogen sulfide based life, not for the most part. It has to be carbon based and it has to be water based. So therefore, the variety of life but it is cannot be beyond the fact that it's carbon based and it is is water based because both of these are just magical and water particularly. So you think about oxygen is a smaller item than sulfur, which is like in general, if you look at the periodic table, larger items in general tend to be solids and smaller items tend to be brought up, but there are exceptions and so on.


So you would expect that hedge to or would also be a gas like hedge to which is just right below. Sulfur is also like oxygen, but hydrogen sulfide is a gas and water alone because of just the the way it is just a it's one of those know Stephen Hawking's anthropic principle. You know, it's like if it was any different, we wouldn't be here to talk about. So there is no debating why. It's just the way it is.


It's just that liquid water, the ability to form bonds outside of just its own hydrogen and oxygen and so on gives it the property there. It is actually denser than ice, which is remarkable because all solids tend to be denser then liquids, but water is denser, then it's a little bit. And then the fact that it can keep forming these bonds also means that it can form these bonds with the proteins and other things that that make up our body, which is how the spectacular diversity of all our biochemistry literally comes from water being involved in every single reaction, every protein synthesis, everything that keeps you alive, that is water it those reactions without water not happening.


So in a sense, it is essentially that, in fact, the fact that we use it in cooking is in a bizarre way, also a slightly liberty thing. And I'll tell you why. Water binds a country, but the tastiest flavors in food come after intense interest, which is what military action happens. So you can't have military action as long as what it is. So a lot of cooking is about getting the balance right. So if you can't have it all right without water either, but at the same time.


So which is why restaurants and so on almost always deep fry or sour ingredients separately browned it and then add it to the gravy, which is mostly what? Because once you add it to the gravy, it'll never get there. So you do it ahead of it at home. You normally won't do that. You're kind of making them all look, will be able to put the blue and the Gobi and put the gravy and kind of cook it. It's not going to taste like the restaurant one, because the restaurant one will involve that being fried, which is sort of brings me to another aha moment, which I kind of realized later, which is that oil, in the context of frying, plays the same role that water does and the seams are the only difference is that what matters is that it transports heat evenly.


It's a medium for convection. Well, heat transfer, because if you put something directly on a pan, only the bottom is going to get hot and the top will get cooked and all of that. Whereas if it's in water, water has this property that it will all get to the same temperature and it will transfer heat before even. So, that's the reason we use water and we use oil for exactly the same reason because you want to transfer heat a hundred and seventy Celsius, which is when it drops.


Right. So literally fights play the role of water except at a higher temperature. Facts don't typically react with the food at all. So you think they do what they do? So it's the amino acids and sugars that fat goes in directly. They get broken down only by the interstate. And when they start breaking down in your mouth and because we mostly water and fats don't mix with water, your body turns it into a mayonnaise, basically. I mean, imagine that picture of your liver literally uses bile to emulsify all the fact that you eat.


So what's actually going down through it is like a is like an emulsion, like it's like mayonnaise where it's ultimately broken down. Only a small interstate at the fat and the water. So water for me is is always been this. If you can understand what if you can understand one, what contains what most things contain water, cucumber, for instance. Cucumber is 95 percent water. Cucumber contains more water than some really hard water that comes straight out of your tap, which is probably has a ton of minerals.


Right. Delivery nonintuitive. The cat, it contains more water than milk, but we don't intuitively think about it. And understanding that can also mean that, by the way, you could look at it, you can pressure-cooker some of these root vegetables without adding what, just add butter and that you can actually cook at a higher temperature. You can caramelised and you get fantastic Garratt Soups if you actually look at it without water because you have to be careful, your diet, a fair bit of butter and all that, but you don't need anything.


Just salt, carrots and butter will get you an amazing soup because caramelized of military action based cat, it is just so tasty.


So what is interesting is how you talk about these principles in the context of cooking and then suddenly you take a step out and go somewhere else, like another quote from the chapter. Good. It's because we have so much water on the surface that a place like Mumbai as mostly predictable temperatures, well, Bhopal can swing wildly not just across seasons, but in a single day. Stockwood and one would be ideal moment for me was how microwaves work. Like, of course they are safe and they don't cause cancer and all of that nonsense, but they actually work just by heating water.


And because all food contains water, it kind of looks that question kind. You don't laugh at this. But, you know, sometimes I'll put a dish inside the microwave and the dish will get cold before the food does, but the dishes know what it is. So there are some materials. So microwave mostly heats water. There are some materials big like melamine is one of the. Which is why not all melamine is microwave safe. Some facts, for instance.


So so if you think about the principles of our microwave, what's the funny thing is that it's actually a fair bit of complex quantum physics. So it's like microwave as radiation is incredibly weaker than even visible. Light is actually between radio and up and infrared.


So what's actually happening there is that it just so happens microwave at the frequency. We tend to use it. I think it's two thousand eight hundred megahertz. That's what it is. That specific frequency has just the right amount of energy to heat to in some sense, flip a water molecule. And because they keep changing the direction of the microwave, if you keep flipping back and forth so the water heats up, it's a magnetic pole because water again, hydrogen bond, it's Polari.


So it has a you know, align itself to an electromagnetic field. And so it's flipping. And so that's how it's getting some materials end up having very similar property. Sometimes, which is why some materials can suddenly get very hot, other in all of the situations, the material gets hot because the water gets hot and then it transfers the heat to the material, which is why metals, you don't use metals because, you know, they will start sparking.


And so that is so which is why you use microwave safe materials are not great conductors of heat so that all the heat of the water is not transferred to the material, but it's just mostly transporting the food around.


So so, you know, before we go onto a commercial break, which we continue our sort of deep dive into your book, a couple of broad questions which kind of came up from what you were saying earlier when you spoke about how certain Western foods are designed to be addictive. So I'd like you to elaborate on what you mean by this and also whether there are Indian foods which are also like this. Like elsewhere in the book you pointed out, you pointed to a Squiggy statistic about how Biriyani is the most ordered food, like every secondary thousand varieties being ordered or some nonsense like that.


So what is this sort of addictiveness in food, which obviously then, you know, the food industry would want to exploit?


So obviously, I think, you know, as adults who evolved at a time when the availability of sugars, which are the the most easy energy currency for the party, it was always historically been the availability of easy availability of sugar as a very modern phenomenon. So our wiring is essentially built on being starved of carbohydrates in general. Remember, before most of our revolution happened at the agricultural era, a lot of our brain wiring is still from that agriculturally, that agriculture is only some five, six thousand years or so.


So we haven't actually adapted to the fact that we are eating a high grain, high carbohydrate diet. Evolution works on a much longer time scale. But we were largely just we were on a diet that was almost entirely beat. And the through that during some season, somebody like, you know, like any other apes or monkeys, I mean, that omnivores probably versus one.


And it is essentially that we have not had time to adapt our wiring to the fact that we now have an unlimited supply of carbohydrates. And so the way we've evolved is that one evolution selected for people who were just crazily addicted to sugar. And the brain rewards you instantly. The moment you eat sugar because you want that kind of person is more likely to have eaten any kind of fruit, ripe fruit, overripe fruit, even if it is marginally rotten.


He would have still eaten it and survived as opposed to someone who did not like the smell, it did not eat and therefore stop it. So therefore, in a sense that you ended up selecting for people who are naturally all naturally addicted to sugar. So that's the first natural thing. So therefore, the food industry first thing is anything but sugar is is going to be addictive or cookies what have you. Incidentally, even your naumkin is addictive because it has sugar.


If it did not have any sugar, it would be. So that's that. Likewise, I think we're also kind of adapted to want a certain amount of salt, not oversight, but a certain amount of salt is absolutely important. We don't like food that is not salty. And it is it's fascinating because the reason we need food with salt. And by the way, you know what? If you notice, like animals, carnivores and so on, who don't get access to salt, naturally enough, salt to that, that because the other eating is meat, they will in fact go find places where rocks have salt and lick to actually get enough salt for themselves.


And the reason all animals, including us, need that salt is because all of us evolve from Ocean-Going creatures. All of us came from fishes. And so all our organs are evolved to deal with a certain amount of salt. And that's why we all ourselves need a certain amount of salt, and that's why we need to eat. Right. So it's just that although we are now languishing and, you know, we don't you know, there's no salt all around, it is basically remembering our fish ancestors, the fact that we are used to get used to that sort of thing.


So salt, again, is something that we are all wired to want to both sweetness on. A couple of other things that that the food industry obviously uses is obviously umami. Well, Miami is one of those, although we understand it technically, but recently humans have understood it for a long way. But the reason tomato is such a such a tremendously common base in so many dishes is because it's very high on glutamates, the very same glutamate, MSG bite of it.


So Parmesan cheese, a cheese, for example, is another one. Neat in general, has a lot of glutamate and so on.


Mushrooms and so so momis advantage is the fact that it actually amplifies other tastes. It makes it linger for longer. So when you eat like ramen, you get that that savory feeling lingers in your mouth for a longer. So umami is one of those things that amplifies the things. Makes it so, which is why Japanese people can actually be very minimalist, so if it's be best, you can actually simply just go with very few other spices and other ingredients.


It can be very minimalist because it's still going to taste really, really good. It's still an acquired taste, but so that's umami as well. And then the food industry has figured out a couple of other tricks. Fat is another one. We absolutely are also like fat for no reason other than the fact that it is the densest nutrient available. So if carbohydrates are like, I think four calories, aggravating factors like nine calories, it's the densest food we can eat, very, very nutrient dense.


And so therefore, we have evolved a taste for fatty textures and fatty foods in general. So if you combine all of this, the food industry also uses tricks with acids.


So, for example, Coca-Cola, already carbonated beverage is tremendously acidic because of the amount of dissolved carbon dioxide and also a couple of phosphoric a bunch of other things. It's very, very acidic. It is more acidic. A Coca-Cola is more acidic, that vinegar.


But you can't drink vinegar, but you can drink a Coca-Cola white because that nine teaspoons of sugar added to it. So the nine teaspoons of sugar actually melts your experience of solids. And in a sense, that restaurant essentially does the same thing. So they add extra salt. But since you'll see the extra salt delight, extra sugar, and because they are sugar, they can add more acid. And because they add Bourassa, the acids will make you salivate more.


They're able to add a lot more. So in a sense, it's it's just ultimately about picking your reward. Circuits are essentially sugar is the primary thing and then salt and a bunch of these other things. But that's largely how a lot of this addiction works and companies take advantage.


In fact, in your book, I think you described it as taking the volume down to 11. The restaurants do it, the kind of sugar and salt that to balance one they use the other indicate they take it all the way to help. And the flavors are so accentuated in decent food for that reason. So kindly eat more at home people and five in particular. And I'm asking because I'm also trying to understand my regular cravings.


So I think it's obviously one of the subcontinent's great dishes I made. You know, if you do a Voyageur three, I think definitely a recipe for really ought to be sent out to deep space, if you will, is one of mankind's. It's not just one of our biggest issues, as many of our best issues, many, so many, so many varieties, but the broad principle of essentially being up. So for starters, it is actually up in a utilitarian fashion.


It is an absolutely dead simple, basic one. But you can make of course, there are sophisticated variants that you can buy at the basic level. If you're a poor guy with this giant and you know your your your your your audiences, you know, construction Laboratoire. And you could just take advice. You could take you could take Spice's I just local it and you can't go wrong with it. Right. So you got carbohydrates, you got proteins.


There's nothing more you need. Right. I mean it is, it is a one shot. You don't need anything else. Anything else is primarily I mean, if it turns out to be too dry, you have a right or whatever it is. But your average constuction is not like eating it with right thought it is just eating the rice, the meat. For him it is the quickest, highly dense, nutritious meals Dex's. So if you leave aside that utilitarian aspect for why it is so ubiquitous, like literally every day, for instance, every street corner has a has a body and I think it is ten is probably one of the largest consumers of any per capita and also chicken.


So one does that. The second thing is the fact that, you know, one, it's an aromatic kind of rice. So the better the rice, you get that and B, has slow cooked meat, has a ton of all those meat juices, all that.


Obama actually suffuses the entire issue, for starters. And then you're using all of these subcontinent's famous spices. I mean, it could be ginger, garlic, cardamom and all the things that kind of go into a billion and so on. All of these are tremendously sophisticated spices. And in some of the most fancy varieties they do have, the top is actually things like saffron, which again, is tremendously complex. Just saffron apparently has some 3000 or 4000 different unique aroma molecules, which is why it is nearly impossible to synthetically to synthesize a saffron.


But you can synthetically synthesize, you know, vanilla, for example. And so it is in a sense that and there are so many variations, you the sequencing, the kind of rice you use, the kind of meat you use, the kinds of spices you use, how your body need to be. So there are just so many varieties and it is also a home also. It's obviously a it's a specialty. I mean, it's something that you cook on a special day.


So imagine having to make Japan these are 20 side dishes for a family gathering when you want to make one with. The idea is that that practical nature to it as well. So for me, I mean, I've always been fascinated by I like the idea. I'm not like obsessively I don't get to claim it because I tend to I don't tend to eat too much rice in general. I tend to sort of eat. So I have a rice day and that a weekday and ability and things like that.


So so I tend to kind of do that. So but on Rice Day, Biriyani is almost always welcome because this it is, it's, it's balmy. It is high in carbohydrates. It's got a ton of that flavor from from the meat, the kind of juices that are not lost it because, you know, you're seeding the whole thing. And if it's cooked well, overcooked the meat, if it's Brinda marinated, well, then, you know, it's going to be succulent and the spices because you're doing the all of the aroma is not lost.


So it's all getting sort of amplified. So I think it's one of the great dishes, though.


I mean, I should have answered the question because now I'm feeling a bit. I had a couple of years back, I went with a bunch of friends and something called the Spice Trade, where we went on this long trip. And one of the places we went to was myself. And there we went to a joint where we had both really. And that was the first time in my life I really had all other kinds. And it was just so mind blowing, you know, the fat and the.


Oh, yes. The succulent flavor and all that.


Which reminds me. Right. So the fact is actually quite important. So aromas, as I get to talk about the flavor chopped up, is that are not soluble in water. Most of those volatile flavor molecules are not soluble. They're soluble, in fact. Right. Which is why almost all cooking starts with oil spices. So you've got to do it before all the spice flavor skips to the air. You kind of get it into the oil and it's that oil that flavors your dish.


Essentially, that's the bulk of the flavor that you get in a biriyani. It's it's amazing because that's going to be that. That's why almost a billion category for making like chicken.


You're almost always going to ask for skin because you want that fat. You don't want lean meat because that fat, when it renders is first and foremost going to absorb all the saffron and the Cuban and the star anise and all the rest of that.


And just that fat is going to be so flavorful. I think that plays a huge role in Biodegrades. Amazing Mezzogiorno. For the other question before we go into the break, which again came from something you said in passing a while back where you said that, you know, the taste buds are women. So to see it develop differently, the taste for differently. So why do you think that is and are the evolutionary reasons for that, that, in a sense, continue?


Into the culture, for example, the men and women respond differently to temperature, which is why, you know, modern air conditioning is designed, were designed in the 50s and 60s. Offices were full of men. So they were designed for the optimal sort of male capacity. Well, you know, women feel colder much sooner. And therefore, you could say that that's an example of sort of a world designed for men, so to say. Yeah, and I'm very intrigued by this because typically and I'm sure and obviously not just in India, but within India, especially where men expect fresh food three times a day, like you said it, the women who are doing it.


It's a very functional thing. So why do you think the taste buds have evolved separately? The other sort of deeper insights into humanity here. So if you think about evolution a fact, nothing much has evolved in the last five to six years or very little less. That's very short time frame. So most of our changes, most of the differences that we see are go back much longer.


And in a sense that because of the traditional gender role, distinctions between men go out and hunt and women kind of, you know, sort of take care of the cave and take care of one of these days, I think closer environment. Naturally, you have to be a lot more sensitive to smells, to toxins, to to things that would kill you, to the food that would be rotted and and so on. But as the great outdoors different, so you end up building different muscles, but more to do with hand eye coordination and being able to triangulate, you know, whether this thing is, you know, where you showed you showed your spirit.


And so in a sense that on an average, a lot of our differences can come from that. So, Professor, I think Linda Bartoshuk was sort of this professor and she's she's the one who coined the term super tasters. So what she says is that the ability to sense flavor is a spectrum in that there's a bottom 14 percent of the population that have very low density. And they are terrible at so they could they wouldn't be able to tell the difference between a very tiny quiet and up and like a reasonably decent so they would be able to do that.


And then you have the bill, which is essentially average people, mostly people like us. And then there's a 40 to 50 percent at the Top End who are actually supertaster to protesters are. So Padma Lakshmi, for example, is is an example of someone who underwent the test. So that's a test. You can go on to go for it, by the way. So there is apparently one specific molecule that you cannot smell unless you a supertaster or you cannot taste if you're supertaster.


Equality is better. If you're not a supertaster, you want tasted some Teodoro's and some sulphur based molecule. And you can so you can actually undergo this test.


And then they found out that on an average, women tend to be supertaster more often. And so so there is that I mean, but the fact that more partnerships and all that, it has more to do with patriarchy than anything else. But in general, for example, I realized pretty quickly at home as well that my wife would be earlier to detect that something is but minutes before I sense it, she would sort of detective if something needs to it.


When you taste something, a common mistake that I would often make is that so you have your taste buds work ideally between 20 and 30 inches if they work at the peak at that temperature. At higher temperatures, they don't work as well, and at lower temperatures, they don't work as well. So which is incidentally, white hot coffee is acceptable room temperature. Coffee is atrociously bitter because that hot, you can ignore the bitterness and enjoy the aroma.


But the moment in its room temperature that the coffee will only primarily taste better. So likewise that they also have temperature sensors and about which also makes it a lot more sensitive for them. So I will just take the A spoon directly from the boiling pot and then I will taste it. And then I would say, can you please just wait? I want by both different types. So obviously the more sensitive to higher temperatures, therefore more sensitive to heat, chili or chilies essentially are basically fooling into thinking that it's temperature and torture.


It is, yeah. So this is just a possibly way the better piece, doesn't it. Yeah.


I want to discuss chillis in detail after the break because it's it's absolutely mind blowing what chilies do. It was like at the moment for me and I was like, that is why I am being fooled by my own brain. What a disgrace. And since your life is so much more sensitive about this, you should have written the book.


Why do they touch you? So. So that's why. So I credit her right up front and she is one of those utilitarian boss. And I'm not going to follow your methodical scientific testing instructions. She is what somebody makes with her gut. And as I said, you know, she makes a better outcome than I do. I'm like measuring testing sourness and doing all of that stuff. And she's like a. That's also at the end of the day, it's also about the recognition that of the fact that for a lot of I was very bad for a lot of women in India, cooking is not some.


I can't force you to think of it as some amazing adventure that you can do all of this. I understand all of the sense is you just want to feed your family it as quick as possible so you can actually get back your career. You can get back to your studies and do other things right. So in a sense, there was also this conscious mindset that this cannot be a gratuitous exercise in in saying, hey, you can do all these fancy things.


I mean, I can't I can't ask I don't want to ask people to do something at a more elaborate way because the flavor would be better if I don't give them a more efficient way to do it as well, because at the end of the day, it has to be utilitarian. In that sense, it can't be just for the sake of it.


Let's take a quick commercial break. And this time you will no doubt whip up something mind blowing. Let's try and eat it in front of the camera and just drive me nuts. So they'll be back after a minute.


As many of you know, I'll soon be coming out with the fourth volume anthology of the season and the unseen books organized around the themes of politics, history, economics and society and culture. These days, I'm wading through over three million words of conversation from all my episodes so far to curate the best bits. And for this to happen, I needed transcripts. And that was made possible by a remarkable young startup called Achieve That Chief. Adaptive Dotcom is a digital platform that allows companies to outsource work to their network of freelancers and tech chiefs.


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Welcome back to the scene in The Unseen, I'm chatting with Chris Ashoka about this remarkable book, Mazzello Lab, and I learned so much from that book about the food and the way it works, especially with chilies. But I felt kind of cheated and manipulated. Let me, you know, in my own words, very briefly, try to kind of explain what happens, that one of the things you pointed out, which I will ask you to elaborate on later, because it's endlessly fascinating to me, is that all flavors are the defense mechanisms of plants which do not want to be eaten.


And that's where chili also comes from, where they release this substance that fuels our brain into thinking that our mouth is literally on fire. Now, technically, this should be enough reason to stop eating anything but how our brain responds by releasing a flood of endorphins to counter the pain and these endorphins, then make the food that we're eating a tastier than it is, which is why we keep on eating. And it is eventually a vicious circle to the point where you're like pudding to the gills and everything.


Not exactly, but that's why we kind of eat a lot of chili food. And you had an amusing anecdote from Sri Lanka, in fact, about tell us a little bit about chilies and what it is crazy man.


So it's been endlessly fascinated by chilies, obviously, as a as a South Indian, obviously leading above average hot of food that most parts of the planet, and particularly, I think by my mom's cooking was particularly spicy or that my father used to have both access very regularly and he wouldn't complain. So it was just quite a bit to deal with the. But, you know, so she clearly had a she had a taste for chilies. And I think all of us ended up sort of getting used to it.


I don't think you inherited it. You would just get used to it. So because the way this works is that it's a it's basically a nerve receptor in the mouth, which is why it's not a taste. It's a sensation. So heat is not taste. He does a sensation. So taste comes from the taste buds. So taste buds essentially work by very specific sensors that detect something. So salt sensors detect sodium. So anything with sodium will taste.


So that's just why salt is salty. Sodium chloride is monosodium glutamate is also not as salty, but still salt and other things in these that family, even potassium chloride, is mildly salt and so on. And so so there is so heat is actually a sensation. So the distinction is that the taste buds are actually very specifically detecting for this. Sensations are actually primarily to warn you against things like something you're eating, something too acidic, you're eating something that is too hot.


So obviously, I think we need a warning because, you know, your entire digestive tract is very sensitive. So for putting something that's really hot or very acidic, like a concentrated sulfuric acid or something is going to burn you all the way down. And so it's a warning mechanism that has evolved to prevent us from eating the things that are too hot. Right. I told the entirety of our digestive tract has two sensors that detect for temperature. And so plants are basically nature's absolutely biochemical magicians in the sense that forget animals in terms of the sheer diversity of molecules that plants can synthesise.


Nothing comes anywhere close, which is why there's still a ton of drugs that you cannot simply use a simple laboratory chemical process to synthesize them because they're just too complicated. You need to have genetically modified bacteria or something else out of fungi to be able to generate what you need because you need the kind of protein synthesis apparatus that plants have is just otherworldly. And obviously they've been around for billions of years longer than we have. And so they have amassed an arsenal of variety of picks.


So chilies in this entire thing have figured out a trick by which they produce a family of chemicals called capsaicin mites, which happen to fit into the heat receptors that are there in your mouth and in your digestive tract.


And so the moment they fit in, the signal goes to the brain saying that this thing is on and the brain is like, oh, your mouth must be on fire. So let me take action so immediately to start sending more blood because it wants to pull down your face so you get a flush, you start sweating to cool your body down, that all the things that you get, that you bite into a chili, it's basically pop up. And because you have you have now your the body thinks you will not be in all that.


The whole thing is completely fine. The brain also thinks that let me start the reward circuits so that the guy is not incapacitated. So that's important because, you know, so the slightest amount of pain cannot incapacitate you because then otherwise, you know, a moderately injured human being would have been eaten by uprated. So you need to be able to actually operate better under a slight amount of pain. So the endorphins and all of that actually give you that sort of second wind and your.


It used to sort of drop or get up. So that's why when you release those endorphins, get released and that in turn makes the whole eating process a lot more pleasurable within a certain margin. But varies by individual. Some people are very sensitive. Some people are not sensitive. And also, you have the census all the way down your track to winning this thing, which is why, you know, you feel the heat in your mouth and then a little bit later in your stomach and the next day, morning somewhere else, because it is so you're going to feel that all through.


And this is also white. Capsaicin in general are used to pepper sprays for women to protect themselves because what you want is something that incapacitate you without permanently damaging. That you don't want a chemical that would make the guy go blind. You want something that fool the brain into thinking your eyes are on fire, so please shut everything down until everything is OK so that you can escape and then you'll be fine. So it does no long, long lasting damage to the person.


So that's so chillis would be an endlessly fascinating tool. And the fact that we've agriculturists have managed to figure out how to make hotter and hotter ones than just a natural one. So there's the Boudjellal, which is one of the most natural varieties. But, you know, there are now competitions where, you know, there's a guy in North Carolina who makes this variety called the Catalino. So that last time I went abroad, I did buy two of them sitting in my freezer to use gloves to handle them.


So they like one point four billion Scoville units. So you can use one flavor, you know, a big a tub of it, is that right? So you actually have been endlessly fascinating. And you also point out how fat mitigates the effect of that kind of heat, which is why in something like gunpowder, you will also have some key or whatever along with it and, you know, alcohol related as well, which is why when you're on a drinking binge, you'll have a lot of your snacks can get spicier and spicier with acid, amplifies heat.


And therefore, if you sort of have that heat and you drink some Coca-Cola, you would basically scoop. Yeah, yeah. I mean, we just went so far actually dissolves the capsaicin, so it washes it. So it's easier to wash it off like water. Water does not. So which is why drinking water, although you you think it helps. It doesn't help as much. So in fact I think it's that is that this is famous YouTube show where this guy gives people hot wings increasingly hotter after each other celebrities and ask them questions.


And he saves the toughest questions when the guy is eating like the spiciest, that people give incredibly candid answers. So it's a fantastic show. And so he gives everyone a glass of milk. So if you feel very hard, you just bring back a kind of, you know, goggled and you could you could spit that way.


The milk will wash all of the milk fats will wash all the capsaicin from from your mouth and you can get rid of well and elaborate a bit on a good, you know, flavors being defense mechanisms of plants like you, you've described as sort of epochal back to the way plants come. And they do all these processes over thousands of years and they evolve a certain way to get energy from the sun and all of that. And then these lazy animals, you know, just come around and chomp them up and get that energy that way.


And then the plants have to fight back. Then all flavors of food arise from that.


Sources rather quite fascinating. Aha moment for me was the realization that plants are biochemical superstars. Again, largely because they don't move, they don't have the ability to move. And the reason they don't have the ability to move is because photosynthesis is ridiculously inefficient. And amazingly enough, I don't get into the details of this because it wasn't relevant.


But I did try to Twitter thread about the photosynthesis is inefficient for another really fascinating reason, which is that one of the steps in photosynthesis, like one of hundreds of steps in converting sunlight into glucose. Right. One of those steps apparently required up low oxygen atmosphere because plants were living in a completely low oxygen atmosphere. Unfortunately, we live in a high oxygen atmosphere now. So which is why photosynthesis, as is the entirety of photosynthesis and the fact that we don't have walking trees is because we have too much oxygen in the atmosphere and.


So what therefore plants that mechanism is fundamentally that for it to evolve chemical defenses against predators, animals. On the other hand, their biggest trick is essentially their ability to move. If you can move, then you can essentially eat other things. And if you can eat other things, then you let that thing do all the hard work of turning sunlight into energy over months and you'll get those calories in literally in a matter of hours. I mean, a potato takes months to grow.


I mean, you can eat a potato in literally a few seconds and you get a ton of energy from that. And so therefore, we are tremendously more energy efficient. Our metabolic rate is so much higher than plants. And so therefore, which is why we are not biochemistry superstars at all. We didn't need to. So a lot of the animal evolution has been different ways in which we could move like fly and, you know, and four legs and all kinds of swimming and all kinds of other mechanics to move.


But then ultimately, obviously brain and atomic. But plants, therefore, over three billion years have evolved fantastic mechanisms, a variety of mechanisms to prevent animals from. And it's a two way battle. Right. So like, for example, chillis, fantastic example is chillis itself. But don't don't have that sense in the sense that capsaicin doesn't affect the up, which is which is actually quite faint because the the way it's worked out is that they end up already.


So so it's just that this is not a one way thing. It's just a very complex ecosystem thing that constantly happens. And it's sometimes very hard to kind of work it out after the fact. And sometimes you tell yourself one story and then five years later you'll discover some fossil record that says, no, no, this is actually completely different. This is not what it was. It's so fascinating. The plants have evolved a bunch of defense mechanisms broadly from the point of view of what is relevant food.


So there are two situations where the plant wants you to eat it because it wants you to pollinate spread the seed. So that's a fruit of fruit is basically the pinnacle of plant biochemistry in creating something that requires no cooking. It is just you take it off the tree and you eat it and it does not get any more delicious. And, you know, you take a perfectly ripe mango, right? Or perfectly I mean, you can realize that the fact that it's really billions of years of evolution, of figuring out exactly what it is that that animals that others want to eat.


So likewise, defense mechanisms are, again, one of many of mostly they have to do with use of things like sulfuric, mostly cellulose, which is actually why most of our tastiest spices have sulphurous monarchism, garlic. Only as a photo, you you name it, release all of these primarily have sulphurous molecules because you try feeding that to a cow or a hole before they find it very nasty. Be on the other hand. Can tame that by cooking it.


It's hard for us to eat a raw audio out of garlic, but once you cook it with maybe a lot of those reactions so that we are able to actually eat it. So it's just that for us, we've managed to kind of figure out how to get past the defense mechanisms and know there's actually another. So I was reading Michael Pollan book. I think it's The Botany of Desire, and he kind of says that, you know, I think we see it from a very anthropocentric TV.


And you think of the fact that whether it's the humans who are growing up, was our growing corn all over the place or is it that has the plant actually biochemically got you addicted enough to the point where there's actually more biomass of corn today than human beings? So if aliens a joke about aliens coming to planet, then figuring out who's the dominant species, will they go walk up to a stock of corn or rice or do they walk up to a human being?


Is something that because purely from a pure play of evolutionary success, they've been tremendously successful because they've convinced us to grow them and also kill all their competition. So we do borrow culture by not letting any other plant growth for acres and acres. And so in that sense, the plant is actually successful in that sense. So there are many defense mechanisms, different spices. So the stronger the spice, the stronger the defense becomes. So that's essentially how all of these so you take Ginger, Iranian, Garlick, all of these are strong, antibacterial or antifungal Orangun type of type animal eating kind of mechanisms.


And that's essentially how we got all our spices.


So that's a that's a lovely insight that you just quoted from Pollan as well. Like that. There's a famous Douglas Adams quote I think about imagine a puddle of water and one day the bottle of water wakes up. And this is, of course, also an anthropocentric, beautiful bottle of water because bottles of water can't drink. But the bottle of water decides that, hey, this universe must be made for me because everything is such a perfect fit. And it keeps thinking that gradually one day it is no longer there.


So now tell me a bit about the spices, basically. And this is obviously fortuitous. I don't think it is that that there was any sense when these defense mechanisms were evolving that they will actually help spread this stuff. But before that is what I found, I thought of, you know, walking trees in and it was filled with less oxygen. So utterly delightful. And yet they have. So you have Lord of the Rings. You have the.


So that's the. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Except the answer that along with hobbits and humans and that's obviously not possible. That's one or the other. Exactly. And I think I prefer the walking keys. So spices. Now you've elaborated on this in great detail and to be honest, I am going to reread this and sort of take my time to process it. And I go a little bit with my cooking is all the kind of cooking that you would really frown upon.


It is basically I'll have a recipe which opened. Something has worked for me in the past and is very functional that I don't kind of think about it. But, you know, after I read your book, I figured that, listen, this is like so fascinating and I've got to kind of play around a bit. Now, you point out that you divide spices into four broad buckets. I mean, obviously, that is a much lower tradition, which you also describe.


Tell me a bit about these four buckets. Tell me how we should think about spices in general. Yeah, especially all the people who are in India right now. And we cook and we have kitchens and we have access to all of these spices. Yes. How should we think about them? So I think, you know, let me start by saying that first and foremost, there's no such thing as a wrong way to go wrong with cooking.


I think that's rule number zero is that you cook it. Do you like it? That's basically that's a top. I think the first and foremost thing is to get this whole sense of superiority about. Yes, it's actually it's perfectly fine to look for recipes and everyone has their own mental model. So getting to spices, to spices are actually quite fascinating because are rather central to Indian cooking. There's also this other this a gentleman called Ganesh Bagla, who's I think and I read the stock, of course, he's written a paper.


On how a lot of traditional signs about how flavors combine in the West is predicated on what we call sharing flavor. So the things that share flavor molecules, like if something has three flavor molecules and this one has four flavor molecules and two of them are common, then the general theory is that if you combine both of them together, it will taste better because they'll kind of harmoniously go together. So so they've worked on a lot of these combinations, which is why you kind of have this there's a steak and Buttershaw sort of thing because there's some molecules that are similar.


You can have cranberry sauce and liquid. But he saw some meatballs because so you have these standard combinations of the West which are all based on this idea. Not what it actually says is that Southeast Asian and South Asian cooking actually takes a fundamentally opposed to a lot of cooking, actually works by taking things that you would not believe should work together by that original sort of VESTINE an idea. And they work together fantastically. And that thinking is now going back into the way.


So that is now this actually there's there's a lot of flavor that is actually written by a perfumer which again goes back to the fact that a lot of a lot of flavor is actually autobody. It's a guy who makes perfumes and a chef and they've kind of got together and tried to concoct these completely new contrasting combinations.


I'll give you one art example before we get to Spice. One of the fascinating examples, he says, is that if you take some coffee beans like whole coffee beans and put them in a baking tray and put cut cut carrots and then some olive oil and let it bake for like 30 minutes, he says that the coffee is fantastically complex, that many of these flavor molecules that for some bizarre reason book fantastically well with get it and that it tastes taste like nothing you've ever had.


And this is just literally just carrot and coffee beans. And you could just add some salt. Obviously, you need some carrots and they are sweet. So they have sugar. So coming the spices, Indian subcontinent cooking is is, you know, so I often say that Japanese cooking is umami center in that the basic principle is to create a militant broth, either by use of seaweed and Cabu and mushy tuna flakes and all these other things. You create a very lovely little broth that all the other ingredients can be very minimalist.


You can literally just drop raw meat with all the things that are just mildly cooked vegetables and so on. The broth is going to be so flavorful that that's really what centers the whole India is a fact and spice base in the sense that you basically all cooking starts by eating fat and putting some spices into it. You can see this for Western cooking. Not all dishes start by eating oil and putting some spices. So you start either by baking, you make up, you roast vegetables or you sort of you rub something on meat and you have a little it's not it's not here.


On the other hand, it is it is very much a fact and spice driven world. And I often sort of I realize that a lot of Indians who are kind of looking at spices in the wrong one is the fact that not realizing that spice flavor is volatile, that it is largely soluble only in our alcohol, very little in water. So this should therefore tell you something like any spices. After you've added water, you're going to start to lose it to the air.


So therefore. When you add powdered spices to a gravy, the earlier you add it, the more flavor it will lose, which would therefore tell you that literally any recipe that basically says that you hit the oil, you add some spices, you add your gravy like tomatoes or ginger, onion, garlic, etc. Then you add water, some kind of gravy, and then you put down your powder, dry powder and something like that. The earlier you use it in the cooking process, the more flavor you are likely going to lose, which is OK because people are just is by adding tons of it.


So people would say add a tablespoon of that. On the other hand, I realize that, you know what? If you get freshly made the powder and you identify that the just like you would add masala, you'll get the same effect. You just need to add a quarter. So there's a simple economics thing here as well. If you understand why you're doing what you're doing, you can actually be much smarter. And the second thing is about the fact that because they're so volatile, a lot of these spices which are, again, expensive, are pergram basis.


You don't want to buy powders and just keep them at room temperature that every Indian clematis is brutal. I mean, they're going to oxidize and they go to taste like. Right. So you want to freeze or refrigerate powdered spices because you know, you're buying masala. You're going to use like a tablespoon or so and 100 grams are going to sit around becoming sun. So you want a refrigerator freezer or. What I tell people is that, look, get yourself a cheap coffee grinder and make a ton of these things that you do otherwise very regularly.


You can make relatively decent sized batches of synthetic powder or powder literally in a coffee grinder. And that way that taste is just way better because the whole spice does not lose out, whereas your powdered spices. So this is another kind of, you know, key insight in terms of how spices work and then the distinction between so how when the fresh spices like your ginger, onion, garlic and those kinds of things, you know, and how, oh, herbs, leaves in the garnishes because you don't cook them because they they lose a lot of the aroma very quickly, that whole spices work it up, essentially bite.


You want to either powder them and add them later or you want to add them to your oil up front so that you get all the flavor into the point. So that's basically the problem. And and also remember that there are certain standard combinations that really work better and they kind of evoke a very specific region. So if you take if you take a Aratula or Fenugreek and Nigella Mustard and Kuman and you find these in mustard on it, no matter what you do after that, it will evoke Bengoa, if you take coconut oil that you kind of put garlic and actually some curry leaves and mustard and so on, people even get it up no matter what you do after that.


So in a sense, the realisation ultimately, therefore, is that this spice flavor and the fat combination pretty much really just determines the regional flavor profile of all all Indian cuisines that what you choose to do and how and what kind of mixes you choose to use, what little spices you use and what spices use it. Literally, it's all the rest are actually. So therefore you can mix and match. Nothing stops you from making a taking. For example, the chateau in Bengal is very similar to of you in the way it's made, except that the fact is different.


The spices are different and the starch binder is otherwise, you know, you could you could mix and match and add really. So I think in a sense, understanding spices well will actually make you a more experimental because then you're not worried about the other ingredients. You can make anything with anything. In fact, you have a delightful little video on the making of Suketu as well as Linko Chanu from the North. So the listeners can discover that and I will to double speed, actually, I must confess.


But that is enough for me. So if I want to actually make it, I'll have to obviously watch it regular speed and take notes and all that. Another interesting thing you pointed out, like when you spoke about make your own spice mix, I was like, yes, I am going to do just that. But then you said that don't use a blender, use a mortar and pestle because a blender will you know, the thing rotates so fast that it'll actually start cooking the spices as it is blending them.


Yes. And the lazy Bongiorni immediately responded to that and said, what? I have to do so much work, which is something in Indian cooking. Right. Like Indian recipes seems to be sometimes because there are like eighty four thousand ingredients in every one of them. And you start a bit of a stumbling block or is it not really as hard as it seems it is.


It is not as hard if you understand the function. Each one of those families of ingredients play in a dish and therefore mentally you can kind of figure out what is absolutely mandatory and what is not. And what you can replace with whatever you have with a common mistake is to make a recipe. Potasnik 20 ingredients plus you go go to a store and buy like 200 grams and 250 grams of every one of those things which are going to use a tiny portion.


And the rest of it is going to go based, I think, the amount of waste generated in a country that is famously frugal in how we raise prices is just crazy. And that comes from this this traditional idea that somehow the refrigerator is bad and that the things that you keep in the refrigerator are not fresh, which is very counterproductive. Actually, things kept in the refrigerator because the very definition of freshness is, is the fact that if you stop biological activity, which stops at a couple of years below zero, are really slowing down biological activity.


That's freshness. So which is why I kind of say that, you know, frozen vegetables are actually fresher than an actual fresh vegetables instead because the frozen vegetables were frozen very little after they were harvested. The actual fresh vegetables have been outside for a much longer time before they got so therefore coming back to spices. So the thought process was not to say that you must use a mortar and pestle, but to understand one way use that one is that historically the use mortar and pestle because it is a gentler way of actually breaking it up and sort of extracting flavors out of these things without generating heat.


But it's that rapidly spinning blade is going to end up generating a ton of heat and heat means that the volatile markets are going to escape. So you want to lose a little bit more of that. And some of that stuff at high temperature will also oxidase. And so therefore, that's going to lose a little bit of flavor. So which is why, for example, my my maternal grandfather was a notorious patriarch in terms of he would ask, as my grandmother was a fantastic writer, the one who's going to be starting listing.


So she was a great cook, obviously, because he was very demanding. And he would he would say that chutney made for. Right. Not the mixin. He did not buy her Mixi for many years because he felt that the taste that you get from a mortar and pestle is better than what you get for mixing. He was right about the fact that you get better taste, but obviously is a terrible choice to make because, you know, she was living at the kitchen in a day in and day out.


And sometimes, you know, you have to make these compromises based on how much time you have. So therefore, if you think if you don't want to mix your own spices up, by all means, by spice, but please don't not refrigerate four or five Celsius is still has a ton of biological activity happens. It's only under 15, 15 or 16 Celsius below zero that you are genuinely keeping stuff for months on it. So you need to put them in the freezer.


But if you are fancy up to it, then, you know, get yourself a spice grinder. You'll save money on the longer that's there. But if you're really artisanal and you have the time and effort, I do want to make the say the greatest chutney you possibly can, then you should use the market. So it's just understanding by what each of these things does. And I guess some of it is psychological.


Like you pointed out, I think you had a lovely you know, when you talk about 80 percent of this being the nose, you had a lovely drawing alongside where you also talk about how side tomatoes, you know, how the food is presented will matter what you think about it will matter. I remember reading long ago about some pasta involving lions', fine wines, and people couldn't make out the difference between thousand dollar lines and gains when they were playing.


So it's very much so beyond fucked up. If you think about the role of nostalgia, the role of memories and all of that is very, very, very important in how you perceive flavor. And people mostly tend to fail blind taste tests when it comes to very specific things about, oh, I can tell the difference between a like for example, people actually fail a blind taste test between synthetic vanilla, which is twenty five rupees a bottle and real vanilla, which is insanely expensive.


And in many cases as part of cakes and desserts, people regularly choose the synthetic vanilla as tasting better. I bought better. So it is it is just that people have these crazy notions. Yeah, it's insane.


I mean with and the difference between the two is that, you know, the real vanilla is manufactured by a kind of random process through nature and this one is manufactured much more sort of directionally as it was. So, you know, which one is likely to be better.


So not to mention the sustainability of the fact that it grows only at Madagascar and all the other attendant problems of that.


It lets you spoke of nostalgia. And that's one of those sort of another of the deal moments in there for me, like it was when you were talking about the instant noodle kind of mix where you point out that so many people like it so much because it has such a combination that it will remind everybody of something of the spice mix work. Absolutely right. It is, actually. So, you know, I spent a lot of time looking at the analyzing the vacuum internally.


It's not just India, right? So Nestlé is basically going to crack the this whole idea of this or some kind of umami or a flavor sachet or a cube or whatever or sauce. So so this whole. Maggie flavoring Messala in India, cubes in the West and sources in Southeast Asia, so they have one for every and they nail down exactly what evokes that kind of fantastic idea somehow. Who came up with that? And so, for example, there is a there's an equivalent of this sort of Cuba, whatever you get in, say, Nigeria.


That Nigerians are absolutely addicted. And likewise, the magic seasoning sauce. Indonesia, you will not find. That's the last thing that goes on any, you know, beggaring or a Nazi goreng is that magic seasoning sauce, which is very high. Umami in soy sauce, kind of mixed. Likewise in India, clearly what they have done is they've kind of taken a combination broadly off garam masala, which is a very reasonably universal mix of some very common fancy spices, black cardamom, greencard, cloves, pepper, the expensive and basically pepper, which is essentially coriander chilies is what ultimately sort of is the primary flavor profile of February is the primary flavor profile of someone.


And you combine both together and then then you add the garlic powder and dried garlic powder dry downin powder and ginger, which incidentally, you know, since we spoke about the whole addiction thing, these are three of some of the most addictive spice mixes that most Indians don't get to have in the home kitchen because, one, they're very, very volatile. And so people don't think about storing them up in the refrigerator, but just being consumed snacks are addictive because they use on a garlic powder.


These are actually dehydrated. So they are super concentrated. You might be right. And I mean, they just so you bite into a chips and you get all that which flavour is not by by frying real onions and getting that flavor. It's dehydrated and so bright. Onion, garlic and ginger powder is generally tends to be that an all snacks. Right. And then you need some element of sourness is typically a kind of an object that you would need some kind of a stopped by that so that, you know, if you make a mistake by adding a little bit too much water to your magic, the magic masala will make sure that it thickens a bit.


So they've really thought this through fantastically.


So I've been a huge fan of I mean, you can literally take any ordinary dish, just sprinkle some salad with and people would say, wow, how on earth did you make it mind blowing?


You know, what you should tell them is I spent eight hours today with a mortar and pestle just getting this just straight. And and speaking of chips, you know, I'm reminded of another of the sort of sort of revelations of your book, which is the reason we've evolved to like things which are crisp is because, you know, back in prehistoric times when we lived in caves and all of that, you know, anything which was fresh was crisp.


And therefore we associate that as, you know, good to eat. And a right writer crunch. The ability to distinguish crunch is the difference between eating a fresh fruit versus a rotten fruit that could kill you. And I think, you know, so, so clearly we have a preference for and the way we did a crunch is a combination of actually sound. And the other rather interesting thing is that a lot of the crunch that when you bite into a potato chip atom is essentially that a lot of that sound is actually the ultrasonic.


It's not the art. It that is some of the ideas that you hear it. But a fair amount of that sound is actually in the ultrasonic range, which you can't cure, but you can feel it in your bones, which is why even congenitally deaf people can still experience the crunch of a potato chip without any loss of just mind blowing.


So we if we are actually responding to food with our bones, pretty amazing. Let's now go on to the next chapter in your book, which is about the magical ground. And you begin this with this sort of beautiful look by Sidney Smith, of which I love the I love the quotes of the start of the chapters, by the way. And this one goes like onion atoms look within the bone and half suspected animate the SO which is fantastic.


So, you know, and then you, of course, have, you know, another quote shortly after by Julia Child talking about how it's hard to imagine a civilization without onions and a little bit about onions, because after reading this chapter, I felt that, hey, what is this? I don't appreciate onions. Enough is enough to make me cry. You know, the other funny thing is that, you know, as I say in the Book of India, we don't even get the best tasting audience, though.


The variety of onions we grow are actually great for salads in the West. They're not considered to be cooking audiences. So they use the more golden ones that actually are tremendously more flavorful but slightly sweeter, which I think probably works for Indians. But then, you know, aaargh! Be one of the things about Indian cooking is, is the realisation that you can take Sopot ingredients and make great food, unlike diametrically opposed to Italian food, which if you don't have great quality ingredients, you can't be it.


And so onions are. Very simple. And, you know, we know famously that all over the news, the moment the audience prices rise, there's this chaos, there's riots, and there's all kinds of it's all over the news because literally every part of India, onions, first thing that goes into the oil, pretty much this despite the fact that on on religious days, many Hindus will not. And there are obviously many Brahmins, Orthodox, but I will not eat onions at all as they grow older and definitely not garlic, but definitely onions are also part of the tomasic list, if you will.


So onions, first and foremost are mostly water and they have a ton of flavor without adding calories. So it's a very unique package. And this is what garlic, for instance, is quite dense. It has a lot less water, which is why garlic is usually added after because it is more likely to burn in the pan because it has less water and onion. On the other hand, does it just a lot of water, which is why it takes a ton of time for it to actually broke because it has to lose a lot of that water.


Only then will the sugars and the proteins in the onion combine to make those brown colors as part of the black swan. And most people don't have the patience. Just get it to Constitution states, which is essentially when the cell walls lose their structural integrity, that's when it becomes so it loses the Christmas. So that's when it becomes translucent. And then you leave it at that, which is mostly fine. You'll get a mild flavor. But, you know, if you if you take dishes like, say, a Boonah, especially like mutton in onions, that onion needs to be really, really, really brown.


And that, again, it's a classic combination. Right. So that's one of the things I talk about in a subsequent chapter, is this idea that although the Japanese are focused on Wunmi, intuitively, humans have known about Zubari pairings globally. Mutton and onions are actually a fantastic rhubarb that these are they call it the betting is that the glutamates and there's another family of molecules. I notice when you combine Glutamates Oneida's and it's the effect is double that of just one of them being there.


So that's why, you know, people are just so crazy about a really dark, well cooked mutton gravy because it has such that lingering kind of flavor profile.


And it largely, again, doesn't come as much from the market as it actually comes from the completely brown on the Internet. And so therefore, onions are very, very central. And essentially, the longer you cook them, the better they taste. But then you may not want but if you're making a very milder dish, by all means, cook it lightly. But the further you get the brown that it gets the taste of this, but also dangerous because it will also burn pretty quick and you can actually take it to a logical level and you can almost make it a job like an onion jam, caramelized onion, which, by the way, is a fantastic condiment, very underrated.


I realized that when I was in Australia, I really said they were just crazy about all burgers in Australia. One of the ingredients there will always be caramelized on your job, which just adds so much flavor to the book.


And yeah, and you kind of did point out the technical distinction that what you call caramelised what we call caramelized onion is actually melted. And you had a lot to say about sort of the magical mylord reaction. Oh, yes. Tell me a little bit about that and why it is so central to food.


So basically, we've known for a while that if you cook food above the boiling point of water between a certain range, food becomes brown rice. It picks on these brown colours. For a long while, we didn't quite know what exactly happened. We kind of knew that there are some clearly some chemical reactions happening. So, you know, you have to realise that as long as you're cooking inside water, a lot of the changes are not major chemical reactions thought that in that Latinization is more a rearrangement of structure rather than a major chemical change itself, military action is actually that things are breaking down into other bunch of families of molecules because that's when you have enough to actually break down stuff.


So as long as what does that none of that is happening. So what happens between hundreds and hundred and seventy Celsius is what this Lukumi Mayotte is French chemist. He kind of started documenting that he found that a family of six or seven families of molecules which are fantastically aromatic and also lend that characteristic brown colour to form. And then depending on and the fact that you can only do this if your food has both proteins and sugars, which is why you can't deprive just a raw piece of chicken.


Defraying is also about reaction. It's just that it's happening at the higher until you want to instantaneously dehydrate. But you're still browning just chicken does not have sugars, so that's why you have to breed. So you have to take it and then you have to. I did some kind of stotch, which is, again, chuggers, which therefore will then react with the protein and the beta, that that's how you make fried chicken, right? That's why we use battlezone.


So anything that does not have enough of either proteins or starches will use about so that you are able to go out for the night so you can do egg plus breadcrumbs or whatever.


So essentially the bad reaction produces a family of molecules that can take very, very seemingly boring ingredients, like, as I describe a cabbage, which everyone hates, because if you steber cabbage, it smells very bad because it generates hydrogen sulfide gas and that's what you should not think, cabbage. And it will naturally steam. If you have a small vessel and you're cutting a ton of cabbage, it will stick. So unfortunately, the only way to cook cabbage in a way that is not steam is to cook a small amount in a big pot, which is usually impractical.


So almost always cabbage is going to smell bad. But on the other hand, if you actually cook cabbage too well past hundred and ten centuries ads, it starts to get caramelized, caramelized or mayardit cabbage, if you will, is just insanely tasty. So, in fact, I learned this from a Russian recipe where they actually say the way they eat cabbage is by caramelizing it for like half an hour. Forty five minutes in just just olive oil or some oil and just let it slow cook and then slowly lose all the water, get really brown and it produce fantastic flavors all by itself.


So so this is this is definitely this is essentially the realization here is that you can simply become a better cook by learning something that restaurants tend to do if you're making a gravy, realizing that you can't get the reaction going, because it's a great way to get the advantages of all of the flavors. The core ingredients are sauteed or fried separately and then added because they're brown. And so they bring all the flavor that you are typically. So Agalloch will be made in a restaurant, is an gooby separately different and then added to the.


So likewise it pretty much anything else. I think. So that's one key thing. And also the realization that defraying is also the reaction except very rapid with the intent of actually dehydrating the surface so that it becomes crisp and prevents oil from getting inside. Otherwise it'll be greasy. Which is why if you're making Pooty at the temperatures well below a hundred and seventy Celsius, the outset is not going to dehydrate fast enough. So the oil is going to get inside, so you'll get greasy.


But if you precisely keep the temperature at between 170 and 180 Celsius, it will just get perfectly crisp on the outside and so that the inside does not undergo the military action that's undergoing Stoebe. So that's exactly what you want. Defraying is military action only on the outside and start to Latinization inside. So that's basically what the principles are. Pretty stunning.


And what you said about cabbages, I mean, I totally empathize with that because I've hated cabbages all my life, though if I ever have the patience, I might do them this way, or maybe not. But I was kind of struck. And the reason they hated it, obviously, is that when we took it the wrong way and also the overcook it and there's a quote from the chef, which is a little bit of a tangent, but I did want to ask you about that, which is good.


Be overcook vegetables, cook metellus drier than the surface of the moon and we like our eggs boiled harder than pantos Ozick. However, we compensate for all of that with the flavor bombi strategy that has no parallel anywhere else in the world. Stockwood And it struck me when I read this that this flavored bombing strategy is as such, that we've made a feature out of it and not a bug, maybe a jugada way of covering up for bad cooking. But I've kind of stuck here because now because of nostalgia or I won't say of evolved because I mean, I obviously don't mean the technical sense of the term, but we have grown to like certain kinds of food, certain kinds of food have which are flavor Bomford have become a comfort food, so to say, is Indian cuisine that food stuck in this equilibrium where it doesn't matter how you cook something as long as you get the spices right now?


I think so. One is that it's important to note that this strategy has a perfect sense in a in a pre refrigeration India. All right. Which is essentially thirty years ago, 50 years ago. But most refrigerators will not come and soap and refrigeration was not common, not just in your home. It wasn't even common in stores.


So in general, if you're an urban India, you have absolutely to get it fresh. The vegetables are how fresh the Betis, how salmonella laden the eggs are, and what pesticides were used to cover the product or the vegetables to prevent them from being completely mauled by those insects so that they survive until they actually get to your table in a city and the nearest place where they're growing the crops from your city is several hundred kilometers in in that kind of urban Indian middle class kind of cooking.


Since, you know, all of these are unknown and you have no control over all of this, I think the strategy makes sense. Right.


So you do not want to. You absolutely want to make sure that it's green between the the yolk and the whites, so likewise you do not want to which you do not want to eat salads because you don't know what went what pesticides when there's no controls. You know, there's a team from your from your podcast that I've heard so many times. Look, state doesn't have the capacity to ensure these kinds of things. And in a sense, that's OK.


And they're very low cost. So we don't trust any of this. So the only way to do so if I seem to go. But it makes perfect sense in that sense. You're right in the sense that it ends up building a memory and a fondness and a nostalgia for a specific kind of cooking, if you. Right. But that's not too different from, say, the Chinese idea of still frying. I mean, the fact that the reason they end up still frying food is because they had a fuel shortage, cooking fuel was short, and so all cooking had to happen at ultra high temperatures in a very short amount of time.


They didn't sit and do you know brats like the Japanese did and so on. So a lot of the cooking had to happen in a flash.


And so you could argue that, you know, a lot of Chinese cooking has in some sense taken the constraint anymore, that although they have no such shortage, not so I think that it's possible to take this strategy and still make great, adventurous, creative new Indian food by perhaps using great fresh organic ingredients for toning down the spices and really over time building the case. And I can already see this in some of the experimental restaurants that are definitely coming up outside of India are definitely in the likes of London and Toronto, where the uncivilly in the Bay Area, New York and so on, Australia and others, Singapore, for that matter, but also in the likes of Bombay and Delhi, at least catering to the uber rich.


You're starting to see this wave of I don't want it, this idea and this Heien masala. In fact, a lot of the common complaint about a restaurant food, it's too spicy and it's too early. They're bought that way because one, you know, anything less is would have been unhealthy, would have killed you, could cause your food poisoning and so on. So in that sense, I think we can still evolve over time and definitely as people are more conscious about it and perhaps people move towards hopefully trying to see if they have the privilege enough to be able to source fresh ingredients locally.


All of these you know, you have urban farms and you have kind of these places that literally just 10 kilometers away. There are people growing stuff in greenhouses and shipping a few weekly subscription. And I get a I get a bunch of these leaves and small cucumbers and carrots, which are tastier than the giant carrots that I get in the supermarket. I think as slowly as we develop a taste for that, we'll do that. But I would also say that if you look at rural India, that's not the case.


I mean, a lot of rural states have one of my favorite. I often follow a lot of these YouTube channels, these rural you know, this is 90 year old grandmother cooking say this sort of a goat up in rural India and so on. And you're struck by the fact that they don't cook at all. They're actually they use absolutely. Literally they walk over, you know, grab the coriander, they grab the camera, literally fresh of spring onion from the ground and so on.


And they wash it. And it's literally bit they don't overcook in that situation. So I would think that this is a very open phenomena, but I'm sure we can probably get past it over time.


But also, I didn't mean to come across as too judgmental, and I spoke about it as being jugo, too, because another way of looking at it, like you spoke about how all Chinese cuisine might have evolved from this original set of constraints and this delightful diversity of cuisines that we have across the world is, in a sense, comes about as a response to the different kinds of constraints that operate every bit of what we have learned to use spices in such subtle and delightful business.


Not for these constraints, absolutely not as many. And the fact that know almost all of the spices in the world grow in a very tiny part of the world, like literally the Holocaust and a few islands in Indonesia. That's it. Maybe now Vietnam and Thailand are also starting to grow pepper and a few other things. But so in a sense that the very fact that they are now, the fact that Pepper is now a common ingredient literally everywhere in the world, is by itself a fascinating story.


And the fact that it is the the expensiveness and the impracticality of growing pepper all over India is apparently one of the reasons why chilies became popular. So so one of the things I often I'm fascinated about is that once a year we have this. So is one day, one religious festival in my family where we are pretty common here, where you kind of remember your ancestors. So three generations of ancestors, you remember them. So there's a there's a heaven that's done and so on.


And the food that is cooked on that day is very special. There's a very specific set of recipes, which they say is that there's been we've been doing this on this day always. This is Cook. And the recipes are quite fascinating. Because they don't have tomatoes, chilies, in fact, they actually don't have any ingredients that are not available in India. Security is right. So it's very Yamba's, it's colloquia. It's ginger and pepper, turmeric, heavy kind of food.


It is. The profile is just entirely different. It's it's actually quite good. Burns your throat because it's mostly ginger, no garlic, no onea, no none of the new world spices, chilies and tomatoes and so on, and no potatoes.


So they use Robenalt. These are the native yams and starches. So what is fascinating is that I go to my wife's hometown. The houses actually have these big jackfruit trees and the trees. So some of them actually have the pepper vines growing around those. So peppers actually vibrate. So it doesn't like cultivated to little has to grow around the tree. And the green pepper, which comes straight out of the vine, is actually pretty sharply. I mean, it has that little bit of the heat that you would associate with a green chili, but then you sondre it.


And then what you ultimately get is that black thing that has a different flavor profile. It has a slightly more smokier different flavor profile. But the fresh green peppers actually a way to add actual heat to food, except that it was out of it was very expensive. It will only grow in a specific season not available unless you are living in that part of India and so on. Chilies, on the other hand, can grow it even in India, right.


It's a plant from Mexico. You us actually plant it and one chili plant will give one household more chilies that they will eat. Right. You know, I'm growing chilies in the lettuce and we don't know what do those chilies. It is just it incredibly sort of productive plants. And so it's it's actually quite fascinating how sometimes these plants also. Right.


I mean, having traveled all the way from Europe, they find this new home and they completely dominate and change the cuisine or what I think in a sense, I'm thinking of Coronado's like I would imagine that chilies have a very high are as it would be, a little more the next chapter, which is about acid and sadness and so on. And here again, I was struck by this sort of electronic music that you used, that you spoke about salt being like a volume knob and so on, as being like the bass guitarist in a band that before that you have maybe salt and sweet and you have singer and your regular guitar, but it's not fun.


And then suddenly you have a bass guitar in the mix and the whole thing just blows wide open. So tell me a little bit about essayed about solidness, how we evolved to kind of like it and how we should think of it, in fact.


So so obviously I think the one inspiration obviously for this particular chapter was something else that's fantastic. Swordfight acetate, which kind of explains the four key things for keeping score, you need to understand about it. So acid is often people understand to understand, people to understand, fat people tend to understand heat, often don't think of sourness. The average person does not associate solidness with acid at all because acid is always that dangerous sulfuric acid and it has that sort of image.


So obviously, what I wanted to sort of say that actually one of the single most important things in cooking, simply because if your food is, does not have that slight amount of sourness in scientific terms, if the pitch is not less than seven, it's actually going to taste blank. Like your grandmother knew this because she would make dolls, which is notoriously bland, that you would squeeze lime juice ripe at the end and that would just elevate the whole thing.


You make a puddle, which is just rice, that you would squeeze lime juice at the end and it just magically changes the whole thing. Your even when you marinate meat, for instance, the acid as a tenderizer, it sort of breaks the structures on the skin of of the meat. That makes it easier for the flavor molecules to stick to it on the surface. That's why we squeeze that. We use yogurt, which is which is an acid.


And I think it's also part of what I wanted to do is to first and foremost kind of get into people's heads that look beneath the things that you used, everything from me to coffee to yogurt to tamarind, lime juice to vinegar. They're acids invading strips of sulfuric acid is the one extreme end of the spectrum. And the reason why we we have such a tremendous bias towards acid is because the the base of the alkaline side of it is associated with poisons.


It's associated with bitterness. So sour and bitter are opposites. And because we have evolved taste buds to detect alkaloids, which is essentially what bitterness is, because they're poisonous, we therefore have a world of bias against most alkaline. Right. Which is why baking soda, if you overuse baking soda in something, you get that nasty metallic feeling because it's the kind of taste your body is not used to liking. Also why people have this thing against baking soda.


But if you use the right amount, it's quite useful. But yeah. So therefore, acids essentially. Is about adding southernness and up sullenness has a fantastic the reason I use bass guitar as a metaphor is actually an interesting story. When I grew up in the in the 90's and like you did, I as someone who sort of I was living in Northern Tip. So I was listening to Anomaly on the one hand, and I was listening to a rap on and on the other day.


And and it struck me no one used to frustrate me that Bollywood music in the 90s had no bass guitar or it was in order for most part, if they were using a bass guitar, it was a synth and you could really hear it. And music without a bass guitar is just is missing the meat of it. Some hope you don't get those bass notes. That's what really yankers you bass is. What is the bridge between your melody and the percussion?


And if you don't have it, the drums sound tinny and cheap and then your own melody just stands out. It doesn't really mix together. And given the fact that Eliraz I was like a god of using bass and particularly bass guitar, he would never use synthesis. You would almost always use an actual bass guitar. And again, I knew that it was at a time when cassette players and so on. What Binay and to hear bass, you need loud speakers.


It's a size. So you need the larger Twitter or a subwoofer to be able to hear bass. And so it was quite natural that a lot of musicians would compensate by using a higher frequency so that you can actually appreciate it. And Bollywood music that just kept it, saying that you can't hear it anyway and I'm going to skip it, on the other hand, would use bass one octave higher so that you could still hear it even on your Walkman or a shitty transistor radio could still hear that thing that connected between the melody and the percussion.


And so in that sense, for me, the reason I'm particularly attached to that sort of metaphor is because someone else is exactly that way, because sweetness and saltiness are very one dimensional.


They did something that's just sweet, is just cloyingly sweet, something that's just so is, you know, it's a one dimensional piece, but something with these two and a bit of acid is just something else altogether. And often, I think, you know, the best example I often like to give is that when it comes to Indian cooking, we are an absolute we understand assets better than most cuisines. We use more variety of assets than most other cuisines.


And nothing represents the pinnacle of the creative use of assets that we shot it. In fact, not just assets in the heat as well, which sort of gives you the dopamine because the spicy for that reason, the crunchiness, the extra variations. So you have soft aliou and those kinds of things that you have the crunch of the property and all these other things. So you have the actual variations and you have like four kinds of assets. The tomatoes are the tamarind is sort of like the base strong acid and the lime juice squeezed at the end of the top, if you will think of it like an orchestra, that the armature is the most sophisticated asset.


So that again, added kind of bridges everything together. So literally four kinds of assets used in a single district. So that's why talk is delicious and we're kind of addicted to it. Yeah. You know, my favorite adjective in the book was this A.R.T. compound you used for the flavor of Chard, where you refer to a disco party in the mouth flavors, which is fabulous. And again, you you spoke about tamarind plus base armatures, lead guitar, Cyprus, the lead vocalist, which I absolutely love.


I want you to elaborate on this very intriguing sentence, which I love but didn't fully understand. So I'd ask you to kind of explain it to me now, which is good. When recipes call for tomato puree, lubes, tomato puree, experts at tomato paste and legends add tomato ketchup, stop cooked. So this is so this is again, stems from the fact that tomatoes are notoriously temperamental very every season. So the flavor of the tomato varies by the tastiest tomatoes come with summer.


Winter tomatoes are bland. So the summer tomatoes are a much sour. Right. And again, depending on the variety. So there are tomatoes, a of sweet and strongly sweet, sweet, sweet inside is the ideal one and so on.


And so therefore, if, if you're looking to get a certain level of sourness in addition to relying on tomatoes for it, it's almost always going to be a tricky thing.


So almost always washing the dishes don't rely only on tomatoes, which is why they'll always either tamminen delight other kinds of assets because you can't rely just on tomatoes and so. But tomatoes, on the other hand, have a ton of money flavor and you get that out. And tomatoes are mostly water and you're not going to get much unless you're able to reduce the tomatoes down to lose as much water as possible. So if you find some of the best cooks on YouTube, it's all right.


I give some examples like Nishimoto. She almost always you cook that you cut tomatoes and you cook it down till it loses the value that it loses so much water that you can see the oil come through. So that's usually a visual aid understanding that you make it. So the more concentrated the tomato is, the tastier it's going to be. In fact, you can take it to the logical extreme. Some of the pasta sources in Italy are cook for 20, 24 to 48 hours.


You can endlessly cook tomatoes. The longer you cook that, as long as you stop short of burning it all. And so therefore, so obviously tomato puree means you are just taking the tomatoes, putting it in a mixture, making the liquid and then using it. That's tomato puree, but it's going to be not really tasty. You're not going to make it lose a lot of the water. On the other hand, tomato paste is concentrated. It's already lost a lot of the it's already been dehydrated.


And a little bit of tomato paste is the quality of tomatoes, which otherwise is painful for you to sit in. So I did tomato paste is a much, much reliable way to get the core tomato flavor. So if you're making like tomato soup, if you're trying to make this just with actual fresh tomatoes, you're going to get a very disappointed soup. So you will need tomato paste, kind of. Tomato ketchup, on the other hand, is tomato paste plus garlic powder, onion powder and all those other magically addictive and vinegar, which is also a stronger acid.


All of that put together onion powder, garlic powder and tomato paste and a bunch of other spices and salt and sugar. And so it is really it's designed to be adequate, which is why people like eating anything with the tomato. Ketchup is the most popular condiment around the world.


And so and the reason I say legend is because, look, you if you're like me or anyone else ordering from spaghetti three or four days of the week during the pandemic, you're going to have a ton of sashays sitting around with every one of those orders. And trust me, if you're throwing them away, you're wasting some of the most fantastic condiment. Any recipe that calls for tomatoes, just open up one of those ashes and trust me to just elevate your good.


Remember some very old essabar. I think Malcolm Gladwell on tomato ketchup very spoke about how one of the reasons it's so popular is it's a combination of all the different flavor profiles, including a mummy. Let's talk a bit about Obama. You already kind of mentioned that, you know, it just accentuates the flavor of anything else, but it lingers for a longer time. And how, you know, Japanese cooking can be minimal with few ingredients because, you know, whatever flavor is there is given that much more depth, like Mommy.


And I was kind of, you know, another myth which you sort of busted here with so many people believe is that Misty is bad and all of that. And as you pointed out, I'll quote you again, there is no chemical difference between the glutamates and cabbage, mushrooms and tomato and the half teaspoon of Ajinomoto that you sprinkle on fried rice struck gold. And in fact, as you said, the Parmesan itself has more glutamates and an equivalent amount of Ajinomoto in it, which among this Westernized elite skin that is just sprinkling of Parmesan.


So tell me a little bit about the kind of umami and what's a big deal about it and what is still the lingering mystery around, because it's so we kind of you know, so the lingering mystery is fundamentally coming from the fact that as a as a taste, but we've only known it for about one hundred years or so. Right. I mean, we didn't know that we had a taste. But for Miami specifically and the mystery is also the fact that we still don't know for absolutely sure why we have there are some very popular theories which I'll talk about, but it's not like it's not like done and dusted because, you know, like we explain, we know why we need sugar.


It's just we needed to know why we need salt and we know why we need the ability to detect acids or bitterness and so on. So we've been wondering why is there a spot for exactly what is a mummy? It's a set of senses that taste buds that detect a very specific amino acid in food, not all of it, only one, which is why it's all right. So one of the most explained I mean, right now, it's a partially accepted theory is the fact that it is ultimately a taste for protein.


So you remember that protein is not very tasty. Protein is actually it doesn't taste like sugar. It doesn't taste like fat. It doesn't taste like protein is the least tasty of the food. And it's possibly one of the most important because all the rest of your body, your growth and muscular growth and everything else, the proteins and your body can't synthesize all amino acids. It can only synthesize some. And some amino acids are essential, which means that they have to come as part of your life.


And this is also quite so. And some of these essential amino acids are available only in edible sources, which is why even vegetarian most people who don't eat meat still will eat dairy and others because that's where you get the amino acids from. Although technically vegan diets now there's apparently soy does have some of these essential amino acids, one of the few plants that does so if you make soy protein, you're mostly okay. But if you are going to do not eat soy, then I think there's a serious problem.


And again, if you're a child on a vegan diet, it's a serious problem because it's not going to be enough. So that's the nutrition which we skip. But essentially the prevailing theory is that because meat is raw meat, the taste of raw meat is evokes disgust. Right. So we've developed taste as we were like cavemen and so on. The ability to eat raw meat and to do that apparently often has a way of detecting this particular minority.


Obviously, that that the gap in the story is the fact that why not undermine the message? Why only this and that glutamic acid doesn't amino acid is not an essential amino acid. So that's also so it must be said. So therefore, we seem to have this ability to detect glutamate, glutamic acid in food. And at the moment we detected it has that sort of lingering. So the way it works is that the umami receptors amp up the salt and sweet sour taste receptors.


So a tiny amount of sourness in. Bobby Laden brought a will is a lot more sour than a No. Normally based one, which has a ton more. So this is why you could get away with that. So this is the second is the fact that your body, because we are made up of the same set of amino acids, I think that about 40 percent.


So we have about two cages of glutamates in our body, our muscles and our body. If you take if you take a 70, 80 percent to gages of glutamate so that one quarter teaspoon of a mouse is not going to kill you because it's just simple statistics. And the fact that the natural umami is really no different from the synthetic one. That said, there are a tiny proportion of people who are allergic to synthetic Ajinomoto, a tiny, tiny number.


But that's much, much tinier than people who are actually, say, gluten allergic or have celiac disease and so on. So so therefore, that's the thing about Obama. And as I said, I think it is not focused as much on it. But again, even there, that is an open and bias. And I kind of point this out in the book.


A lot of coastal Puerto fisherfolk, except a lot of the cuisine is pretty Obama, right. Because the pioneer, the fish, the more Obama harvest is going to be so, but the bigger, less tasty fish. But they eat the tiny dried fish. And so the second thing that adds umami to food is, is fermentation. And the northeast of India has a lot a bigger fermentation tradition of using actually fermented foods than the rest of it. But I think at some point of time, certain kinds of fermentation began to be considered unacceptable from a caste system, purity standpoint, because obviously because, you know, production of alcohol is also fermentation and so on.


So that is that which is why most of India does not have a vinegar tradition, because we don't like alcohol. So we will buy all of those kinds of things. And you can't have vinegar without an alcohol being produced for vinegar is literally just our way. But you do in Goa and you do in the coast of India. There is amongst a non Hindu population amongst Christians about this. So vinegar is a very big thing and go up also coconut vinegar also and careless.


So that's essentially what they've always done. It's a modern audience is another fantastic berry tomatoes and anything is concentrated. Tomato is very, very high. Hiruma Any kind of concentrated gravy that has tomatoes going to be very hot.


I'm reminded of this old cartoon. I so I don't know if it was a cartoon or an anecdote or whatever, but it basically features this aristocratic English lady telling her companion and talking about, you know, the mystical and saying, do these people also have sex? It is entirely too good for them. And in an Indian context, it would seem that the lower you go down the glass of the costume, you're actually getting more money. So you know that actually you better off in that sense.


And it's also fascinating that we are educated, glutamates. I mean, you're not reading your book. It seems to me that human beings are basically MFC should be.


So this is mostly what about the other you know, it's part important, that aristocratic reality. And so there's actually a even in England. Right. Not even in Europe. If you if you think about this modern day phenomenon of Salvado and that kind of crusty artisanal brome, whole wheat kind of breads, which are now what hipsters eat now, three, four hundred years ago, that was considered to be peasant food. That bleached white perfect sandwich loaf was what the rich people eat.


And obviously, it's the same thing, right, David Heliostat, that actually the crusty, artisanal, long fermented natural salad operators, tastier than that fast fermented bleached white flour bread is the realization that, you know, we've come to mind going and another sort of another great villain of Indian culture, which should not be a villain at all, is baking soda, as you point out.


And this is a misconception that I had as well. I always knew him and he was perfectly fine. But I always thought that, you know, restaurants mess up our food, they put too much baking soda and blah, blah, blah. They're taking shortcuts. But, you know, after reading your book, I have looked at baking soda with new eyes. So tell me a bit about, you know, why that misconception exists and why it is actually such an incredibly useful ingredient.


So I think there's a there's a certain the bias against baking soda is no different from the wider, slightly more fallacious bias in Indian culture in general against anything chemical, which is a very hard thing to separate. Sodium chloride is not chemical, but sodium bicarbonate is. But but so the whole. So there is that because obviously it is. The other thing is that you can collect salt by you can make salt by evaporating seawater and you get a sense that it's it's natural, although.


Is the only thing that is not of organic origin that we eat. It is literally the only thing of non organic pressure that we eat, so because it comes from the oceans and so on. So the other thing is baking soda. So there is that larger chemical. The second thing is that obviously as a historically predominantly poor country and so on, you know, your your low end restaurants, your your low end food outlets and so on. I mean, they need to find ways to save on fuel.


There's just no getting around that. And by the way, we know how those guys operate. You know, they figured out some guys, they get a domestic cylinder and that's all the other cooking happens. So none of those guys are big commercial cylinder. It's on it's somebodies cylinder that they're using in charge. The jihadis, they're everywhere in that industry. And so it is not surprising, therefore, that they would have figured that using baking soda is a fantastic way to reduce fuel costs because baking soda will reduce the amount of time that it takes to cook, especially legumes, grains, to an extent, but legumes, definitely.


If you are cooking up a part of China. Right, using a pinch of baking soda will cut the cooking time by 50 percent. That is a lot of money over time. And obviously, I mean, the only thing is that over time, we've also figured out that you can balance that out by adding to adding teabags, which is why when you add a little bit of baking soda and you add to people only, remember the fact that I'm adding to it because it gives the brown color.


That's not what it is for. He's an acid. And more importantly, it's an acid that only becomes acidic at high temperatures. So which is right. Just the tea bag is not acidic. Only once the temperature goes above a certain level is when it becomes acidic. So the reason it exists is because in the early part of the cooking process, you want the baking soda to break all of the walls of the kitchen so that it actually cooks it faster because baking sort of breaks down, which is which is part of the cell walls of all plants.


And what happens is that then the kicks in and neutralizes any leftover baking soda because acids and bases react and you get carbon dioxide. And so therefore that's why we use this and restaurants will use it pretty liberally in most things that they are cooking, because it's also common that they don't quite know all of these reactions. So there's a good chance that they probably using had been cooking, has been cooking literally anything, because they think that if it works, what tonight look for daylight between cooking, need the light it.


So it's also that it's not that because it's not like, you know, they have a Achrafieh, they have documentation, they have knowledge and they've been trained. It's quite common for people to kind of try these things. Everybody who works here, it just works everywhere. You know how it actually works. And so which is why a lot of low end restaurants, food ends up being slightly heavy on baking soda and therefore it has that backdrop of all.


And then people come up with all kinds of fancy theories saying that they are baking soda to make you eat less at buffets, which is a strange theory, but that's not why he would do that. If somebody is adding something to physically, it this metallic and so on, that makes no sense. But he is using it to save on fuel that makes medicines. So in a sense, that is really it. Right. I mean, and then the fact that it is fantastic.


It's also a great tenderizer to beat. In fact, a Chinese state of marinating meat. If you go to a Chinese restaurant, you get that glazed kind of feel right. So you'll get that silky finish to beat. And it's incredibly succulent and say it's because they use baking soda of it a tiny bit and that's why you get that effect. In fact, Indian meditation uses acid, Chinese meditation uses. This is quite fascinating. And once you're done cooking, by the way, it can also help you clean.


It's a fantastic deodorizer. You put a small plate of baking soda in your fridge. It'll absorb all the other orders that especially if you have fish in the fridge and you don't want everything to smell. A fish is one way of doing it, and it also accelerates the military action. So if you want a brown audience and you're too lazy and you don't want to spend 20 minutes, a pinch of baking soda will get your audience evenly brown in no time.


So, yeah, so do you use moral baking soda and I miss you in your own cooking, and would you advise that Indians in general vom to Amishi? Because actually you spoke earlier about the wastage of spices and all of that and using em as you would certainly that's going to move on to the other sort of ingredient that should be used more than Indian cooking. But isn't it which is alcohol. And again, I love the starting quote, which begins a chapter, which is from Julia Child, where she says, quote, I enjoy cooking with wine.


Sometimes I even put it in the food and cooking stockwood. So tell me a little bit about alcohol and why you call it the silver medal in the 100 meter.


Slavitt expection race so far is the absolute winner in what is able to do. Heart rate is able to extract as much flavor, but clearly alcohol is the second. And then with the added advantage that in the cooking process, a lot of the alcohol actually burns off. So it's not like you want to get drunk by adding a tiny amount of rum or brandy and so on. And also remember that, you know, beer is not alcoholic enough for it to be used as an alcohol for its purposes.


But beer is used as an asset because it is acidic, because it has its carbonated. So beer battered, whatever beer is used as a as a as like a lemon juice or something. But to add an acid flavor profile and a complex, you all the complex, slightly bitter flavors of the hop also add to that. So you have alcohol again, not very common in India because of the historical taboos against alcohol and brewing and the fact that the British largely got rid of a ton of local Low-Cost Brewing cultures in collaboration with Weathercast Hindus as they kind of elevated them to positions of power with the officers and in the in the original civil service and sort of a British administration.


So there's a ton of you know, if you look at if you read and I was reading some of these older novels set in the British crown during the British Burma, Bergen actually talks about how the British guy and the Brahmins, if you will, were coming after their growing of I mean, so this is something that he kind of mentioned. So there's always been so if you have human beings, microbes and and starches, you're going to get alcohol.


It's just there's no escaping it at a time. And especially in a hot and humid part of this world where microbes work like that on steroids. You want to get alcohol all the time. So in the sense that it's quite surprising. But I think hopefully I think we'll kind of start learning about this as a class amongst urban Indians. And if you don't have, like any religious strictures against the use of alcohol, I think definitely use of some of the cheap point that you get by local Dasbach store.


I think it's only for cooking. I wouldn't drink it. So so that's a good thing. So you use up a point for cooking and it adds a ton of fermentation is one of those magical biochemical processes that takes something one dimensional. And I took on the additional dimensions of flip flopping to grip. It loses sweetness, but it gains the flavor profile simply by the the action of the straight. So so you take something like say imagine something like your floor or MIDA, which is tasteless, odorless, a powder.


You add water and it just let it sit. You don't even need to add use because this is already in the in the mind already that it will smell delicious, it will smell alcoholic.


It does smell BOOSIE, it'll smell nutty to the smell of fermented dough. And then once you bake it, the bad reaction just makes it all the more magic, which is why it is so magical to just take four things. You pick a floor, water, salt and yeast. That's it for things. And you can turn it into this universe of the most astonishing flavors by just applying heat that way. So alcohol is a part of the production of any kind of application process, at least yeast.


That's aerobic fermentation produces alcohol. Anaerobic fermentation sort of produces you have lacto bacteria like your eagly. Those are all of those are lacto yoghourt. So yeast is not in order to see bacteria. Bacteria produce lactic acid, which is solid. So the fermentation that produces southernness yeast fermentation produces alcohol. So that's the that's the basic principle. And alcohol is a fantastic additive, especially grapes, especially even hard liquor is a fantastic brandy cognac that these things actually are fantastic for big glazing.


So especially if you're using a not a nonstick, but a state to see a lot of things will stick to the bottom. Two things that stick to the bottom of the vessel are tremendously tasty because they have all those major byproducts. Right. So once you're done with your fat and onions, kind of getting that idea a little bit of this sort of brandy or something else will unlock a lot more flavor. And also remove all the sticky bits from the bottom and get rid of the cliff pattern over time, most of the alcohol will also sort of a boat away and release a lot of those other aroma molecules that then end up getting dissolved in the in the fact.


So alcohol is a is is definitely a fantastic even if you don't drink it yourself. I think it's worthwhile keeping up a bottle or two in the kitchen as a cooking it.


My favorite cooking video of all time on YouTube. And it may not be because of the the thing is the same as a video called of chicken that the chef is making today. And every once in a while when he has to have 30, you'll save one for me, one for the chicken. And just fantastic logistical. Absolutely. Do cooking with is is is a traditional thing, definitely smaller town, definitely more common amongst the lower down and the cost side, definitely.


But because these are you know, so for example, Mallows where they make up like the traditional way of fermenting an apple was to actually I thought because Attardi is basically is a life thing because it's got that culture. I just got the yeast culture that is going to then ferment the rest of you, all of those things as well. This is before we are baking soda was invented. Then obviously nowadays people just add baking soda up to the door just before they make it.


So you get that soft, fluffy in the center. Historically, it used to be done.


And you speak about a couple of counterintuitive ways in which you use alcohol. And, you know, most people wouldn't have pot of alcohol in that context. Like you spoke in your book, of course, of game changing pagodas. And, you know, what's the last time you used alcohol in your cooking? And if you had to give a couple of tips to listeners, if they're cooking and when they can use alcohol while cooking and doing so the last time, actually.


So I think some people did get a bit angry that I used some rum when I was making that Bacardi. And I get this one of those dishes where you actually don't want to add a bunch of spice powders and things like that, because it's the flavor of that actually comes from slow cooking, which is an absolute rockstar in that it is the greatest liqueur you give it. It is painfully hard to cook, to soak it for hours and hours and cook it for several hours and so on.


But the longer you cook, the more amazing the picture and the flavor gets. And a lot of people don't realize that the McCuddy part of the Dalmeny doesn't come from actually just very little.


It comes from the fact that the doll itself has a silky, buttery texture the longer you cook it. And so when you make something like that, you don't need a kind of drop out of the powder, this powder and all these other spices and so on. You want it to be minimal, just the sort of onion, ginger, garlic, the primary base of flavor that you're likely to find it in a Punjabi feel identical to what I essentially do is add a little bit of that rum to be the pan before I add the tomatoes so that it really just amplifies the garlic and onion flavors in the dish, which is exactly what you want.


So that is definitely one. And I think the the trick is actually something that I learned from this British molecular gastronomy guy, Heston Blumenthal. So basically this idea that one of the things alcohol does and one of the reasons why it's therefore used when you bake GICs and things like that is that alcohol actually prevents gluten formation. So gluten is essentially when you add water to any kind of wheat flour, the gluten and gladdened proteins kind of, you know, formed this sort of structure, stretchy structure, which therefore allows, if you had any leavening agent that allows you to rise, which you can't get.


Right. Right. And so the thing is that in a bread or a chapatti, you want that, but you don't want to gluten are kind of a texture when you're making GICs or when you're making like a cup, especially if you're using MIDA as the like a temporary thing, because some people not don't necessarily like using this. They also use a mix of Basan and might get better crispy. So if you add a mix of Mashed Up and Basan and instead of using just water to make the butter add a little bit of work up, the vodka will prevent the MIDA from forming a stretchy this thing.


So you get this thing. The other thing. The trick here is to instead of using water, if you use sort of. Right, that will air it better so that the the exterior of the pochoda will be the most astonishingly. So, I mean, this is something that I've tried and it is like, wow, I mean, especially I the military budget and it is just is this amazing? One day I would say that then you bite into the chili and the chili is really hot and then you get the dopamine high and it's quite a perfect experience.


So clearly, if you visit the mock of the show, your big revelation is that the recipe for great procurers includes vodka and soda. It's quite simple. You know, I've taken a lot of your time, so I'm going to get to closing questions now. But in between, I'm going to say that we haven't finished all the chapters of your book yet. I particularly enjoy this chapter called Burn the Recipe, where you kind of talk about models and mental models and, you know, you'll give sort of different algorithms.


Greevey algorithm, rice dish algorithm, Indian bread algorithm technique and data generators, salad generator. Talk about basically the spice mix is absolutely eye opening and I'm really going to take my time and take a little bit of time and not try to do it at the to speed. So I'll kind of get to sort of my questions that I had for you. And while writing this book, what did you learn? I understand that a lot of this is the accumulated knowledge over the years.


And you actually had a structure in Scrivner. And, you know, you've mentioned in another interview that you had your chapter headings and subheadings and all of that. So a lot of it was there. But I've often found that when you try to write about something in detail, you end up learning a lot more about it and sometimes surprising yourself. So what are your sort of learning moments from this?


So one is clearly the more I researched to write this book, the more I realized that there are fewer strict and rigid rules about how to make delicious food, that you can get to a great product in a bunch of ways. And in a sense that minimalism is a great way to get to the same thing. I think we tend to overdo recipes, no too many ingredients, sometimes realizing that the quarter teaspoon of drop out of the house could actually make a difference.


If you have 15 other spices, you're not going to taste. But sometimes people don't realize that sometimes in a store bought already has Danya A. powder in it. So you're not hiding anything by adding that as well. But recipes, once they add great masala added up all that, add it to some cake. So definitely that was definitely one learning. I think the second thing I kind of learned is that that clearly I think I taught myself to in a sense I mean, I had this habit, but obviously definitely sort of improved during the course of this is that reading academic papers and food science is often a great way to discover full time tricks that you could apply to hope.


And as I said, people the likes of Candy Lopez Art and others have essentially done that for Western cooking. Give me an example. So so, for instance, so there was actually this paper from I think it the sort of sense of I think it was of the nineteen eighties on the 20 page white paper on it, Liberto fermentation right down to what is the impact of the variety of rice, the amount of amylase and absolute pectin in the variety of rice, the kinds of microbes in the family of lacto bacteria, staphylococcus and yeast involved in fermentation and so on.


And the impact of the salt concentration, the impact of whether you use a two to one ratio of three to one ratio for the Today show and the variations in final properties of Italy and so on. I'm like, wow. I mean, I was not able to accurately get my mother to accurately describe how was it that you can reliably vomit it and get soft? It's very hard to do because fermentation is a is a wild benitz. You can only use your natural cues.


You can kind of get a sense when something is over, fermented, under, fermented and so on. Even then, once in a while, you horridly is going to end up slightly hard or over sour. And so it's just the way fermentation is like that. And I'm like, wow. This is one of those things where I could genuinely get the right answer. One example is that the reason you cite when you're forming something great is quite fascinating.


Normally kills bacteria and so on. But the magic of evolution lacto bacteria have evolved the ability to live in slightly salty conditions. Right. And the reason they do that is, is that by adding that salt, you are preventing the millions of other families of bacteria and fungi that want to colonize the same food, its free food. And so that's why you are basically helping it along. So it multiplies. It is able to dominate. And once it reaches a certain amount of a population that lack the bacteria is another trick up.


It produces lactic acid and that acidic environment again closes the door for a ton of other things that again will spoil your stay. At the end of the day, you're leaving food out. That's what it is. And there are literally billions of microbes out there. And so therefore, it is just that understanding. This is why you add salt and therefore when you should add salt, except Mexico is, I think, one of those things. So therefore, I think I learned a lot from reading, actually.


I got to be very hard to eat there. Obviously aimed at a food scientist working for a consumer food company, somebody wearing lab coats and making chips or producing a freeze greatly or three straight marketing and so on. But clearly but I think that this tends to be done from actually going right down to these scientific publications is definitely one. And I think the third realization was that that it is up Indian cooking is can actually be phenomenally a lot more diverse if people actually stop being that right.


And this whole notion of authenticity, I used to feel strongly about it. I began to feel even more strongly about, I think, the fact that this decision process, I think glorious is not a matter for or not. Kilbey know why somebody enjoys that and it's a fantastic fusion of cuisines. And literally anything you eat today is what's also considered fusion cuisine. When one of those ingredients came from Mexico or came from somewhere else, or a technique that you bought it from somewhere else.


I mean, I take the example of how my grandmother would make samba when she was in a village. Things like carrots and beans would work on English vegetables because they were not available in India. They used to grow only in the colder climates, be the hot of hearts.


You're going to lose the native local string beans and those kinds of things. But the moment she got she would use carrot and somebody who's to say that's not an authentic samba because it doesn't have literally any substance and they don't have got it right. So I think in that sense, the whole in some sense, the Chapter seven, if you will. Right. Is fundamentally at saying that, look, you know what? I think given the amount of variety we already have, I think there's an opportunity to do even more.


There's no reason why you can't make up a tie spiced chutney for your. Why would you not do that right or up or a Bengali flavored check for your daughter or eat your toes up with a kosher mango or something? Just fantastic. You go to rural Tamilnadu. I mean, those are always eaten with gravy. It's a perfect canvas, if you will, for a really well spiced meat. So I think, you know, in that sense, I think that's what I love, the sense that this is what we are doing ourselves a disservice by, by thinking in these very insular terms of this is authentic.


This is my home recipe and therefore it is authentic. And these are the only way to make this. And these are the spices you need to use. I think if you mix and match, I think it'll probably be a more vibrant future. I expect to see a lot more innovation, if you will, on.


I think if you if people are more open to some of these things, I expect to see food startups and others inventing new snacks rather than just the same old things, especially if you look at Indian snacks, either the traditional ones, napkins and those kind of things, or you have the western canvas of the potato chip.


But the DC flavors, you know, that's really about that's just an ocean of Indian snacks made from millet and a ton of other things, which, by the way, if you can apply a little bit of food science, mix of flavors and so on, why couldn't you take a miracle from, say, South India and flavor it with Mastodon and others and sell it because there's nothing to stop you from doing that. But yeah, people would say, no, no, no, that's not authentic and so on.


But I think, you know, there's a great opportunity to do that.


You know, in the last couple of minutes, you've just made a bunch of cravings explode in me when I'm thinking of, gosh, I'm unsure to I realize that, you know, that those are caught outside mutebi use like a five minute drive away from where I live. And I can have some shows. One, those are there, which, by the way, I love. And they have some 40, 50 kinds of those shows which are mind blowing.


And three of you, you mentioned new kinds of snacks. Have you ever had to cyclocross?


No, not yet. I need to try that. Absolutely delicious.


So I'm sure they'll reach some point in time. And again, I share your feelings about authenticity at this food snobbery that people have. I don't know where the hell it comes from. I mean, if you think about it, you know, tomatoes, potatoes, chilies, onions, none of them are sanskar in that sense. They're all relatively recent and still so incredibly.


It is it is not surprising in a sense, because I think food is unlike many other places. I think food is a stronger part of community and constant religious identity in this part of the world than many other places. So people sometimes define themselves on what they don't eat. So I don't eat garlic, I don't eat mushrooms. I mean, it's just that we've carved ourselves into in so many sort of the things that we we if we're not experimental enough, the system, the culture actually makes it harder for you to go to a stranger's house and eat.


The average Indian is hard for you, take someone from, say, a vegetarian family.


What would he eat if he goes to a Muslim friend's house or if he goes to a lower cost friend's house? I mean, it's just that we have created these blogs based on food as well, which is changing, thankfully, because of urban India. And and the fact that, you know, people are open to these things and people order these things regularly and once again, they're able to experiment, etc., but if you only go by just home cooking and so on, the very insular in the fact that this food and this way of cooking, this is our food.


And in a way, I think food serves as a way of in some way the smaller divisions in cuisine and exclusions and so on, make it easy for people to be homogenously only among their own selves and not marry someone else because they'll cook something you can't eat. And so, I mean, I think food is a very, very important part of that. And I think we sometimes don't give it credit. And the people in my family will sometimes say, oh, you you bring Costeja everything.


It's not like that. India is changing so rapidly. Like, no, the reality is that you cannot walk into the house of this friend. I have and eat what you have to call well ahead of time and say, I will not eat this. It's not just enough to say but you did it. You have to say it has to be done. It has to be done. If it's Tuesday, it has to be something else and so on.


So it is just that I think it is that's just the nature of this part of the world. But hopefully I think amongst Open India, this is hopefully changing and people will be open to really experimenting a lot more and not treat food as a as something that's part of your identity, I think. Or at least it should be the part that part of your identity that you're happy to share and happy to have it be used with others.


So that's both insightful and inspiring. And maybe our dream of an India in the future is actually a food dream. Then everybody eats everything. You know, I love asking my closing question, though, and it is not one about hope or despair, because what the spirit can we have when we are talking about food. So my question really is that, you know, listeners of this podcast are always looking to dive deeper. So give me a good give me a set of recommendations for people who really care about food, books, YouTube channels, movies, absolutely anything.


If you want to be put into food. I mean, my number one recommendation in that regard will obviously be your superb eye opening book, which I'll read again at Lazerow because there are parts of it. I want to take time and process and that's a must read. But apart from that, what are the books that kind of open your mind about food and besides your excellent YouTube channels and you haven't spoken much about your music, so someday I hope you'll come on again so we can kind of that conduct because I just fucking love your look.


It's incredible. And I always thought that, you know, if you have an episode together, we'll talk mainly about music, which we haven't gotten down to doing, but someday in the future. So books, videos, whatever. So I think one I'll start sort of simple, right? So if you want to get a little bit more into. So I had enough material to write like five hundred pages. Right. But clearly I said not that's that's automatically going to reduce the potential audience I think to to people under three hundred pages seems to be the sweet spot for someone to pick up a book and say, you know what, I'm going to finish this.


Right. So, so obviously have to make a lot of choices on what I'm going to leave out. How did my going to get. And so I think Food Labi by George Lopez. This is the is fantastic. It's like 700 pages might be slightly hard to source in hardcover and can be slightly expensive, but I think you could perhaps buy the Kindle edition or something like that. So that's definitely I think really a lot of the principles I talk about.


But they're still applicable in Western cooking in those dishes. It's going to be the dishes focused on a lot of meat and roasted vegetables and seafood and pasta, those kinds of bizarre and those kinds of dishes. But it's still learn tons of things from and also, I think of his approach to his methodology and literally varies. I kind of talk about the methodology at the end. He talks about the methodology while he actually describes the science of waves, very literally say I tried seven batches and this is this fact and this is the table of what I found and so on.


So it's I mean, remarkably, sort of I mean, it is it is a treatise in that sense. Definitely. I think I would say that's the immediate next step for someone who's interested in that. This is the second book is a very recently I would strongly recommend is a slightly, slightly hard. But neuro gastronomy will open your eyes in terms of the how your brain perceives it. Maybe slightly harder to read, but just stick with it.


It is fantastic. Definitely.


I think there are also some if you have a little bit of money and you have money to blow, there's something called Modernist Cuisine, which is by Nathan Myhrvold. Microsoft, too. He's become like this science guy. And I think modernist cuisine I call actually the original thing is actually a set of six books, which costs six hundred dollars, therefore impractical for anyone. That is a concise version called Modernist Cuisine. At home. It is a fantastically ground.


Fresh way of thinking about food, some of which I do refer to this in, I think in Chapter six or something so vivid and many of these other newer techniques, wet ground up, he said, I'm going to ignore all of the tradition, ancient wisdom, ground up. If I really think about the chemistry of it, how would I and if I had no budgetary constraints in terms of, you know, he uses like chromatographs that's been stuff and extract stuff from Carrodus that like those are not happy about.


Obviously, a lot of that stuff is impractical, but it's a gorgeous book that I think you'll still unable to since you're not able to cook. I don't think that's the intent of the book. The equipment he uses is not practical, but it's still an amazing book if you really, really want to get deep into food, since this is obviously on the book site. I think there are several YouTube channels that I absolutely adore.


I think my all time favorite has to be born geeks. Bungay, this is just even if you don't like cooking and if you don't like watching cooking videos, I think my wife watches Bungay videos to just relax and unwind because it's just gorgeously shot. This is the aesthetics of it, right down to the cutting, to the cooking and the the Asmar nature of the sounds. They pay a ton of attention amongst the most beautiful cooking videos ever shot anywhere in the world.


And I think it was single handedly maybe cook more Bengali dishes in my kitchen than than anyone else. I think it's definitely when it comes to vegetarian cooking, Madhulika and my diet are fantastic on YouTube and the Tyronne actually very well researched recipes. So often we don't I don't get recipes, but it's very rare to find Belder such Belcastro. So people do it once and they documentaries rarely do people like who do it like four or five times and then really pay close attention to actually documenting and if you like, really researched recipes I think definitely is a good choice.


Michel Martelly is a fantastic source of vegetarian cooking channels and one of the most watched the world, I think. And she's she's obviously fantastic up. And I think there are some very specific channels that I follow for other specific cuisines, that shallow kitchen for my cooking, especially if you like beef and pork dishes. That is the channel. And I think there's also some for so the more meat based dishes. And so there are several others I think are probably I could share a list and you could probably look at the show and so on.


So this is on the YouTube site and unfortunately there's a ton of cooking video, cooking, content.


Innovation happens on Instagram. That's it's a platform that I don't use. So I'm not really aware of what's happening on Instagram, but I'm sure there are probably tons of interesting things that happen on that space as well.


Thanks so much for your time today and also for providing us this rabbit hole soullessness. I need to go down on you know, if you have additional links, I'll put them in the show. And also as well, by the way, as far as modernist cuisine is concerned, you know, after reading about it in your book, I went looking for it. And right now on Amazon, it is sixty thousand nine ninety nine. But I managed to find pirated videos, which, you know, raises that whole question of what do you do?


And my I think about piracy is absolutely never except in the book is not available yet. But I would say being available at sixty thousand is like being not available. So kindly forgive me. So I bought I bought my copy in Singapore when I travelled Modernist Cuisine, which is what. That's about a hundred and thirty dollars. Still so quite expensive. But I really loved the book and so on. So it's, I mean it's a work of art just for the photographs and so.


Well, so thanks so much for coming on the show. Thanks. I have an absolute pleasure.


If you enjoyed listening to this episode head on over to your nearest bookstore, online or offline and pick up Messala led by Ashoke.


I've put links to some of Ashok's remarkable work in the Señores. So to check that out, you can follow him on Twitter. You can follow me at Omniture Amitava Artemy. You can browse past episodes of the scene in the Unseen, Unseen, Unseen Dot. And thank you for listening and have a good time in the kitchen. Remember, it's your lab now. It's your lab.


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