A new kitchen companion – The Hindu
The 20 cm pan is central to my culinary happiness. I use this omelette pan for cooking eggs, of course, but also for heating pasta sauces and other small amounts of non-desi foods. Although friends mockingly tell you otherwise, I do not fetishize foreign cooking utensils. I do believe in using the right tools, however, so a flat-bottomed wok cannot replace a proper round-bottomed kadhai for desi khana. For the little pan that is always in use, I always collected the best that I could afford when I traveled abroad. Once I get into the thing, I jealously take care of it, which leads to these beauties lasting for a few years.
The last pan I bought was in Paris after many French conversations with the seller, while I was standing in a veritable gorge of pots and pans. Did I want a restaurant-grade copper with a handle that is as long as my arm? How about this cast iron one, almost as heavy as me? No, I just want a good modern one with a decent non-stick coating. Ah, I have just the thing. I got away with a pan made by the third most famous French cookware brand.
This pan gave me everything a pan can give a person and more. The depth was spot on; the balance was fine; without being too heavy, it sat on the burner supports with unfussy authority. The high-tech substance handle was just the right thickness and stayed cool throughout. The non-stick coating handled the workload with ease. The thing delivered day in and day out, sometimes even to make up for my mistakes. My previous pans had lasted seven or eight years each, but this guy remained my loyal friend and confidante for 13 years.
Unfortunately the day came when I could no longer ignore the cuts and scratches as purely cosmetic. No, the hob was gone, leaking potentially dangerous material into my innocent and defenseless eggs. I had to free my old compañero from his misery. Worse, I had to get a replacement.
My spending controllers, who are scattered across the country, all had one voice: no expensive foreign pan; The local industry has changed over the past decade and you can now get perfectly good Indian pans. I started surfing the internet. There was the most famous French brand selling one for a crazy £ 10,000 in their Gurgaon store. Then there was one of the same brand as my old one, but even more elegant – £ 7,500 plus a £ 1,000 shipping fee from Dubai. There were other foreign ones with just as crazy prices.
I started looking at the local brands. Amid the ugliness that seems to permeate western kitchen products made in India, it looked pretty good under £ 2,000. The coating was made in collaboration with a German company, the handle was made of beautifully tapered wood, the few reviews for this recently released model were positive, and it came with a five-year warranty.
When the thing came, I examined it. The weight was a little lighter than I wanted, but the balance was good. There were two distinct cuts on the virgin nonstick surface, but they would surely go away if I washed them. I washed the pan, put it on the burner, and picked up the oil. No, the scratches were still there. Again I tried to wash them off. No, they were permanent.
I wrote to the company. They replied and asked for photos of the damage and the number on the bottom which I sent promptly. There was a standard email reply: “We apologize for the inconvenience … look into your complaint” etc etc and then nothing else for 10 days.
I waited seething and without an omelette, and the egg withdrawal became more acute with each passing day. I started to curse all Indian companies including the phone company that usually overloads, the bank that doesn’t deal with false debit card hits, the electrical appliance fraudsters that are always out of spare parts.
Then, after a fortnight, an unannounced package landed. It was a brand new pan, the same model but with a flawless finish. After the washing protocol, I put the pan on the burner. When the oil heated up, I poured the beaten egg. The yellow spread quickly and evenly into a perfect circle, like those mushroom clouds in clips from hydrogen bomb tests. I tipped the pan and teased the mixture around. It behaved beautifully as it melted, first into a cottage cheese and then into a full omelette. I touched the slice with my spatula and it balletically jumped into a tube like the one you see in YouTube videos of irritable old chefs, into a shivering corrugated egg wrapper that only a really good omelette pan can produce. I mentally apologized to the manufacturers and pushed the thing onto a plate.
Ruchir Joshi is a filmmaker and columnist.
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