My tryst with cooking

Monday Musing

[ Karyir Riba ]

Dear readers, the one thing that any living being cannot live without, besides oxygen, is most definitely food. As for me, if given a choice, I would most certainly choose eating good food over breathing.

If not for the fear of putting on excess weight, I would have easily qualified to be a glutton. So, thanks to my favourite pair of jeans for reminding me not to stray and cross my limits when I’m in front of delicious food.

Programmes on travel and lifestyle channels have always left me spellbound by such amazing food from all over the world. Oh! How I envy the hosts for being able to travel the world, eat good food, and enjoy such a good life.

Although the type of food that I love is endless, when I think of yummy food, the first things that come to my mind are oily and spicy food. Biryani, daal makhani, butter chicken, chhole bhature, and the kind… my mouth is watering as I’m writing.

I always wonder why our people have lagged behind when it comes to cuisine. Did we not have the concept of oil and spices? Or were we too lazy to spend time in the kitchen? Just go hunting, smoke the meat, cook it with some bamboo shoot, and we are done.

Nevertheless, our local cuisines will always have a special place in our gastronomical heart.

Chicken cooked with crushed rice, bamboo shoot and local spices – known as amin in Galo and ashumbi in Idu-Mishmi. Fresh/smoked pork cooked with bamboo shoot. Fermented soya bean cooked any which way. These are soul foods.

As much as I love eating, cooking is absolutely not my cup of tea. Cooking and I walk on a parallel line, poles apart. I picture myself being the doting wife and mother who spreads a table full of hot yummy food for her family every day. With this in my heart, I step into my kitchen and reality dawns over me. All I can do best is grab some bread and eggs, and make some sandwiches for my kids with store bought condiments.

I remember, once I had invited some friends over for dinner. I told them that I’d cook some butter chicken and pulao. I swear I had followed the recipe to a T, but my pulao was a disaster.

My friend’s husband said to me that they used to cook this same dish as young boys in the Roing GHSS hostel, but they never called it pulao. Hilarious, I know. That was many, many years ago and never have I invited anybody for a pulao dinner anymore.

This reminds me of my first attempt at baking a cake. My mother used to bake delicious, soft cakes for us. So, once, when I was around 13-14 years old, I had a brilliant idea of baking a cake and, with some verbal help from my mother, I got going. As my cake was getting ready, I invited my aunt, uncle and cousins to enjoy an evening tea and my cake. As everyone gathered around the cake which I had proudly placed on a table to be cut, disaster happened. The knife refused to cut into my cake. Everyone tried one by one but my solid rock of a cake was overtly stubborn. The sharpest knife in our kitchen was no match to its strength. At last, my dear father had to use an orok (machete) to cut it, hitting on the cake like a butcher would on tough meat.

My cake was eaten amidst laughter, ridicule, jokes and my tears. I can still remember the confused little faces of my little siblings and cousins. Now that I think of it, it must have been a horror show for them.

Whoever coined the word ‘hangry’ must have been my soul sister/brother. When you are angry because you are hungry, you are hangry. I get hangry very easily, and when I’m hangry I’m not a very pleasant person to be around.

My love for food (and hate for exercise) also means that I struggle with my weight. One minute I’m crying to my husband over not being able to lose weight, and the next minute I’m stuffing my face with food. He dares not stop me because, as I said, I’m not a pleasant person to be around when I’m hangry. So the cycle continues and the poor guy has to bear the antics of my love-hate relationship with food in utter silence.

Given my love for oily and spicy food, a thought had crossed my mind to find myself a Punjabi husband to be able to eat these food everyday. Then I realised that it was possible that I would end up doing all the cooking. So, that mission was aborted as fast as the thought had come to my mind.

Jokes apart, I thank my stars to have brought my husband into my life. Marriages are indeed made in heaven. While cooking and I do not go hand in hand, he is an amazing cook.

When he was much younger, my older son’s teachers told me that they had a hard time teaching him a chapter in one of his subjects in school. Apparently, there was a question asking who cooks food for you at home. While the teachers had a tailored answer, saying that ‘my mother cooks food for me at home,’ my son was adamant that his father cooked food for him. At first they tried to make him follow, but later he was allowed to write his own honest answer. So, while other kids in his class wrote that their mothers cooked for them, my son wrote that his father does. Why can’t fathers cooking for their children be normalised?

So, just like that, you see, whenever we invite guests or in any given situation that involves cooking, my knight in shining armour comes to my rescue and makes sure that no ‘pulao disaster’ repeats itself.

Sometimes though, especially after we have had a fight, I do miss that big glass of cold lassi with makke di roti and sarso da saag.