August 6, 2015
Mother arrives today. She brings with her a fountain of knowledge, suspect kitchen gadgets and boundless love for her progeny. I wish I could say I am looking forward to many shared moments of cooking with her. Downloading age-old recipes passed through the generations. In my childhood, cross cultural home of an Afghani Delhi maternal side fused with growing up in West Bengal to a paternal Bengali side.
Well, I can’t. Because I didn’t learn how to cook from my mother. She hated being expected to cook and was far too busy being fabulous outside the kitchen. And we were both far more interested in stewing grand plans and brewing big ambitions than making chicken curry together when I was still living at home.
Cooking with mummy is, to me, the ultimate Indian cooking cliche. It kicked off in earnest with Bend it like Beckham and the Aloo gobi sequence and has taken a life of its own since. I’ve lost track of how many time I’ve been asked if my mother taught me how to cook. The answer is always a resounding no. Nobody taught me how to cook. I figured it out myself and still am, frankly. So are many of my friends from India. The ones who can be bothered to cook at all, that is.
Truth be told, she did have a strong interest in cooking. Until she had a pesky family to feed. Then she transformed into the commander of the kitchen troops, directing the cook on recipes to make sure we had wholesome and unbelievably tasty food on the table. Always. The real cook back then was my dad. I watched from afar dazzled by the spectacle in the kitchen, but dared not venture into what resembled a battlefield involving stained cookbooks, open pots and jars of spices dotted everywhere and the bedraggled cook looking slightly worse for wear.
This is why I don’t cook like anyone, I cook like myself. Mother has become a source of great inspiration and quite the cook herself since we all left home to make a life for ourselves. I’ll often call for ideas or run recipe theories past her, to see what she makes of my thinking. But she is more likely to bark instructions at me while nursing a gin in my kitchen than sharing centrestage with me at the cooker. Conversely, I am quite happy for her to spin out one of her recent dinner party dishes, while I kick back with a glass of the vino.
So let’s dispel this stereotype shall we? How did you learn to cook? I’d love to know!
Hi Sayalee, so true and that’s really the acceptance with which I started out. Lovely to hear from you and thanks so much for leaving a comment for me. M x
Hi Mallika, I am still learning to cook, but like you, I did not learn this from my mother, even though she was an absolutely fabulous cook. In turn, my mother did not learn to cook from her mother either, who was also a cook par excellence. She learned to cook after marriage. Over time, like your mom, she too had trained an army of cooks and maids to serve us delicious and nutritious food at any time of the day. Needless to say, we were all extremely spoiled.
I am mainly learning to cook from people I follow online (like yourself) and from my friends. I add recipes to my collection each time I sample something at a dinner party that I like and make a mental note to re-produce it at home until it tastes satisfactory. This takes a couple of attempts, but usually works.
I think my real tryst with cooking began a year ago when I said to myself that whatever you’re attempting to make is gonna turn out horrible, and that’s fine and acceptable, just throw it out, don’t eat all the carbon and simply start over. It is only once I resigned myself to this inevitable outcome, that I truly began cooking.