Appa and the Art of Shopping for Produce

By this point you all know that in my eyes and in the eyes of anyone who interacted with him, my father was a man of substance. For me, he was also an influential and inspiring presence. He did everything with style and panache. He could even transform the simple act of buying fruits and vegetables for the household into art form!

Among his many accomplishments in life as a businessman, philanthropist, husband, father, son and an amazing human being, he was also an excellent cook in his own right.

My memories of childhood are filled with memories of Amma and Appa getting up bright and early when even the sun was still contemplating whether it was time to rise. Together, before the rest of our fairly large household would even rub the sleep out of their eyes, they both would have dished up breakfast and lunch for all. Between the two of them, they relied on absolute coordination and teamwork to achieve this.  Appa would cut up all the vegetables, grind up the ingredients necessary and Amma would then quickly cook it all up. It was the most romantic thing I’ve ever seen!

It’s no surprise then that he also took on the job of buying fruit and vegetables for the household. Those were my college days — I was studying for my B. Com. degree, learning about computers and programming as well as working part-time in Appa’s office to apply my computer skills in a live environment.

These fortunate circumstances ensured that for three years of my life, I got to go back home with my father, since  my routine was college > computers > Appa’s office > home.

We would stop at the railway station on the way home and pick up fruits and vegetables. I didn’t know it then, but I was getting the education of a lifetime — not at the college or at the computer institute— but right there, standing by my father in that bustling market.

He had a method to this also like everything else he did in life. First insult the vendor, then once the latter was suitably riled up and defensive, praise one of the other items and turn him into putty. Then prepare the final attack! It never failed. He always got good produce and great discounts.

As he closely examined each vegetable, he would carry on a running commentary with me. What to look for, what’s good, what’s bad. And his skills in buying produce showed in the final cooked product too.

So many years have passed since that experience. But every single memory remains fresh as if it happened yesterday. Appa fondly called me Mona. And to this day when I go shopping for fruit and vegetables, I can feel him right next to me, guiding me. I am transported right back to that bustling market in Kandivali, that overweight vendor balancing himself on a tiny stool, Appa towering above everything; glowering and grinning alternately.

“Tomatoes should be firm, Mona! Not too hard, not too soft.”

“Look at that shiny apple; how tempting it looks? Don’t buy it! He’s waxed it to look fresh, it must be last week’s unsold produce.”

“Do you see that misshaped brinjal? That’s because a worm went in while the brinjal was still growing.”

 “Always buy potatoes of the same size. That way they will cook evenly in the pressure cooker.”

“Look at the skin of a lemon before you buy it. It should almost be translucent and pretty thin. That’s the kind of lemon that will give you maximum juice.”

“The skin of an alphonso mango should be slightly wrinkled. That means it is perfectly ripe to eat.”

“When you lift a cabbage in your palm, it should feel heavy compared to its size. This means it is fresh and packed with leaves. If a cabbage feels light don’t buy it, as it has either dried up or is not fresh.”

“Always look inside a cauliflower very carefully before you buy it. Worms love hiding inside a cauliflower!”

“To find out if ladyfingers and french beans are fresh, break off the tip with your finger, if it breaks easily, it’s fresh. Else don’t buy it.”

“Snake and ridge gourds should break without any resistance, else it is not fresh.”

“If a white pumpkin skin has tiny  fine thorns on it, it means it is a very young and fresh pumpkin.”

I didn’t know just how much of his knowledge I had absorbed and inherited. Until the day my niece, who was going to study in another town for further studies wanted to spend time with me before she left. And one of the most important things she wanted to do was learn how to buy good quality fruits and vegetables.

I knew I had come full circle when I stood at the vegetable section of a supermarket and turned my nose up at the ladyfingers on sale, declaring to my husband in our native language that I couldn’t bear to look at them as they were inedible. Little did I know that the gentleman standing right next to us, eagerly picking ladyfingers, also spoke my native language. He was startled by my passionate declaration, probably decided to avoid a sounding from the wife back home and quietly returned the ladyfingers back to the stall, much to my amusement and my husband’s utter embarrassment!

I can hear you laughing heartily Appa! Yes, your legacy lives on.

Author’s Note – This post originally appeared in SiyaWoman. The content has been slightly changed for relevance to present time. Republished with permission from SiyaWoman. Link to original post given below: http://www.siyawoman.com/art-shopping-produce/

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