Hard Spices and Soft Parties

Shruthi Subramanian
4 min readSep 25, 2020


As a child, I appreciated the variety but hated cinnamon.

I cannot be the only one. I distinctly remember hating these chunks of bark and dried up leaves in my food. My tongue could do sweet, salty, spicy, and candy. I couldn’t appreciate the complexity of cardamom, but I could tell the difference between tap and bottled water. I was thinking of how you don’t really start cooking until you’ve left home. My mother would always give me a nudge to whip something up for myself. And then, she’d secretly supervise me but give me all the credit for whatever little dish that ended up on the table.

It was always pasta. That’s the progression. You start with instant noodles because everybody knows that instant noodles are like assisted chopsticks for an amateur chef. You move on to bigger things like the kind of pasta that works with cheese and sauce out of bottles. It’s still quite amazing to your mother because you have all that flavour without having to use at least 5 different powdered spices and 2 kinds of tempered hard spices. If none of this feels familiar to you, you need to look into Indian cuisines. To cook any kind of Indian dish you need the Spotify-playlist equivalent of spices. I’m not exaggerating when I say that it’s not as much about the quantity of water as it is about the number of spices needed to flavour that water. I am low-key repulsed that all this sounds like the first 4 paragraphs that precede the recipe that you originally clicked on the link for. Rest assured that this isn’t an article about cooking; it’s about tastes and the most horrible gerund in existence: “adulting”. Try going back in time to enjoy a cup of ginger tea. Cringe. What’s with the dry leaves and wanting to consume them?

You know what else you outgrew? The loud parties. The kind where the smoke is coloured and people look like shadows of cardboard cutouts. You can’t deduce anyone’s music tastes because the head-banging is out of control. Conversations? What are thoooose? You’d rather have a party of four sit out in the balcony with cups of black tea (without sugar). By you, I mean me. The really strong flavours, the extra syllables, the bass drop—all that goes into my food. And I’m the kind of person who likes Lay’s Salted Chips.

It is fascinating how much your tongue can learn to remember and retain. This quality is not far from that of learning a language. What was once “woah” is now “breathtaking”. The replacement of all the “really, really” is as powerful a step as the substitution of the salt in your noodles with soy sauce. Or like that one drop of oil that keeps your rice from sticking. Okay, I may have one too many references to cooking.

With acquired tastes, you have more to talk about. Real non-edible Icebreakers. You know you’re interesting when your conversation is peppered with an authentic reflection of yourself and not name drops. You’re also more likely to keep the conversation sizzling when you’re asking questions. Growing up you realise that having good taste entails seeking great tastes. And because of that, despite all your spices, you will still feel like you’re not quite there. I know I have felt that, hunched over a pot and dipping my now heat-resistant finger into boiling gravy. Stuck in a chimney cake of thoughts, you could find yourself questioning your taste and the lack thereof. It’s one of the many limitations of the human experience—you don’t know what you’re like. So, next time you’re cooking, don’t obsess over the flavours. Take a moment to simmer and get a taste. Hard parties are about quick dissociation and powdered spices are for the ones who love flavour but find themselves in a hurry. Neither are incorrectly matched. Just not my taste and that’s quite alright — coming from someone who once bit into a bud of cardamom and chewed on it like it was a piece of potato.