What is it with Indian cuisine? Why have we made our lives so difficult having such elaborate meals and cuisines which have recipes that lead to our cooks spending hours and probably their entire lives in the kitchen, for a fully balanced, well cooked meal?
My Grandmother’s Time
Girls married as young as 13 years, would spend the rest of their lives in the kitchen cooking elaborate dishes for the family and eating leftovers themselves. Most effort, least return for the women tasked with cooking. All the spices would be ground by hand using a mortar and pestle. Fresh grains had to be de-husked by hand, then grounded, then knead daily into large amounts sufficient to make rotis/chapatis/Indian flatbreads. The rotis had to be rolled and roasted one by one, fresh and had to be served piping hot to the men and the children, especially the male child. Meat had to be cleaned by hand, spiced up and cooked on a small gas stove for hours. Fruits cut, and cleaned, and hundreds of pots of milk tea boiled and consumed daily. And this isn’t even half of the things I know they cooked, or the way they cooked.
My Mom’s Time
Women were allowed to marry a little later and have an education. Many even were able to get a part time job. Married women and mothers would usually become a teacher or an admin somewhere. The rebellious ones got to be models and Air Hostesses maybe or some went on to do their PHDs. My mom tried working and being a home maker. It was tough. She is one of the best cooks I know till date. But oh gosh, the amount of time she spends in the kitchen and the number of items she cooks daily, makes my head reel. A simple breakfast would take an 30-45 minutes to cook. Chop onions, chillies, vegetables. Add oil to a kadhai, add some dry spices, then the onions, then some salt, some turmeric. Let is saute. Then add the vegetables. Add salt. Let is saute. Once its cooked, which takes around 15 minutes I’d say, add the carbs – vermicelli, rawa or poha. Add water. Then also make milk tea. Cut fruits. Then it would be time to make lunch. Rice, daal, sabzi, salad. Another hour and half gone. Then snacks – something fried, or boiled, and milk tea. Another half hour. Universe forbid if you have guests. Then dinner – roti, sabzi, daal. Another hour. Nearly 4 hours of your day in the kitchen – dicing, cleaning, chopping, sautéing, roasting, cooking, boiling!!
I wasn’t raised to spend time in the kitchen. My mom wanted me to study and make something of myself. She spent the time cooking and feeding us a well balanced well cooked meal. So when I moved out of home, the only thing I knew how to cook was an omelette and instant noodles – Maggi. I survived on restaurant food. Then I got a job in IT. Always demanding mentally. Which meant my interest to cook was even less than before. I’m still in the same boat. I got to travel a bit and saw how some of the other cultures ate. It seemed so wholesome and yet simple to me. Put veggies and meat together – and let them bake in an oven. Or roast it in an oven. Or make a single pot dish – a hot pot or a ramen. Tea or coffee that doesn’t need to be boiled for ages. Just add hot water. Have a multi grain bread or a whole fruit. No cutting and serving business. So I wondered, back home, why is my cuisine so time consuming?
I read some articles that said that places with hotter/tropical climates had cuisines with more spices which needed to be cooked longer because the climate could spoil food faster and it was a way to safeguard against bacteria of all sorts. Made sense. But now we’ve got refrigerators! And a lot of frozen food. I could still add the same spices and make a single soup dish and let it all cook in a pot. I could eat that, but no one else would eat it. We’ve all grown up with our rotis and rice and vegetables and daals and curries. But usually, its the moms who are in the kitchen. And I know, we have gadgets now to make life simpler, but even then it takes around 4 hours daily in the kitchen to cook a delicious and well balanced meal.
At first I used to think that all this cooking was a waste of time. But as I grow older, I see the joy in spending time in the kitchen. Every weekend, even if I spend an hour making just one curry, I feel sort of satisfaction by the end of it. I enjoy what I cooked and surprisingly, even my family does. I don’t know if I will appreciate cooking if I had to do this ritual for four hours daily, but for now, that one hour a week feels therapeutic. I sometimes wonder, will I eventually go back to my roots of cooking daily meals for myself and spend four hours in the kitchen when I am old, retired from my day job and don’t have my daughter living with me? Maybe..
So what about you or your culture? How much time do men or women spend cooking in your homes? Do you think all that time spent in the kitchen is justified, or do we need to re-invent our cooking as well to keep up with the demands of the time? 🙂