Everyone must have a memory of waking up to the noise of vessels clanking in the kitchen. It must’ve been an alarm for many years at home. We’d know in our minds that it is our mother, who is washing the vessels.
Somehow, I can imagine the sun rays entering the kitchen through the windows. And the dust particles move up and down, as if they were dancing in their own composed rhythm.
Sometimes it is just hard to step out of bed even after hearing the alarm. I just want to sleep for some more time. I slowly bribe my mind to sleep for fifteen more minutes, and stay in bed. After completing the small nap, I often hear the sound of tadka, the sound of hot oil spluttering till the edges of the vessel. And when water drops from the washed green curry leaves and red dried chilies fall on it, it makes me realize that the nap was way longer. And then the only option I have is to jump out of bed and rush. Over time we get so used to these sounds.
My mother drinks tea every morning. I got used to that smell. The smell of tea leaves over boiled; she likes strong tea, with little sugar. Sometimes, when she adds cardamom and powdered elaichi, I realize that she is in the mood for cooking and there’d be yummy food.
When I was younger, I had the habit of going straight to the kitchen, as soon as I woke up; to see the day’s menu. I would sit on the counter next to the stove and watch her cook for some time. And then carry on with my routine. My mother cooks really well. She learnt to cook by herself as she did not have a mother to teach her basic kitchen skills. Or, someone who she could see prepare different dishes. She used to try out different ways of cooking. Perhaps, that’s why she still has the zeal to try out various dishes and feed us.
During the vacations, I sit in the kitchen and observe her cook. I ask her a lot of questions about the ingredients, quantities and the flavour it’d add to the dish. She has fine chopping skills. She’d chop the veggies with exact precision, shape and size. She makes soft perfect round phulkas; the tea always tastes the same without any flaw; the tadka always sounds the same. It is understood that it all comes with experience.
With just two hands she manages to prepare all the meals in an hour. She doesn’t waste a second focusing on just one thing. I wondered how her hands moved. She would turn the phulka at the right time; and would not let the bhujia in the next stove get burnt. When either of it was done, she was already prepared to place the rice pot on the stove. Meanwhile, she would have washed all the dirty vessels and arranged the plates, set the dining table and cleaned the kitchen.
Watching her cook leaves me stunned at her style each time. I like cooking. I unconsciously wanted to be like my mother who is so good in the kitchen. I learnt cooking by watching her cook. I spend hours in the kitchen preparing breakfast, lunch and dinner.
She used to tell me that every dish is cooked in a particular way. And the taste comes only if it is prepared with exact precision. In the beginning, I’d try to remember everything that my mother used while cooking a particular dish. Ask her the sequence in which the ingredients are to be put. And then, try to cook. In a very few cases, the dish turns out to be really delicious at the first attempt. In a majority of cases, we become better with each attempt.
The efficiency comes only with practice. Practicing teaches us to watch out for cues in order to understand what’s happening inside the closed lid of a pressure cooker, or inside an oven. It all comes as a mathematical formula. I just know when the oil is hot enough to put onions, when I need to open and stir the veggies, in how many whistles the various daals would be cooked properly, and what are the special ingredients one uses while making special food items such as kofta, pulao, biryani or kheer.
With time you get to know the ingredients of a particular dish – the aroma helps. Also to make out which ingredient is missing and the quantity to be added. And, with practice you learn minor things that can save food from being wasted. For example, if the salt is more in a curry, one can either add a tomato or dip a dough ball which will soak up all the salt.
I love cooking and everything about it fascinates me. The sound of spluttering mustard seeds and the smoke that burns our eyes as it goes up till the ceiling due to the burning oil. The sight of the chopped ginger pieces when sautéed with green chilies, the sweet taste of the golden brown onion and the sight of the boiling reddish curry. The aroma of the coriander leaves when put into a gravy, the sight when the phulka is inflating with ease, the drowning of round deep fried gulaab jamuns in the thick sugar syrup and becoming twice the size as before.
Now I can understand the passion that drives my mother. There are always more dishes one wants to prepare and there are many other tastes that are yet to be discovered. All the food blogs, food magazines and chefs show use millions of ingredients which we may not have heard of ever in our lifetime. The perfectly organized dishes tempt a person to try making those dishes at home. I guess the boundary of being an expert in cooking has crossed boundaries. It could be a result of the various cuisines that the nation has come across.
However, the joy it gives when a particular dish is praised for its taste, look or presentation is the same for all cooks. The satisfaction and relief that one receives at the end is also the same. A desire to always cook a tasty and delicious item remains the same. The sound, the aroma and the presentation of food is important to all.
Photo credits: Harsha KR