After I re-read this old post by Suresh about his cooking woes (enough to scare away anyone starting to dabble in the science of cooking) I was inspired. I had to write about my own experiences. Though my post isn’t going to be half as humorous as his is, my experiences with cooking during the early days of my adulthood are so comically tragic and sometimes horrible that I am hoping they will play themselves out without me trying to be funny.
If you have ever felt like that guy in the picture above, read on.
When you have read through, you will know why I said in my last post that cooking was a mandatory and life-saving skill for everyone and why this applies to everybody, regardless of your gender.
Like most of the people I know my first tryst with cooking too was making Maggi and Nescafe during the long nights in the college hostel using a hot water kettle. Four years later, presumably, my cooking skills remained confined to just that. And then I had to join the job in Pune after a mere month at home after college frantically trying to acquire some basic cooking skills at least. But needless to say, I did not proceed beyond boiling eggs and making rice in a rice cooker.
The roommates in Pune ordered food from outside every night. The place was littered with people like us, the trainees. And there were numerous cheap dhabas (roadside restaurants) to cater to us. Then there were several home deliveries – which came in greasy stainless steel boxes. Everyone ate that food and so did I. When you are single, staying alone or sharing with a roommate – cooking was too tedious and didn’t make sense, they said. And it suited me just fine to oblige. Honestly it was a bit of an adventure to go out every evening in search of food.
Cut to Chennai, a few months later. After running from the working women’s hostel I stayed in I’d finally found an apartment I liked. It was small but came with a kitchen. Yet, my routine continued. Just when I was getting tired of having idlis and dosas and sambhar that came in small plastic bags every night and thinking of finally give in and buy an induction cook-top, I found this enterprising Oriya guy in Porur who delivered homemade meals to people like me. It was such a relief – not having to cook. And still get to eat Bengali food. I could not stop raving about him to my parents. When they came to visit me and insisted on getting me set up with an equipped kitchen in spite of that – I protested, and I protested hard. To me cooking was still a redundant thing you could do without. I still considered cooking as a menial task and regarded myself above that.
But then the horrors came. I discovered a finger nail once in my dal(lentil soup)! A week later it was a hair! The very last nail was when my friend discovered intact chicken feet with claws!
The very next day we rented a fridge. And a few days down the line, we bought a cook top. The first ever thing I made was rice and dal boiled in a pressure cooker together along with potatoes and eggs with a spoonful of ghee (clarified butter). It tasted heavenly! I was so pleased, I could cook! And all it took was 5 minutes. For that entire week, I kept making the same thing – everyday.
As weekend rolled along – I decided to be bolder and try something new. My attempt of egg curry turned out to be two half boiled eggs leaking in red water giving it a rather gruesome effect. My rice was smooth white paste resembling a smashed potato. My skillet was beaten black and blue. And I had managed to fill the entire sink with pots and pans I’d now have to wash!
The next day I decided I didn’t eat dosa for a long time and went to buy it from the restaurant downstairs. How bad could it be after all, he’d make it before my eyes! The man took out a broom from somewhere under the huge flat grill, and started sweeping the food debris from the grill vigorously. How come I’d not noticed that before? He then threw it under and it fell flat on the floor beneath. He wiped his brow with the back of his hand and scooped out a spoonful of batter. The batter sizzled on the hot tava and so did a drop of his sweat. I didn’t buy the dosa.
I made an attempt to fry okra next. And by the time I got rid of the sticky gooey thing, they were looking like small chunks of inedible charcoal. No matter how hard I tried I could not get my dal boiled correctly. It was a nightmare trying to remember different types of dal (the orange one was easy, but rest everything was yellow) forget about the different tampering each one called for. I got a green oblong vegetable thinking it was a bottle gourd but it turned out a huge eggplant riddled with green wiggling worms inside. I also discovered I could not boil milk without burning the pan somehow. And regardless of everything I did, my curries always always had either a raw or a burnt smell. It felt in my time at home after office, I was either cooking or washing the pans I cooked in.
Urgh! Cooking was tough. And I hated it.
It made me splurge in expensive restaurants, where I got clean foods (or at least it looked so) without any human tissue or excretion. But the rich food made my metabolism act up. I felt bloated and lethargic. Acidity and constipation were only two of the numerous side effects. Dwindling bank balance being another.
While I was wrestling with my cooking, in a different part of the city my husband (then boyfriend) had graduated to making biryanis on Sundays. My roommate and I would often invite him to our apartment just so he’d cook for us. While watching him cooking, I learnt not to fight it. And it helped me tame down the overwhelming feeling a little. I learnt that cooking was a little like driving, the more nervous you were, the more mistakes you made. I learnt to let go, I learnt to mix things up. In fact, in a major stereotyping defying way I can claim that I learned most of my cooking skills from my husband.
Fast forward, five years. Present day. Am I a pro cook? No! But can I cook? Yes. I can. But do I enjoy cooking? Not really, no! But then I don’t enjoy having to brush my teeth twice daily too! Do I cook daily? No! We still eat out. But I am not dependent upon it anymore. I can whip up a meal with minimal ingredients. And in most cases it tastes better than eating out at a fraction of cost!
I can never emphasize enough the importance of a home cooked meal, it is not only physically healthy, it keeps you stay financially fit as well.
And these days when most of what ails us are lifestyle issues, learning to cook your own food is more important than ever. It’s not fashionable anymore to shrug your shoulders and declare that you cannot cook.
Keeping with it, schools across the world are including healthy cooking lessons with fresh ingredients in the curriculum for children as young as five. And that perhaps underlines the point I am trying to make! I wish I’d been given the perspective these children are being given right now. I learnt the hard way. But then again, if I could, so could you! So get that skillet out, splash some oil and get those spices splattering. Here’s to happy cooking and staying healthy!