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March 20, 2020

Eat Your Words

Illustration by Reshidev RK

Over the years, Vivek Tejuja has developed an eccentric and meticulous tasting menu to accompany his reading sessions, and he explains how his customised pairings of flavours and genres set the mood

Should I start this piece by calling myself a ‘foodie’? I cringe internally and externally whenever someone uses that term. Aren’t we done with it already? Shouldn’t it be sent to the deathly gallows? Anyway, coming back to the point, I am a person who lives to eat (yes, yes, another of those overused phrases that I hate, but here we are). I do. I love my food and make no bones about it. I love it excessively. I love it to the point of no return. I love it, period.

Food and I have a strange relationship. There are times when I do not feel hungry at all. There are times when all I want to do is eat. You want to know when that happens? It happens when I read. Food and reading: a deadly combination.

A combination that shouldn’t have been conjured up. So, I love reading, and I love eating while reading. And then I binge. Chapter by chapter. Book by book. Genre by genre. And food is at the core of it all. What do I eat? Well, there are quirks that I shall now speak of — I take snacking a step further. It isn’t just your regular chocolates (which I hate by the way) or the casual peanuts kept at home, or the last slice of pizza rotting in the fridge. No sir. Mine is a process — a ritual that must be followed.

A book is picked. What cuisine/food goes with it is decided. The food is ordered on a food delivery app. And then I wait for the food to arrive. The book remains untouched till then. The doorbell rings. My heart is aflutter. We are ready — my heart, my stomach, and my mind. The dance has begun.

And which genre goes with which food, you ask? Well, allow me to explain.

Thriller: If I am reading a nail-biting, edge-of-the-seat crime thriller, then the food pairing has to be Indian Chinese. It is food for the soul and, somehow, so is a good thriller that surprises and shocks you with every turn of the page. Whether it is After the Crash by Michel Bussi or the extremely weird and satisfying Night Film by Marisha Pessl, desi Chinese is the best accompaniment — chicken triple Schezwan ahoy!

Romance: Now I don’t venture into this genre all that much. So when I do, the food pairing has to be nothing short of perfect. And what goes along with a good Georgette Heyer or the quintessential Mills & Boon — a bucket of ice cream, my very own Prince Charming coming to save me (and about this I have no delusions). Though it doesn’t help in getting rid of the baggage, it is comforting. A nice Shopaholic book by Sophie Kinsella always works. No matter how many times I reread it.
I guess I will be a romantic forever.

Literary Fiction: This is my favourite genre, and with it only my favourite food must be paired. It goes without saying. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara stretching over 800 pages deserves nothing but a good, delicious, gobsmacking plate of biryani. The subtle layered flavours of the biryani go very well with the understated layers of literary fiction. The depth and intensity of both makes it a marriage made in heaven. Read your Murakami with a good portion of the food of the gods.

Graphic Novels: These are super quick reads and highly engaging. Whether it is the heart-wrenching memoir Maus by Art Spiegelman or the very enjoyable Watchmen by Alan Moore, graphic novels are in a league of their own and there’s no stopping once you get started. Just like a bag of chips — you just cannot eat one, and, with some dip on the side, it is like sone pe suhaagaa.

Translated Works: The most obvious food pairing would be dishes from other countries or places unknown to me, isn’t it? But I love being around comfort food when I am reading about different lands. Dal-chawal worked best for me while reading a Japanese novel set in the ’40s about three sisters — The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki, that is — or even a simple coming-of-age queer story that breaks my heart all the time — Cobalt Blue by Sachin Kundalkar.

Queer Literature: Somehow, I have always associated queer literature with candy. And not chocolate but ‘proper’ candy. Like Gobstoppers or chewy sour strips of green apple and cola, or even Skittles and Gems — all of them go well with rainbow-coloured literature. Tales of the City by Maupin is highly recommended.

This is merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to literary genres and the foods that go with them. I could go on and on about subgenres and what food I eat while reading them, but I think you get the drift.

I believe there’re different kinds of food for every book you pick and choose to immerse yourself in. Food satiates a craving, so do books, and the two are a match made in heaven. Eat. Read. Repeat.

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