On homesickness, food and cooking

Needless to say I am somewhat homesick today. (For this moment, home = home with parents). I woke up and realized five minutes later that it was Vijayadashmi. I am not a spiritual person, but at times, I turn religious. There is a calming hypnotic effect in rituals that I yearn for. Plus, as I explained to someone at work today, festivals are mostly about food anyway. Festival = Comfort food. Or Rich food. Or Amazing food.

How am I celebrating my Dashmi? So far, by lighting an incense stick, and rebelling against the formal attire culture by wearing something with a little dash of orange and brown. Little block prints on a white shirt. Maybe I’ll make a little payasam today. I don’t know. If I am in the right mood, we might have a feast today for dinner. But in this (lack of) festive food induced homesickness – I came across this article in the Guardian

As grown-up cooks and food lovers we all owe an enormous amount to the people who cooked for us as children. Sometimes it’s a dish, sometimes it’s a whole food culture. For some it’s a sworn intent never to eat that badly again but, for me it’s the inherited belief that there is something profoundly enriching in making the best food you can for the people you love – an idea that still, I hope, continues to affect everything I do.

What culinary inheritance did your mum leave you?

My mother never tastes as she is cooking. She probably doesn’t realize it. But for a lot of folks who need to do the neivedyam, to be able to cook a perfect dish without tasting it becomes a matter of habit. And it’s something I have inherited I think. I can’t taste the dish till it’s completely done. It just doesn’t feel right. Also, it makes you mess it up. For instance, if you taste sambhar half way through, when the smell of the sambhar powder hasn’t quite gone, you’ll find yourself wondering if there is too little salt. You end up adding salt. But in the end when half the liquid has evaporated, you’ll find it too salty.

My mother never taught me how to cook. When I first started cooking, it was the memory of watching her put a pinch of this, and a fistful of something else that informed my cooking style. Don’t measure, trust your judgment. And never, ever stand over something that’s cooking and sniff violently. It’s disgusting. Don’t double dip. And constantly recycle utensils. Mostly, that it’s okay to take short cuts, and how well you cook is not a measure of who you are as a person.

My dad on the other hand, doesn’t quite cook as much. But he has his signature dishes. And he’s the one who gave me a weird taste for combinations. Like toasted bread (with a little nei on one side) dipped in rasam. Or a liking for raw rice, roasted coffee beans, raw vadams, raw maggi. You get the idea. And at one point, he used to make brilliant omelettes. When my mother wasn’t well, and recovering from a surgery recently, he did most of the cooking. My mother ate it up. It must have pretty good.

Cooking for others is pretty gratifying. Ask my friends, they’ll tell you how readily I cook for them.

17 Comments

Filed under Culture, Family and Friends, Self

17 Responses to On homesickness, food and cooking

  1. kudumbame ipdi thaana?

  2. strong stuff
    and appropriate timing too. i moved out of home to Gurgaon a month back, and into my own home here a week back, and have been cooking ever since. has been fun

    today i had invited over my relatives (the people i had stayed with till i found this place) for lunch and was quite excited about cooking for them. unfortunately my cousin fell sick and they called to say they can’t make it.

  3. “…there is something profoundly enriching in making the best food you can for the people you love ”

    Simply put.

    So very true.

  4. Oh food again, after your “In the Kitchen” poem!!
    There are so many things that I connect to: Never tasting food while I’m cooking (as a matter of fact, I never taste it till it’s done and served to other people), doing it somehow intuitively, and yet always knowing that it went right, and never having had learnt how to cook, but simply remembering my mum in the kitchen… Ah! All those things!
    I must say; I love feeding other people, particularly my loved, and even the less-loved ones! It IS such a gratifying feeling.
    You got it all right, once again!

  5. happy vijay dashami…
    hope that you end up having that feast…
    at times little wafts of sambhar bubbling or rasam boiling or just the smell of melting ghee can trigger off the memories !

  6. Vi

    Reminds me very much of my own mother and my patti :)

    Like you, I am not particularly religious either, except that I love the feast that accompanies it. I do hope that you’ve made that payasam.

    It is Vijayadashami, and I’m sitting here in my dorm room spooning up a sad bowl of cornflakes for breakfast. Sigh.

  7. Cooking for others is pretty gratifying

    It sure is! Happy Dasami :)

  8. Kuppakkara Saibu

    Enjoyed reading the post. Thanks. Festivities were on a low key this time around…largely because all of us at home in a way are nursing back to health. V from extraction of wisdom (!) teeth, M from recent long drives to work resulting in vertigo (hopefully temporary) and me from the tiring after effects of visits to opthalmologist, dental surgeon and (a missed visit) to orthopaedic surgeon. An end effect was we somehow did not ‘remember’/ realise the need to stack the books and other items at the puja room last night (of course, made some hasty amends today). No payasam, no vada either…because of liquid diet. But then your post brought back the cheers and the festive mood is back again. Thanks a lot. By the way, does the word ‘Gomez’ strike some familiarity?

  9. Neha,

    I started reading your article. And for some reason, the food/descriptions et al , kind of fell by the wayside, and the overriding emotion is now of missing my mother (who is no more )…..

  10. For-this-one-I-will-stay-anon

    When my mother was alive, we had cooks. I remember the ‘bai’ who came esp to make rotis while my mother sat at the table with us to ensure we ate properly.

    Later when my step-mother wanted to punish me, I was denied dinner. For my sins, my food tastes like her (very good) cooking. I cook by recalling the tastes of things I have eaten – so I can make a great apple tart as well as great poha.

    My relationship with food is therefore functional – no memories, no emotion, no association of guilt, punishment etc – but I do love good, sublime food so eating well is one of my favourite indulgences. Mainly so I can blog about it later. ;-)

    I am making chicken curry for dinner. May be some kheer. Not conventional but was Durga or was Ravan a vegetarian?

  11. Why aren’t you cooking for me? I don’t recall any recent invitations :)

    Anon-Don’t think Durga was a vegetarian though Ram might have been!

  12. Anon-Replies

    Mumbaigirl

    I think Ravan was the superior one of the two (between him and Ram). At least he stood by his words and actions, unlike Rama, the weak man, who was so kaan ka kachcha that on the say-so of a dhobi he was willing to send his virtuous wife for an agni-pareeksha. If he was vegetarian, laanat ho us par…

  13. Sriram

    My mother never taught me how to cook. When I first started cooking, it was the memory of watching her put a pinch of this, and a fistful of something else that informed my cooking style. Don’t measure, trust your judgment. … And constantly recycle utensils.

    appidi podu. It annoys me to see people make sambhar first and then the kari, thereby using two pathrams. Is it rocket science to make kari first, transfer that to a serving bowl and make sambhar in that pathram?

  14. Sriram

    Oh, and with your gift for prose, you should write a book on the art of cooking. Meenakshi Ammal wrote what to mix with what, but not on how to do that efficiently. Things like warming water in the cooker while you wash rice, draining the rice without wasting a single grain, pouring hot rasam into the almost-empty ghee bottle to melt it and how to discard just the poochi infected part of a kathirikkai and use the rest of it.

  15. takes a lot of talent and scruples to not taste food unless it is well cooked !

  16. Couldn’t agree with you more. I love cooking for friends and family, hate tasting while cooking, and all my cultural memories and nostalgia is to do with food alone.

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