I was in an auto-rickshaw on my way to a dinner with friends on a rather hectic ‘city’ evening. The driver and I struck a conversation, as most of us do when caught in the doldrums that is Bangalore traffic. Our general dissatisfaction of city-life became the crux of our conversation. I come from a long line of city folk and yet I couldn’t but agree with him. The best of us can’t deny of having felt at times run down by the fast lane life, of wanting to smell the roses, so to say.
But as I listened to him with clichéd images of rolling hills and green fields in my head, I realised he wasn’t talking about the outdoors at all. I stopped the movie in my head and began to lend a better ear.
He was saying how the hut in his village was terrible to maintain in the monsoon and how they had to regularly coat their floors with cow dung, which I learnt was a natural insect repellent and heat insulator during winters. All the while I thought he must be so glad that he has a one bedroom house in the city with electricity and easy water access. But then, he began to reminisce of the food and suddenly all these uncomfortable living conditions, in my opinion, seemed insignificant. I’d dared not utter these thoughts lest I sound judgemental. So I listened more…
It was almost 9pm and we both were famished. I was, quietly, while he spoke my mind out loud saying so in conversation. He was saying how the food here, in the city, does not satisfy him. Driving an auto-rickshaw is tedious work that required a great deal of energy inducing in him a hunger which he can’t seem to satiate. But he waited to go to the village that weekend for a good helping of the food that would last him with satiety till the next time he visits.
“You do not know the taste of naati chicken curry with ragi mudde (a steamed ball of rice and ragi meal) for dinner”, he said. The enthusiasm with which he spoke about the utter delight of that chicken made me salivate. “The taste of the chicken here isn’t that great, tastes bland to me”, he said.
I know of organic chicken and I’ve heard it has a pungent fragrance and a tougher texture than regular chicken. But this is what makes it better he assured me.
My stop arrived and I got off to a very pensive dinner.
Now, I am your run of the mill health conscious citizen who is still not very comfortable eating meat of lambs or chickens who could have easily ingested worms and what not. As much as I wanted to have the experience the auto guy – Rajesh, had told me about, I’d rather not.
But as a dedicated meat eater, staying true to the solemn commandment “Thou shalt not deprive thyself of any meat eating experience”, I began my research aka me at my laptop asking my trusted source—Google!
Hurrah for Free Range!
Free Range I discovered is the alternative! Animals raised on farms where they feed only on organic vegetarian food. That’s a relief! So, I got me some Free Range, which I have to admit made me think of animals running free atop hills like Maria Von Trapp singing ‘The hills are alive…’ Apparently, it is similar only that there are farms and there is strictly no singing.
We all have that group of friends who to put it plainly are the guinea pigs of our culinary adventures—I called mine and set up a lunch, Free-Range style. I’m not much of a red meat eater, and so opted for chicken.
Leave the skin on…check! Yogurt marinade to tenderise…check! Slow cooking on the hob…check! Gravy it…check! My kitchen began smelling very peculiar in a good way…a very good way.
The Taste Test
They weren’t kidding about the smell, the fragrance was overpowering, very earthy. I bit into it and surprisingly, it wasn’t tough as I was led to believe. It was fall off the bone tender; the slow cooking had done its trick. It was definitely juicier than any chicken I’d tasted before, and I don’t know how to put this but it tasted like the smell of the first rain—the wet sand—the water, the earth a distinct, unique, desirable flavour.
It is an acquired taste they say. Well, it is a taste that ought to be acquired, I say!
“You do not know the taste of free range chicken curry with rice”, she said as she gladly broke free from her limited range of meat choices.