Bollywood’s No. 1 star tells MARK MANUEL that he can go without food and drink because he is not a foodie, that he doesn’t understand wines, and because his parents were restaurateurs... he misses their khana! EATING food is like making love, something very personal and meant just for you. I don't like being pictured eating, said Shah Rukh Khan, setting the tone for my interview on the eating and drinking habits of Bollywood's No. 1 star. We were sitting in his den on the first floor of Mannat, his heritage and palatial sea-facing bungalow at Land's End, Bandra. It was late Sunday afternoon and both, Shah Rukh and I were sippping Espresso coffee. I must clarify. This was home-made Espresso, done in Mannat's kitchen downstair's by the actor's cook Mohammed Shamim. It was like no Espresso I have ever had before. Shah Rukh explained how they made the Espresso. We put Nescafe in a small coffee mug, pour little hot water in, then ghutao it with a chamcha. After that, we throw in more hot water. It is the closest you can get to Espresso with Nescafe. I put my cup down with a shudder and thought regretfully of Espressos I have had in the past at the Trattoria. I asked Shah Rukh, But don't you drink exotic coffees like the Jamaican Blue Mountain, which at 100 dollars for 500 gms is the world's most expensive coffee? He looked at me in amazement, then said, No, Starbucks' Capuccino is as far as I'll go. By my side, wisely drinking tea and waiting with her four cameras to go into action, was my editor and photographer Farzana Contractor. I sensed her reluctance to begin shooting. And I wondered whether Shah Rukh would object to being photographed drinking coffee. He was quick to spot our hesitation and seized the opportunity. In Chicago, he told me, he once beat up a photographer who kept taking pictures of him and a bulimic child eating in a restaurant despite being told not to. I asked him, Was that one of your favourite restaurants? He scowled. Favourite restaurants? I have none! Favourite foods! None? Am I a foodie? No! I hate food! I was astonished. Here was a man whose parents were restaurateurs, they ran De Ramble's above Balika Bazaar in New Delhi, and he'd probably grown up on some great Mughlai cuisine. Yet he claimed to hate food! Shah Rukh lit a cigarette, his third so far, and explained, My father was a Pathan, he looked like Gregory Peck, 6 feet 2 inches, grey eyes, and my Mum was Hyderabadi, a beautiful woman, like Waheeda Rehman. My upbringing was on the dry Pathani foods of Peshawar, raan and chaap; and the aromatic masala khana of Hyderabad, biryanis and khatti dals. My parents used to mix these and feed me. And to these, they would add the restaurant food, butter chicken and mutton korma. But they're gone, and the food after them's not been good enough. You understand? I did. But why did he dislike food? Shah Rukh struggled for words. I truly believe food is only a stomach filler. It is as basic as the air we breathe. A necessity that should always remain a necessity. Excessive taste of anything takes you away from the core of life. I am always looking down on people who like to eat. For me, from simple to best, food is all the same. I would say the dining at Zodiac Grill's equal to the food I could get at Haji Ali, no question about it. When I got married, my mother-in-law was worried because Gauri could not cook. But I told her, ‘Don't worry, to me it makes no difference.’ And it's true, I can eat anything. Even dry bread and water. I found it hard to believe him. But Shah Rukh continued, I am a boring person to be around if you like food and eating out. I can pass the whole day without realising that I have not eaten. I don't like going to restaurants. I hate having meetings in coffee shops. What a waste of time! I can call you home and talk over lunch. And if I have to take somebody out to dinner, I suggest McDonald's. Or Pizzeria. No wonder my friends don't like eating out with me! I've travelled all over the world and tried out all the local food wherever I've been. But in the end, I've come home knocking for dal-chawal! My mother used to say, ‘You should eat the food you like and wear clothes that people like’. So what kind of food do you like, I persisted. I like the caviar they serve on Air-India, Shah Rukh replied smugly. Really, it goes well with Pepsi. Do you bring home tins of caviar when you travel abroad, I asked. And wines, I added, because near his bar, I noticed a giant-size Eurocave meant for chilling wines in which were some botles of burgundy and champagne. No, Shah Rukh said. The winecooler is for my friend Parmeshwar Godrej. She's the only one I know who likes wine. I used to buy the most expensive bottles because I thought they were the best. But Parmeshwar once told me I was serving rubbish! Now I ask Juhi's husband Jai to select wines for me. He knows. He even got me to read two books on wine. I gave up. What's the use of trying to know right from wrong? All wines taste the same to me! The rare occasion Shah Rukh has a drink, it will be Bacardi. He admitted to being put off by alcohol. And by fine wining and dining restaurants as well. He told me the story of the time he went to a fancy French restaurant in HongKong and could not figure out what the three glasses on his cover were meant for. One was water, the second wine, but what was the third for, he asked me now. And so many kantes and churis! I didn't know which was meant for what! I don't like going to such restaurants where I don't know what to do. And where the chef's sentiments might be hurt if I ask for Pepsi instead of wine! He talked about the chefs he had met on his travels. I cannot remember their names but most of them come up to my table in restaurants to ask if the food was good. Or they come up to my hotel room to ask if there's anything special I want to eat. I tell them, ‘No, but you make what you want.’ And then I don't like what they cook! They make love to their food! But from these chaps, I picked up several tips for a chef's role I played in my movie Duplicate. I had to give the heroine a peck on her cheek, instead, I licked her and then smelt her! You know how chefs are all the time smelling food! He himself can just about find his way in Mohammed Shamim's kitchen at Mannat. I can serve myself and have dinner there, he said, but cooking... well, yes, I have cooked Batman cookies with my son Aryan. And I can make tea, boil eggs, make real good phulkas. Four-year-old Aryan burst in on us then, a small bundle of hyperactive energy, and charged for Shah Rukh. Seeing the coffee mug in his father's hand, he asked, Can I have a Pepsi? In the den was the biggest Pepsi vending machine I had ever seen. Shah Rukh told him, You have another Pepsi, mummy will beat you! Aryan replied, I'm not scared of mummy! Go and tell her that! Shah Rukh mischievously suggested to the kid. To me he said, I have a deal with him. If he stops drinking Pepsi, I'll stop smoking. Aryan told him cunningly, I'll have Limca instead! “Are you drinking Pepsi because you endorse it or because you really like it,” I asked Shah Rukh. “For as long as I can remember, I have been drinking Pepsi,” he admitted. “I don't drink water, though I have been advised by doctors to have six litres a day. I smoke about 20 cigarettes every day and Pepsi hits the throat... maaza aata hai!” Unhesitatingly he said he would be able to identify Pepsi from Coke and Thums Up if put to a blind-tasting test. “I can tell Pepsi by the smell itself,” he boasted, then added disparagingly for my benefit, “but I cannot tell the difference between lasagne and pasta, or muligatawny from lentil soup.” The Khans keep an open house, I discovered. Friends are forever dropping in at Mannat to be with Shah Rukh, Gauri, Aryan and daughter Suhana, who will be two this May. He called this practise “mehman nawazi”. “People should be happy to be with you. And you should make sure they are fed. The food should be made available to them because a lot of people are shy, you ask them if they'll eat something, they'll say no. I'm like that. This is not about food or how you serve it. It is about how you make people feel in your home. When friends come to Mannat, there's always food for them. If not, the cook can make anda-doubleroti,” Shah Rukh explained. “And Espresso,” I reminded him.