Sunny side Up – Ande ka funda!

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I have been a fan of eggs since I can remember. My grandfather was the one to extensively introduce everyone in the family to the superb taste and nutritional importance of eggs. Be it the classic English ways of cooking it like scrambled eggs, poached eggs, sunny side up fried eggs or the more Indian ways of cooking it through maska omelettes, anda bhurji or various forms of egg curries, I am in love with each one of them. There is something magically enticing about the combination of proteinaceous egg whites with the fatty, more viscous egg yolk culminating in a nutrition packed healthy dish.

                Eggs are a rich source of essential proteins, fats and vitamins. It’s a healthy meal component for all age groups, as also during lactation and convalescence. The value of the nutritional importance of eggs has been recognized and documented in several ways in India. I remember seeing the National Egg Co-ordination Committee (NECC) advertisements on TV, with big sports stars like Sachin Tendulkar and Saina Nehwal telling the public the importance of eggs. My favourite one is the one with Devang Patel and his little kiddo companions singing the glory of eggs! This one showed many egg preps and had the ‘Sunday ho ya Monday, roz khao ande’ tagline!!!

Perhaps the more memorable TV appearance that eggs made was through Govinda’s song ‘Ande ka Funda’ from the Bollywood movie Jodi No. 1. An entire song having philosophical bearings attributed to the egg in a light hearted manner. The egg has humour, universality, health and philosophy in this song and it’s a nice perky one to listen to 🙂

                I have my own interpretation of the Ande ka funda which I wish to put forth here 😛 It is derived from the egg preparation that I have enjoyed the most since childhood – the Sunny side up form of egg fry 🙂 And the reasons for it range from the sophisticated yet philosophical name of the prep to its simplicity to its awesome taste.

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Sunny Side Up egg with toast

For those of you who have never seen or eaten it yet, it is a simple egg fry prepared in a fry pan by just plopping open an egg and allowing the egg material to flow out and cook with the egg yolk (yellow) surrounded by egg white. Due to the free flow nature of the egg white it often flows in different directions, making the egg white spread out and get shapeless at times. There are the artistic or obsessive cooks (yours truly included!) who fret over the spread of the egg white and often end up twisting and turning the fry pan to get perfect circular egg whites surrounding the yolk. The egg is allowed to cook to whatever extent you wish to, depending on whether you like the central yolk to be completely cooked or runny or somewhere in between. Then you season it with salt and pepper and you are done!!! It’s literally cooked with just these basic ingredients! It’s the first thing that I learnt to cook in the kitchen; even before Maggi 🙂 Grabbing a forkful of the slightly runny yolk with the whites that are crisp on the underside and softly cooked on top is the most heavenly bite of breakfast you can ever get!! And then you can eat it with toast, rice or even just by itself. This is Ande ka Funda No. 1 for me – Simplicity. You do not need elaborate ingredients or equipment or even a lot of time to cook this delicious egg fry. Just the basics suffice.

                This egg dish is also one of the most beautiful looking egg preps. As in, it appears bright shiny yellow in the centre, surrounded by clear whites and seasoned with pepper. White with yellow is a very pretty colour combination to look at! Like they say, we eat food with our eyes before our mouths – this one completely stands this test with its beautiful and composed look 🙂 The Sunny Side Up dish is a very true representation of the structural composition of an egg, and I love it’s appearance for this reason as well. The egg components lose their structural integrity when we whisk and beat them to make egg scrambles or omelettes or French toast – but not with the Sunny Side Up egg fry! This is Ande ka Funda no. 2 – Beauty in true representation.

                The Sunny Side Up is made with several variations. For instance, sometimes two eggs are used instead of one, thus giving us two egg yellows and whole lot of egg whites around it. Many kid recipes give this dish the appearance of a cat, or mickey mouse by shaping the egg white around the egg yolk to represent two eyes! There are also variations where the egg is fried by confining it in moulds and different shapes, such as in sections of bell peppers, or inside holes carved in slices of bread or even in readymade moulds that are otherwise also used for cakes. Different shapes make it look even prettier at times! This is Ande ka Funda no. 3 – Flexibility. The dish is flexible enough to assume your favourite shapes whilst retaining its beauty and nutritional importance.

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Sunny Side Up egg cooked in bell pepper sections used as moulds

Now coming to a more zoomed out thinking about the Sunny Side Up dish. There is something about the name Sunny side up that makes me feel extremely positive. It’s probably the optimism that we associate with sunshine after a rainy day or the warmth of the sun during chilly winters that leads to this feeling about the name. Bright and sunny is our representation of happy warmth! And that is what the name sings to us. It’s something that tells us to put up our Sunny Side (happy side) up despite the endurance of heat and getting fried up on the bottom!!!!        And this is the final and probably the most important Ande ka Funda! Funda No. 4 – Perk up and get your sunny side up always 🙂

So in short, that is my version of the ‘Ande ka Funda’ derived from my favourite childhood breakfast. Simplicity, beauty, flexibility and a happy sunny optimism. Some of life’s refreshing lessons come from very simple everyday things and food is one important component for me in this case.  Food is an inspiration for thought (Food for thought literally!!). I am often criticized by many people around me for this quality of attributing a preaching personification to food– since it spoils the holistic taste-oriented pleasures that food gives them 😛  I’m sorry guys but I’m taking the whole ‘we are what we eat’ very literally as well as philosophically here 😛

Food that tastes well and also gives me positive vibes about it always earns a special place in my heart. Sunny side up egg fry falls exactly in this category. And after all this talk, I am hungry, and rushing to the kitchen to cook one right away!

Do you have any food items in your life that go beyond good taste and actually ‘talk’ to you about something? Not just philosophy or life lessons. It could be memories, relations, humour or just about anything. Let me know 🙂

 

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The ‘why’ in biological sciences

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A little while back I saw a group of young students freshly out of school discussing their choice of subjects for higher studies post secondary school, on a table besides mine in a cafe. An unintentional eavesdropping led me to understand that most of them seemed to be science wiz-kids aspiring to join engineering colleges for their love of automobiles or computers. Not surprising then, that these people chose physics and math over biology as their primary subjects of interest. Having been studying biology for a while in life, this was one of those many moments where I strikingly sense a dwindling love for biology among the gen-next, and just smile to myself. I was almost losing interest in listening to their ongoing conversation when I heard something. ‘No but there is nothing new to learn or think about in biology. That’s why I am dropping it off this year. It’s just a descriptive science.’ I was alarmed. Now my eavesdropping became intentional and real. My ears were all tuned to try and see what the rest of the gang had to respond to this statement. And to my surprise, almost everyone agreed to this!! That their Biology textbook was only full of stuff to memorize and read descriptions about. That there is only ‘information’ that the book gives, and not new concepts to learn or think about.

I was completely taken aback. For someone who has spent some amount of time working on and thinking about biological problems in a science lab, this was difficult to take in. How could the youth of this next generation believe that there are no concepts to be learnt, no questions to be answered in biology when it is in fact, a science packed with some of the most exciting questions around us? It just suddenly put me in a very alarmed state!! I mean I certainly have no qualms in anyone having a greater inclination toward non biological sciences; but let misconceptions about biology not be the reason for it!
I was about to turn to that table and sit down and explain the philosophy of biology to these kids. However, before I could respond, I decided to step a gear down and think about what must have made most kids think this way about biology? Is there something fundamentally misleading about the way biology was being explained to them? Okay let’s go back in time. Did we have a similar approach when we were in school or college? Was this the general thought and perception about biology even when I was starting out in college? And sadly, I realized that the answer is yes.

I realized that the approach with which we were taught biology in school is a serious enough culprit in this. Somehow, the biology text book that we start out our studies with is full of diagrams and descriptions of different biological concepts. Articles in the book are written to describe different events and structures in the living body. In short, the how, where and which of different biological processes are detailed very efficiently. But wait. Is that all that is to it? What about the question ‘why’? Does that question even exist for this branch of science? What I now know, is that it certainly does. But I hardly remember discussing this element in biology classes in school. And sadly thus; among the long recitation of descriptive texts in biological sciences, I feel this is what is lacking. The question of ‘why’ in biology!
We have somehow never been taught to question the ‘why’ in biology very efficiently. At least that is what my case was. All through school or even in college to some extent. My first real introduction to thinking about the ‘why’ in biology started as late as post my bachelor’s degree. That was the time when certain questions started popping to my head about why are certain biological structures the way they are. Specifically in that stage when I was studying viruses and their life cycles; I was seriously bothered by the question of why does this virus exist/live in the way that it does!

I looked around and started realizing that there are a host of biological ‘why’ associated questions around us. Why something is structured the way it is? Why does a caterpillar respond to a particular kind of disturbance which we humans do not sense as a disturbance? Why is there so much diversity around us? Why do parents and off springs look similar? Why are some diseases more likely in certain areas of the world over the others? Why do some medicines work better for some people and not for the others?
These are just some mundane examples of the ‘why’ relevant questions in biology. There are many more out there. The problem with the way I was taught biology so far is, we were always taught to wonder about how something is executed, but not why it is the way it is. And that is why it took me a while to appreciate that biology is all about nature’s miracles, or the more scientific term, nature’s ‘creations’ and a thorough understanding of these comes through questioning why a particular thing is the way it is. A variety of paradigm shifting discoveries were made simply because those were the people who questioned the why of biology.

Perhaps the answer to the why question in biology is a bit more involved and non linear, and not always very easy to handle. Let me try and explain in the simplest of forms here. A thorough understanding of biology necessitates an awareness of the fact that it is an integrative science. The compositional complexity of biological units is quite high. To understand it in its entirety, you may need to apply principles of biology, physics, chemistry and mathematics to it. Yes. It is indeed something that you sometimes may not completely comprehend in isolation. In addition, the composition of biology (read life) is something that is highly variable. There are very few steady equations that you can apply to all of biology. Most biological principles have inherent exceptions and some serious context specificity to the rule. And that is where the so-called ‘other’ sciences come into picture. And that is why a holistic understanding of biology that includes several outliers necessitates an application of the principles of physics, chemistry and mathematics also to biology. Today, an interdisciplinary approach to biology is what has got several chemists, physicists to get interested in biological problems. Because they often find a manifestation of their rules and principles (that they have worked on in their respective sciences) in a fascinating manner in biological systems. For example, studying a living biological unit (cell) includes studying its chemical composition (chemistry), processes such as diffusion and transport and conductivity across its different parts (physics) as also say, its rate of duplication (mathematics).

It’s interesting that the ‘how’ of something often has a singular answer (though not always) since it is most likely built from direct observations of different things and their execution. However, what really gets our thinking center and creative imagination ticking is the why of living things around us. It’s unknown, unexplored, and in most cases, speculative. And this for me is the most enjoyable part of biology. Once you get into the groove of asking these questions around, you will start getting fascinated at every minute detail of biology that you discover. The sooner you sense this, the earlier the appreciation of biology comes to you. Like I said previously, this happened to me quite late in life. I had always been interested in biology, but this was mainly because self formation, self regulation and life processes were something I was always curious about. But to be honest, my curiosity was limited to knowing the ‘how’ of execution of biological phenomena. The realization that questioning the why of things gets us to the vaster and deeper meanings of biology and life came to me only after completing my first degree in biology. Sometimes I still find this funny and weird, that despite not getting a true appreciative sense of biology, we could essentially walk away with even a master’s degree in biology with ease. Now how pertinent is that? I often feel it’s a major limitation of the education system that we have here that we do not bother to infuse the real inquisitive spirit of science as a pre requisite for a degree, and that degrees are bestowed through a rather simple display of scientific information put across on a paper. It’s disappointing hence, that, very few core scientific career interests are sustained through from our degree colleges to professional sciences.

So the bottom-line here? Dear Students, do not dismiss off biology as a science that involves mere recitation of facts. It is indeed a science where the ‘why’ is just as important. Waiting to be answered, waiting to be discovered. A slight difference from other lines of science may be the fact that answering the ‘why’ in biology is often an amalgamation of principles that come from various fields outside ‘classical’ biology. And that exactly is the fun of it. A holistic and integrative approach which can account for the ‘why’ in a branch of science with as much variety as biology. Biology is very much a science of the why. In fact, it’s the science of one of the biggest ‘why’s in this world – the why of life 🙂