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Rangeela re: Kunal Vijayakar decodes the colours on your palate

Why does a sunny breakfast lift your mood? What made you pick that dessert? Read on...

mumbai Updated: Mar 08, 2019 22:33 IST
Kunal Vijayakar
Kunal Vijayakar
Hindustan Times
Food,Colour,Kunal Vijayakar
At Mohammad Ali Road. Can you imagine tandoori chicken being anything but that vibrant red? It just wouldn’t have the same promise of spicy, searing flavour. (HT File Photo)

Are you feeling blue? I’m red in the face. You’re green with jealousy. Life is not just black and white. I’m tickled pink. Colours. When you start noticing them, you realise what a compelling role colour plays in your life. The colour of the sky in the morning can set your mood for the day. A grey sky with heavy clouds makes your heart heavy and contemplative. A bright yellow morning sets you off like a bee looking for nectar. In the same way, colour plays such an important part in food.

My oldest memories of colour in food are of me, as a child, staring into the glass showcase of an Irani bakery and café. Rows and rows of cakes, with icing in the most psychedelic colours, enough to attract your attention from across the road. Spongy squares of bright pink, with lacy white frills and red jelly. Pistachio-green pastry with orange blobs of jam. Small yellow cakes with teal green buttercream, adorned with fuchsia coloured icing and small silver balls. Brown black forest with whipped cream and blood red faux maraschino cherries.

I’d choose the pink cake, it was my favourite; and along with the confection some brightly hued boiled sweets and sugar-coated jujubes in all shades of the wheel. Even today, when the art of patisserie has evolved to international standards, every time I walk into City Bakery at Worli, the temptation to pick up a wedge of multicoloured cake is hard to resist.

Green is the colour of calm, freshness, tolerance and birth. If you are sitting with a bowl of salad, fresh arugula, crisp crunchy lettuce, chunks of tomato, fleshy avocado, fibrous edamame, does it ever set a tone of anxiousness or angst?

The colours determine how we perceive food, emote with food and finally the way we process food in the mind. Otherwise what is it in a fried egg, sunny side up, bright yellow yolk glistening on a pure white wobbly bulwark, that signals the start of a great day? Why does a thick slice of browned toast with a pat of pale yellow butter — or a big bowl of bright yellow Batata Poha — cue a great beginning? Or even a golden slice of crisply, flaky Pakwan with thick deep yellow daal, or a glass of lassi with flaming yellow kesar? The colour yellow is the colour of optimism and pleasure, and a great way to start the day.

Green may be the colour of prosperity, but that’s only because the US dollar is green, otherwise green is the colour of calmness, freshness, tolerance and birth. If you are sitting with a bowl of salad, fresh arugula, crisp crunchy lettuce, stalks of celery, fleshy avocado, fibrous edamame, does it ever set a tone of anxiousness or angst? Could a bracing bowl of finely chopped cucumber, garnished with roasted peanuts, green chillies and desiccated coconut, be anything but an explosion of freshness? Even when you spoon up a helping of hot bright Lasooni Palak Paneer, or a helping of stir-fried Chinese greens, the palette brightens up.

The Katthal Burger at MasalaBar. Black has suddenly become a colour in vogue, with food-grade vegetable charcoal in powder form being mixed into the dough to make a black pizza bases or burger buns.

There’s nothing more satisfying than finding the green in Mother Nature and fine-tuning it to its most vivid potential. Though I have to confess that Hara Bhara Chicken or Chicken Haryali Kabab in fluorescent green food colouring does nothing for my tranquillity. In fact it makes me see red.

Red, the colour of passion and anger. The red of the cherry, the bloodiness of beetroot in a red velvet cake, the blush of sweet strawberry jam in a jar, or ruby red cranberry juice in your drink all invoke the imagery of amour and ecstasy. As you walk through the bylanes off Muhammad Ali Road, gawking at tandoori stalls, the flaming red of the kebabs is hard to miss. I know a lot of those kababwallas use artificial colour, but can you imagine a leg of tandoori chicken that was not a deep shade of scarlet? It just wouldn’t feel the same. You know from the red that it is going to be spicy, hot and scorching. Like a hot chilli paste in a vindaloo, or a Sambal Olek in Asian cooking.

Sitting on a beach in Goa, beer sweating through your pores, it is the fiery red vindaloo or sorpotel mopped up with poi and not the mild-coloured Caldine curry that will be the placebo you need, leading to a sultry steamy afternoon in the arms of your paramour.

Which brings me to black and white. White foods have acquired disrepute when it comes to health, while black has suddenly become the colour in vogue. Like black dough pizzas, where food-grade vegetable charcoal in powder form is mixed into the dough, to make a black pizza base or black burger buns. All in vogue, like the black squid ink put in pasta or risottos to add drama to the dish.

That leaves us with blue and purple. These are colours that are notoriously scarce in the palette of food and are considered unappetising. Yet blueberries are blue, and kand or purple yam is, well, purple and both are terribly appetising. Which means there isn’t a colour that we don’t eat. But in the final analysis, the colours that are most appetising especially when used together are Red and Yellow. Do I care? I can eat with my eyes closed.

First Published: Mar 08, 2019 22:06 IST