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Food, Cooking, Kitchen and my Family

Cooking was never a great deal in my family. Eating was, is and will remain big though. However, the Kitchen is primary in everyone's mind. Its a cardinal sin to have guests to whom only two courses are served, and with vegetarians my extended family knows not where to go. However, they survive with soya and paneer saving the day.

My paternal grandfather was a vegetarian in all senses of the word that a Bengali can derive. He ate fish, and the occasional chicken, but did not touch meat, eggs and garlic and ginger. Hence cakes for him had to be egg-less. My paternal grandmother was an eternal foodie. She loved food with an enthusiasm I am yet to encounter in another. She loved food for its worth and she loved to share. She loved it in masses and she loved people hordes moving towards it. Needless to say, the food was 90% of the time, non-veg. This meant she would not touch an egg-less cake with a barge pole. Even on days after fasting all day, she would ensure everyone ate what she was about to eat, because she wanted people to revel in the joy of food - even if it was a mix of boiled rice and potato.

On my maternal side, my grandmom loved to cook and made many delicious and now rare foods at home. My grandfather loves shopping. To him there is nothing better than feeding his guests prime produce from wherever he can. Even if it is an apple. Over the years he has made connections all over the marketplace and people keep aside their best for his verification before they sell it to another. Even now, when he goes to market rarely, he gets missives through the cook (who goes shopping now) about certain fish, vegetables and upcoming fruit bonanzas. To him and my grandmom, there was nothing more pleasant and important than feeding people right. And 'right' obviously meant loads of courses and fish in almost every one of them. Even on the rare occasions vegetarian food was required, there would be the exotic preparation to make up for the blandness.

Thanks to all this, one would assume cooking would be important and that the cooks would be over taxed. Interestingly enough, in both families, the cooks have had a decent enough life. The important dishes were always handled by who made them best. My paternal grandmom would make the mutton or the rare fish, while my paternal grandad would grill the kebabs or bake the eggless cake in his favorite GE oven (which he had shipped with him from London). Both would make periodic trips to the kitchen to advice and even take the cooking over from the cook, ensuring the meal would be good - even on normal days.

While my maternal grandmom was healthy, no cook dared enter the kitchen, but my grandad was the one who made all milk products - the ghee, the butter, even the fruit creams served as dessert on certain occasions. The menu was decided together and there was constant interference from grandfather while grandmom presided over the kitchen.

As a result, from childhood I have seen the kitchen as a pretty central, yet neutral area for the family. My father has always shown no qualms about entering the kitchen, even before his lifestyle demanded that. In fact, with his father being kitchen independent and my grandmother being blasé about cooking, it was but expected that he would have no hang ups about cooking. So it was that since childhood, rustling up lunch/ dinner depended primarily upon whoever came home first. When in the mood, my dad would make something exotic, and experience the wrath of my Mom (at the mess he would leave behind). If it were me, I had to make the rice, and I resorted to the simplest fried rice as an ends to all needs. All this of course, was when the cook were absent.
The same held true for morning tea/ coffee. My Mom being an early riser would typically make it for the family, but many times my Dad, up and about, would wake me up with coffee which he made while he made himself and my Mom tea. So, no one was spared. The kitchen is and was, everyones equal domain (scratch that - my Mom does have more rights over it). Actually, the eventual (p)resident of the kitchen in all these houses has been the cook. No one cooks unless they want to, and then there are no hangups as to who that person is.

My father is visiting, and yesterday, my maid/ cook took leave. Armed with this prior knowledge my Dad took it upon himself to make me lunch and as I discovered later, dinner. The lunch was quite tasty, and quite unlike what my cook makes (it was luchi and cauliflower-pea sabzi). On letting my colleagues and friends know that my dad cooked for me (thrilled as I was with his excitement), I met the astonishment and a general level of awe. Which is when I realised, how in most families, men consider cooking the 'womens' job and rarely, if ever go there. They would rather order first (correct me if Im wrong). Considering how important food is to a family, I never cease to get amazed by this. How can something so innate to the family's well being remain the stronghold of one person. I have never understood men who cannot (and will not) cook. Innately, I have found it unnatural.

My maternal cousin brothers also being from the Army are fairly well equipped in the kitchen and take pride in making their speciality dishes when they are home - it is not unusual to see my aunt throw up her hands in despair as my brothers coach her on making the cheese omelette or the even gravy chicken - this when they dont even have their own kitchen to experiment in - till they take over and proudly feed the end result to whoever is present.

As kids I remember my paternal brothers and I would close the kitchen door from inside in our attempt to make food (of which we had no idea) where I being the youngest would be given the menial tasks while my brothers tried their hands at cooking.

Cooking in my family has always been a family affair, genderless, ageless. It has been one place to showcase ones strengths and prowess. And the place to have discussions. As children we were expected to hang around the kitchen to ensure any of my elders listened to what I had to say. Else, it was over the dinner table that the most important and eclectic discussions were held.

Creating something sumptuous has always been a plus and being unable to enter and cook in the kitchen, well, as of now its unheard of, so I dont know what the reaction to it will be, if ever. I hear of people talk about how in x,y,z family the guy helps in cooking and how great that is. It usually does not effect me. Till I realise that its an exclusive affair and the men cant hold a handle to save their lives - or rather, wont. I have usually seen the chef make everyday food, under guidance from my mom, but my Dads never restricted his opinions either.

So, to me when my dad makes food for me, its not an unusual honour. Its his way of relaxing, of checking out what my life is like (by seeing what I eat) and also, in some way, contributing to the house. When he made lunch for me, I was delighted - it was nice to be woken up with coffee after so long, and not many Dads would pack a lunch - I had expected just a dinner. Of course, when in the evening I went back and found the kitchen a mess, I could totally empathise with my Mom losing her temper after my Dads cooking sprees.

And, after being told that I have too many things in the living room (like decoration pieces, TV, DVD player, computer, etc etc), I was ticked off for not having a proper 12pc cutlery set >.<

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I have suddenly realised Ive been on 'radio silence' for a while now. No outgoing emails, except the occasional reader items, no phone calls, and no blogs. I suppose I have been busy with innumerable things, but I know for sure, that the state will not ensue for too long. Goodness! The last few week shave meant I have written many posts in my head, but not translated one of them onto paper or a computer.
Meanwhile a colleague left the company for good, and I discovered I have a silent reader (SK), who hopefully will also comment whenever she gets the time.

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Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
sashdude
24th Mar, 2009 12:35 (UTC)
how nice ^______^
making awesome khana runs in your family! :) its soo cool to have a dad who cooks.. mine cooks very well, and very fast. In fact he says cooking is best done by men, because they dont complicate things :D.. but on the other hand like you found out..they tend to mess up the kitchen big time.. My bro in law is an awesome cook, but everytime he is done my sis spends a day sorting it all back :D.
btw.. as you might well know/assume i suck at cooking..but i have plans to improve upon and reach the 'Legendary' point of awesomeness soon :D
P.S: if its anything like the other ventures i have started.. good luck :P
(Anonymous)
24th Mar, 2009 12:44 (UTC)
My experience is quite similar to yours. I have grown up seeing my Dad cook (and cook tasty food), and not just in times of necessity or special occasions. My parents still divide the preparation of dishes on occasions like festivals or when there are guests over for dinner. Gulabjamuns and dal moth will always be prepared by my Dad, while gujias and mathris by Mom (Yum! My mouth is watering) :)
My brother is a great cook, and so is my husband!
I too feel weird when men (or women) proudly say that they cannot cook. Cooking is a necessity. And you may not have the talent to prepare exotic dishes (many women don't), but one should be able to feed themselves in times of need.
M
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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Regurgitations of my mind. Specific, Vague, Memorable, Forgettable, Thoughtless, In-depth.

More variegated than your dreams or colours off a crystal. More than I can pen down. What I can, you can read.


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