I grew up having home cooked meal four times a day. A meal together was celebratory.
During many festivals in a year, people from extended family came together and made different kind of food. I hardly remember what we celebrated in those festivals. But I can never forget what each family cooked and what we ate.
Until recently every woman I met, spoke to me about the importance of cooking.They explained how it was always the job of a woman to cook and stay home. Which is fine, if any woman wants to follow that tradition. If it’s a choice.
Though I always savored home cooked food, I adored science, mathematics and the world of fictions more than anything. I never cared to learn cooking. Things only changed after I grew up and left home for studies and job.
Food now is equivalent to nostalgia. I find food, especially home cooked food, a way to bond with my family and friends. Just like my past life, my childhood days. I love cooking for people I care. I love cooking to go down the memory lane.
I also remember recipes that no cookbook can offer me. The family secret recipes. The way my aunt made anchovies with eggplant, the secret spices she used, the spice that had to be added at last for flavor. The way my grandma made aromatic chicken curry without onion, garlic. The way my best friend’s mom made yellow cake in pressure cooker to celebrate my birthday. The way my mom can cook any tasty meal with no oil and fat. The way a kind chef made the best scrambled savory pancake for me on a sunny morning in Napa. The way a cousin made chicken in spinach gravy. The way I understand a local culture through its food. The way my dad made my favorite fish curry with seasonal vegetables.
In my kitchen, I tried to recreate each food I loved in the outside world. I wanted to relive those magical moments inside my four walls. Maybe that’s how I became a good cook, and if I write a memoir one day, there will be at least five chapters dedicated to food and memories associated with each one. That sounds festive, right?
Cooking is art. Cooking is science. Cooking is love too. And I realized, cooking is liberating. It’s like knowing how to drive your own car, and life. I can choose my ingredients- fresh, preserved, organic, local etc. and in that way I know what I am consuming in everyday life. I can use butter, olive oil or water exactly the way I want.
My realization got a base this year when I watched the Netflix series “Cooked.” Michael Pollan, a professor from Berkeley, in the series”Cooked” explains how cooking brought civilization. He discusses all old civilizations( Including India, my root) and their traditional process of cooking food, the transformation that we all went through because of industrialization, and story and science of the ingredients. It is my most favorite series on TV this year. Pollan has also written five best seller books and they all are on my “To-read” list right now.
Cooking is not my full time job, sometimes I ignore it to focus on my hobbies and work, but I can live my life eating home cooked meals- even just well cooked rice or a bowl of soup. Those meals don’t have to be American, or Indian. Till now I learned to cook Ethiopian, Mexican, Spanish, Korean, Vietnamese, Italian, French, Japanese, and Greek cuisine. Well, which proves I love anything but raw salads these days.
** Do you find cooking liberating? Do you loved cooked food? Have you watched “Cooked” or read “Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation“?