One of the many yardsticks to measure societal changes is to undertake a study of the family kitchen. A peep in there will show you how in just over five or six decades, millions of homes in our country have moved far away from the old village-kitchens to their sleeker, modern city-avatars. In many ways it has been a change for the better with the tediousness of manual labour involved in the cooking process becoming a thing of the past…a welcome liberation of women from the bondage of the old family kitchen where they toiled away chopping and pounding ingredients even as they coaxed the coal embers and wooden logs to burn so the food in the pot above would cook a little faster. Trendy gadgets have made such kitchen chores much faster, even as a mushrooming of dining-out options, take-aways and home-delivered menus have reduced the need for cooking at home. Most people these days would like to count themselves as foodies forever on the lookout for a gastronomic experience that fits their pocket. Yet the yearning for the traditional home-cooked meal never goes away. It’s the comfort food you go to for there is something soulful and satiating about it that a restaurant meal can never provide.
Our ancestors probably recognised the fact that food is not just about the simple act of feeding your hunger or even about nutrition and health, rather there is a deeper spiritual aspect to it that has to do with where we come from, our culture and our identity. Hence the elaborate food chores, the lengthy meal preparations and the eating experience of bonding over the food in an intimate space with your loved ones. The irony is that today such activities would be an “exotic” experience you would indulge in during a camping trip or a barbecue party or it may even be sold to you as part of some corporate training programme! One could argue that those were simpler times, yet it seems so unfortunate that the idea of family togetherness–all members having a meal together at the dinner table–no longer exists in so many homes.
In my own lifetime i have seen the transformation from the traditional slow cooking of grandmother days to the elaborate homespun meals of my mother and mother-in-law, my own style of ‘short cut cooking’ to the quick munching on fast food by the present day youngsters.
Our mothers and grandmothers cooked traditional dishes without looking for recipes online. They were intuitive cooks who just knew how something should look, feel and smell before moving on to the next step. Time for them was immaterial. They even had their own unique spin on classic dishes adding a pinch of this or a little of that to create a mouthwatering aroma that filled the home. Sometimes you worry that the art of passing down traditional recipes may be lost with them. That is why it’s important we find a way to keep their heirloom recipes safe. In our own extended family we are trying a little online experiment whereby everyone pools in recipes for traditional dishes they have acquired expertise in over the years.
Perhaps that will be the future…a virtual family kitchen where we forge new food-bonds and rekindle that “strong connection between plate, planet, people, politics and culture”