By Avik Chattopadhyay
Many of us have fond memories of our hostel life. Alongside everything else of that phase, comfort foods like Maggi-on-bread and Milkmaid-on-bread were almost a regular part. Now, while we miss that phase and everything of it, here’s a piece to bring back the nostalgia.
This is my first piece for Partners in Crave with much trepidation. Quite shaken and stirred, for I am not really a ‘foodie’. But I thank the editors for egging me on.
I have always been fascinated with “comfort food”. Experts classify it as food having high sentimental or nostalgic value characterised by high calories and carbs while being simple to prepare.
Each country, culture, and region has its own comfort food. Fish n chips, pizza, macaroni n cheese, pate, shashlik, tempura, burger, French fries, and pasta are some of the typical comfort foods around us. All soups are more or less comfort food, in various forms across the world, from onion soup in France to miso soup in Japan. In India, dishes like aloo puri, pav bhaji, masala dosa, samosa, khichdi, and daal-chawal are the most popular comfort foods. One can find each in specific variations in each part of the country. Take aloo puri for instance. It varies from the dry aloo subji with the big atta puris in Rajasthan to ‘luchi aloo-r dum’ in Bengal, with regional concoctions in between.
To me, there is another category of comfort food that many of us have relished and bring back fond memories of the life around it – the Indian hostel comfort food. This is the food that the young student falls back upon when there are beans floating in soap water passing off as ‘lobia’ for dinner in the mess. This is what provides relief from literally watered-down sambar and ice-pucks for idlis as breakfast. This is what brings nutrition at 1 am when working on the group case study. This is what can be conjured up in no time, by anyone, at any location, with the minimum of resources. This is truly democratic food that unites the country, irrespective of language, culture, economic class, and the stream of education.
I would not have been so emotional and effusive in my tribute unless personally experiencing the key role it played in my years in a hostel.
Ladies and gentlemen, presenting the all-encompassing Maggi-on-bread and Milkmaid-on-bread. These are two comfort foods of the Indian hostel. I really have no idea of what the Indian student lived on before they appeared in our lives. The seniors tell me that bread-aloo and bread-omelette could be the precursors, but I really cannot vouch for the same.
Interestingly, both are products from Nestle. Thank the Swiss engineers for crafting these masterpieces. But I am sure they could never have envisaged their ‘instant noodles’ or ‘dairy sweetener’laid out on slices of bread, satiating the appetites of millions of aspirants thousands of kilometres away.
I have tried to find out the individual who invented this unique combination but in vain. Just imagine the concept behind it. Maggi is easy to cook in a jiffy. Yet in the hostel atmosphere, where plates and spoons are at a premium, what better than a slice of bread to hold a scoop of noodles in place, easy to enjoy without spilling any of it. And for dessert, another slice of bread with a mouthful of Milkmaid spread across. Absolutely perfect. The equipment, implements, and condiments needed are the minimum – a pan, a heater, slices of bread, a pack of Maggi, and a can of Milkmaid. This is almost as elegant and universal in its simplicity as football.
Sessions of Maggi-on-bread and Milkmaid-on-bread have made generations truly Atmanirbhar. They have brought minds and souls together. They have stimulated discourses and debates without care about context, time, and place. They have provided the right amounts of calories and carbs for the next volleyball game, or the late-night motorcycle trip into town for a movie. And also on return when the mess doors are shut.
From the hostel room, they were adopted by the food shacks around campus, to cater to the really lazy ones who wanted the experience sans the little bit of work. They created an entire eco-system spilling over to night canteens, bus stands, and railway platforms.
I have made lasting friendships over both delicacies, sorted out differences, plotted revolutions, and solved life’s complex problems. I have been kept alive and awake to slip in the submissions under the doors of professors’ rooms in the wee hours. I lost my anxiety about what to eat when climbing Everest, just in case. Many years later, when my work took me away from the comfort of home, all alone, I was confident that my comfort food would never let me down.
Two sets of people need to be thanked by generations of Indians.
First, the cooks in the hostel messes who reminded us of Egon from the cartoon strip Beau Peep. And then the Swiss, who gave us a pair of gifts much more than their fancy watches, discreet banks, and scrumptious chocolates. Maggi and Milkmaid!
Also Read: Rabri gram and one fine weekend
(Avik Chattopadhyay is co-creator of Expereal India. Also, he is the former head of marketing, product planning, and PR at Volkswagen India. He was associated with Maruti Suzuki, Apollo Tyres, and Groupe PSA as well.)
(Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the author’s and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Partnersincrave.com. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.)