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Monday, May 2, 2011

Breaking Eggs Has Nothing To Do With Making Omelets, Ali Al Saeed

Dad just made an omelet.

You could tell not just by the smell of the burnt omelet he’s tried to make the first time around, but also from the buzz and excitement around the house. There’s a lot of running around, bad jokes and backroom preparations.

Dinners aren’t usually a big thing in our household. The highlight meal of the day is lunch, but every time father decides to show off his culinary skills, dinner suddenly becomes far more interesting.

For starters, we get to see father in an apron. This in itself adds value to the experience of having dad make dinner. But it’s also because it means we’re having something different for a change. It has also become a sign for us that dad is in a good mood, because that would be the only time he would venture into the kitchen out of the call of duty – such as beating Harees in Ramadan, cutting fresh meat.

This good vibe travels through the whole house and father’s positive energy suddenly transforms us all into giddy little kids. One would think – seeing us huddled around the dinning table – that we were sitting around Christmas tree waiting for Santa to drop off our presents.

It’s just that in our case, the present is made of eggs and tomatoes. Well, mostly.

For all seven of us, it’s one of those rare occasions that not only do we all get together over dinner, but also revel in the prospect of not quite knowing what’s going to eventually turn up on the table when dad’s imposed himself as Chef for the night.

Let’s face it, fathers are not designed to cook. They are also most certainly not designed to be in the kitchen. Something is just wrong about that image. Take father for instance, standing there at the counter, chopping up whatever he can get his hands on. Is that beetroot I see? He’s wearing an apron with colorful floral patterns over his good ole trusty Sirwal and Zinjifrah. Not a pretty sight, I tell you.

As dad takes over the kitchen, mum, bless her soul, is demoted to the role of table-setting. She spreads sheets of old newspapers on the table, we loved reading random tidbits off these sheets. I would usually, and predictably, sit next to the sports section, while my elder brother, Mohammed, goes for the world news bits. Occasionally, mum would also prepare a jug full of Sunquick, a drink we solely associate one of two things with: Ramadan or summer.

But she finds it hard to stay away from the kitchen. Every once in a while, she would pop her head in just to make sure her husband hasn’t completely made a mess out of dinner. She’d hate for her kids to go hungry for the night.

When dad cooks – and yes, he refers to the act of making omelets as cooking – no one else is to partake in the process. The kitchen becomes his domain and we all stay away from it, as he juggles between breaking and beating eggs, chopping veggies and preparing mixes.

“Don’t forget to add the bagdoonis!” Mum would remind him, to which he’d just tut and shake his head as if to say: “I know what I’m doing. Now leave before you break my concentration.”

But the truth of it, is that most of the time, he – like most men claiming to know how to cook – really doesn’t know what he’s doing. This is evident more so towards the end of the evening, when we would ask him how he’s made his so-called famous omelet.

Of course, when things go wrong, he suddenly becomes very innovative in coming up with the reasons behind it: wrong kind of oil, bad cheap pan, veggies not fresh enough. But when it’s right, it’s thanks to his genius mastery of all things culinary.

He would eventually emerge from the kitchen with a broad smile on his unshaven face, his short silver hair standing as tall as he is proud, holding the big round pan with both hands on the handle, and announce to the entire household that “dinner” is ready.

Miraculously, more often than not, and even though it all seems random and chaotic, it smells and tastes heavenly.

Sitting around the table, we are served by the chef himself.

“Make sure you get a bite of everything,” he’d advice us, “Try it with some fresh Khuboz.”

His layered omelet is covered by a surface made of ripe moist tomatoes and cloud-light eggs with a bottom layer made of spiced slices of potatoes and cooked onion rings. In between? Well, it’s a lottery. You and your luck will get what you’re served.

I once was almost traumatized when I unfortunately discovered the effects of chomping on an entire chili pepper in one bite. I couldn’t taste anything else for the rest of the meal, but I didn’t have the heart to complain.

But the crumbly, tender texture and aromas bursting with each bite seem to scatter their loveliness across the room to make us all realize that making good omelets has nothing to do with breaking eggs.

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