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Romancing the Kitchen - Food vs. Cuisine

Updated: Jun 6, 2023

Spices in Indian Food
Romancing the Kitchen - Food vs. Cuisine

My relationship with my kitchen could, at best, be described as “complicated.” But that doesn’t imply that I’m a poor cook or don’t enjoy cooking – It only means that for me, like for crores of women entrusted with fulfilling the family’s gastronomical needs, cooking is like playing kabaddi in a designer saree. It is a unique talent that involves whipping up wholesome mouth-watering fare day after day. It is timed so precisely that rocket scientists could learn the countdown from us.

At the cost of looking like a witch hopping about with tons of ingredients in front of a cauldron of a strange fluid boiling away, one manages to exit the kitchen victorious. A war cry is often needed for the subjects to assemble for breakfast.

It is like a Cake Off or Master Chef on steroids; If you know what I mean. One competes with the mothers of the kids whose tiffin boxes are more interesting than yours. Or with your ancestors whose dishes have made it to the family lore. Or the neighbour who occasionally sends some serious homemade stuff you never knew could be made at home in the first place.

Nevertheless, one carries on with the grit and determination of a true warrior for the ultimate prize of words like ‘Yummy’ or ‘Wah’ or whatever else your food manages to elicit from the family (the judges). If the right words don’t come in, well, you can always force them out. It just takes the right expressions on your face or a suitable threat befitting the occasion. (That comes with experience, not expected to give the desired results right away)

Coming to the point, action in the kitchen has undergone an enormous transformation. No longer does the humble dal or sambhar simmer on the fire long enough for the ingredients to percolate and blend as they did earlier. No longer does one wait for the right kind of mangoes to make a pickle with the exact recipe your mother used. No longer are papads or snacks like chaklis dried on rooftops at home. No longer are masalas ground with an exact mix of spices for the unique taste and aroma that was the hallmark of the goddesses of the kitchen. Many traditional dishes that need patience and perseverance of yogic proportions are now reserved for special occasions. The lassi, buttermilk and nimbupani have transformed into exotic colourful stuff that seems it has teleported right off the chemistry lab.

Gone are the days when the lady of the house ruled her kitchen with an iron fist. Every ingredient, every recipe that she inherited, every detail of the cooking process and presentation of the food was meticulously followed and passed on to the next generation.

But having said that, in the reality of today’s world, marrying ‘wholesome’ and ‘awesome’ is the mantra. Recipes have been rewritten. Rewritten to suit the taste buds that recognize Ironman but don’t mind a daily dose of Shaktiman.

Turmeric milk
Romancing the Kitchen - Food Vs. cuisine

So, it has turned out that one deals with everything from dosa to pasta and everything in between with equal expertise. Herbs like basil are as staple as the humble coriander. Oregano and Jeera are discussed in the same breath and so are feta and paneer. Snacks have moved from bread pakoda to steamed sweet corn. One has help with ready batters and masala mixes to save time and effort while not compromising on taste and quality.

But everyday cooking is mostly the usual dal-chawal roti-subzy with a twist. In the daily soap of culinary delights, yellow pepper and broccoli are crazily in love with paneer while basil is lending its sublime subtext to coconut chutney’s story. Schezwan chutney is adding spice to idli’s life and roti has covertly become a wrap.

And in the true spirit of globalization, all this is happening and un-happening at great speed. What’s in one day is out of fashion the next. One is grappling with diet fads, ever-changing choices, peer pressure, the bottom line of ‘healthy and nutritious’ and the conundrum of time complicating it, making it quite a quest.

Meanwhile, my relationship with the kitchen remains complicated but steeped sufficiently in romance and discovery; enough to keep me interested in the game.

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