Since last few weeks I have become a bit more active on Instagram – like everyone else posting pictures of lockdown cooking as we now know it. I tried preparations posted by some food bloggers, shared pictures of my progress of breaking the mental barrier of microwave cooking, etc. Gradually my Instagram posts started giving a sneak peek of my memories associated with certain dishes or my preference of enjoying that particular dish. All these comments were actually the Kitchen Conversations – that I was missing the most.
My memory of cooking is that of a chatty kitchen. Growing up in Mumbai, I remember my grandmother always talking or interacting while cooking. It could be multi-tasking, giving instructions for some housework, attending to some guest at home or our neighbour who would have dropped by while she was cooking. Ours was old Mumbai house in a chawl, sort of a community living. Doors of our houses were always open. Buying fish at doorsteps along with the neighbour, sharing daily menus and even food was an everyday routine. My neighbour was my first go-to person for recipe tasting, validation or even suggestions for cooking. These chatty kitchens took to a different high during festive season – Diwali was amongst the best when we visited each other’s house to help in preparations. From buying groceries, sharing finer details about particular dishes to tasting the first batch of delicacies – everything was a group activity.
This tradition followed during kitchen conversations with my mother too. When you try to be responsible, plan menus and cook on your own, an instruction here, a suggestion there would always follow. How to roast some ingredient, amount of water needed for making some pastes, which veggie needs to be boiled / steamed or fried, how to know if the meat is cooked… it would be a lengthy set of instructions while cooking – sometimes making me angry and a bit rebellious I may say. In the pre-video calls era, these continued over phone when I was studying abroad.
I generally cooked over weekends – trying some recipe under mother’s guidance or preparing our all-time favourite seafood. I could spend time with our house help only on weekends. It was our catch-up time. Every weekend she started looking forward to the special menu – sharing with me her food experiences while working at other places, any new kitchen appliances or tips used in other households, her traditional recipes, updating about latest roadside joints around, etc. It was a chatty Saturday afternoon over tea. Over the years she became so central to our kitchen – our backbone. We started depending on her for planning daily menus to grocery buying to storage. From our weekend tea sessions, she became the important factor of my kitchen conversations – at times guiding me about mother’s cooking practices in her absence.
With the lockdown these kitchen conversations went on mute. Our house help couldn’t come for work, mother’s health did not permit her to enter the kitchen. The same love and instructions followed over a call from the hospital. A few days later they fell silent forever…
From a chatty kitchen, I learned to make peace with a silent kitchen. I became the lead actor without my audience. Of course there was guidance from some close relatives, but immediate conversations were few. Maybe Instagram started breaking these silences with a post here and a video there, finding new recipes, following some new foodies, learning about cooking techniques, attending live sessions……. Sort of virtual kitchen conversations in the virtual world.
What are your memories of Kitchen Conversations? Do you miss them?