I recently read Banana Yoshimoto’s “Kitchen”. This riveting paper back started with a very simple declaration by the author:
“The place I like best in this world is the kitchen. No matter where it is, no matter what kind, if it’s a kitchen, if it’s a place where they make food, it’s fine with me. Ideally it should be well broken in. Lots of tea towels, dry and immaculate. White tile catching the light (ting! ting!).I love even incredibly dirty kitchens to distraction — vegetable droppings all over the floor, so dirty your slippers turn black on the bottom. Strangely, it’s better if this kind of kitchen is large. I lean up against the silver door of a towering, giant refrigerator stocked with enough food to get through a winter.”
Believe me, having spent a winter in Canada in -30 degrees Celsius where food was the only thing getting in the way of me and my hibernation, I could see the wisdom in the last line above. Now, being a food lover myself, it got me thinking about kitchens I have loved and the reason why I cooked. Why I made up concept food in my mind. Why I never tasted the food when I cooked. Why I loved to surprise people with a delicious meal, something new but something simple and why I just started a food blog.
From the time I was four, I remember sitting down with my grandmother and learning to make Rotis (they are the equivalent of tortillas only made of wheat). Learning to appreciate the softness of the dough we started with and the thickness and roundness of the roti being rolled out. Rotis were followed by learning how to make pithas (the traditional sweet meats we made at each festival). Eating them raw, eating them fried and cooked, I made sure I tasted them all. When my grandparents moved to the States and my Dad got transferred back to where we lived, I loved my Dad’s cooking. Sometimes, when it was almost bedtime and he was in a hurry to concoct something, he just mixed stuff together life a witches broth and it turned out to be the tastiest thing we had ever eaten. But when I needed something satisfying as well as filling but that would make me feel light, I turned to my mothers cooking: it was the simplest of them all and the best to eat on a hot summer afternoon.
This made me realize a very important fact, just like our handwriting reflects our character and personality, the way we cook and eat reflect a lot about our personality.
My mother’s cooking which was simple but very satisfyingly made, enhancing the natural flavors of the raw material, always reflected her family’s values: simple living and high thinking, it never makes you dissatisfied or feel overfull. My father’s cooking on the other hand, rich in spices and tastes reflected his enjoyment of a luxurious life which indulges in the arts and culture, which appreciates the many colors of life. My grandmother’s cooking on the other hand, bordered a lot on snacks and sweet-meats which can be distributed around and which catered to the taste of people. It showed her open heart, she always loved to feed people!
Cooking, thus, I concluded, is another method to discover who you are and discover how you want to change yourself. Is it possible to change your lifestyle by changing what you eat and how you cook? I certainly believe so. Where and how you learnt cooking and what spices you assimilate in your life plays as much a role in shaping your thoughts and your future as that million dollar deal you might just close.
This reminded me of another book I recently read, “Mistress of Spices” by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. She talks about spices:
“Fenugreek, Tuesday’s spice, when the air is green like mosses after rain.”
“For turmeric it is Sunday, when light drips fat and butter-colored into the bins to be soaked up glowing, when you pray to the nine planets for love and luck.”
Traditionally cooking used to be the women’s domain and looking back, I can’t help but reflect upon how unfortunate it was that half the population was deprived of the joy of cooking. As stereotypes get broken and lifestyles change, we are seeing more and more men get into the holy art of cooking.
But when I reflected upon what cooking is for me, I asked myself how I liked to cook and what I liked to eat. I love cooking and eating soups. Not the thick soups that we find in some parts of the world which are very filling. But the light and water-based soups we find in most Asian countries. Hot and sour soup, lemon-corriander soup, potato-onion soup, clear-chicken soup, corn soup…. And why do I like it? It makes me enjoy the subtle flavors slowly and lightly without overwhelming me in any one particular taste too much. These soups that also come with mysterious flavors from spices and herbs which are added in microscopic quantities, make you wait for a particular flavor for your tongue to discover. A hint there and a whiff here, you are hooked!
Hmm.. I wonder what does that say about me?
Share with us about your cooking type and what you think it says about you!