The 20 cm frying pan is central to my culinary happiness. I use this ‘omelette pan’ to cook eggs, obviously, but also to heat pasta sauces and other small amounts of non-desi food. Though friends will scoffingly tell you otherwise, I don’t fetishise foreign cooking equipment. However, I do believe in using the correct tools, so a flat-bottomed wok cannot replace a proper round-bottomed kadhai for desi khana. For the small frying pan that’s on constant duty, I’ve always picked up the best I could afford when travelling abroad. Once I’ve splurged on the thing, I take care of it jealously, resulting in these beauties lasting quite a few years.
The last frying pan I purchased was in Paris after much Franglish discussion with the store clerk while standing in a veritable canyon of pots and pans. Did I want a restaurant-grade copper one, with a handle 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 decent non-stick coating. Ah, I have just the thing. I came away clutching a pan from the third most famous French cookware brand.
This frying pan gave me everything a pan can give a person and more. The depth was just right; the balance was beautiful; without being too heavy, it sat on the burner supports with unfussy authority. The handle, of some hi-tech substance, was just the right thickness and stayed cool throughout. The non-stick coating happily handled the workload. Day after day, the thing delivered, sometimes even compensating for my mistakes. My previous pans had each lasted seven or eight years, but this guy remained my loyal friend and confidant for 13 whole years.
Alas, came the day when I could no longer ignore the cuts and scratches as merely cosmetic. No, the cooking surface had gone and was now possibly leaking dangerous material into my innocent and defenceless eggs. I had to put my old compañero out of its misery. Worse, I had to get a replacement.
My spending-controllers, who are scattered across the country, were all of one voice: no expensive foreign pan; the local industry has changed over the past decade and you now get perfectly good Indian pans. I began to browse the Internet. There was the most famous French brand, selling one at a crazy ₹10,000 from their Gurgaon outlet. Then there was one from the same brand as my old one but even more sleek — ₹7,500 plus a ₹1,000 shipping charge from Dubai. There were other foreign ones with equally mad prices.
Diamond in the rough
I began to look at the domestic brands. There, amidst the de rigeur ugliness that seems to pervade Indian-made western kitchen products, was one that looked quite nice at under ₹2,000. The coating was made in collaboration with a German company, the handle was of nicely tapering wood, the few reviews for this recently released model were positive and there was a five-year guarantee.
When the thing came, I examined it. The weight was a bit lighter than I wanted but the balance was good. There were two clear lacerations on the virgin non-stick surface, but surely they would go once I washed it. I washed the pan, put it on the burner and reached for the oil. No, the scratches were still there. Again, I tried to wash them off. Nope, they were permanent.
I wrote to the company. They responded asking for photos of the damage and the number on the bottom, which I promptly sent. There was a standard email reply: ‘we are sorry for your inconvenience…looking into your complaint’ etc. etc. and then nothing else for 10 days.
I waited, seething and omelette-less, the egg-withdrawal becoming more acute with each passing day. I began to curse all Indian companies, including the phone company that habitually over-charges, the bank that doesn’t deal with wrong debit card hits, the electric appliance fraudsters who are always out of spare parts.
Then, after a fortnight, an unheralded parcel landed. It was a brand-new pan, the same model, but with a pristine surface. After the washing protocol, I put the pan on the burner. As the oil heated up, I poured in the beaten egg. The yellow spread quickly and smoothly into a perfect circle, like those mushroom clouds in film clips of hydrogen bomb tests. I tilted the pan and teased the mixture about. It behaved beautifully as it coalesced, first into a curd and then into full omelette-ness. I touched the disc with my spatula and it leapt balletically into a tube of the kind you see in YouTube videos by tetchy old chefs, into a tremulously undulating egg-package that only a really good omelette pan can produce. I mentally apologised to the manufacturers and slid the thing onto a plate.
Ruchir Joshi is a filmmaker and columnist.