It was only last week when I was trying to make Punjabi kadhi that I realized I know nothing about my mom’s cooking. I had to call her to understand step by step how she goes about making that slightly tangy kadhi with a perfect balance of hing and chilli, and those light-as-air pakoris floating in it.
It is interesting to see how much pride we take in making that perfect handmade pasta when only a few of us can pull off that perfectly round roti for dinner. I realize that it is far easier to simply boil pasta and toss it in tomatoes but today I look forward to learning and saving my mother’s recipes.
If you have ever missed that warmth of mom’s cooking after you left from home for further studies. If you have ever searched for that crispy paratha or hot phulkas with aloo ki sabzi in a land far, far away from home then you know what I’m talking about.
I learnt how to grill, sauté and toss. I even learnt how to make a perfect lump-free white sauce and slicing 10 kg onions evenly in cooking school. Amusingly, what I forgot to learn in the process was how to make my mom’s matar paneer and chhole bhature! It is one of those things, which we assume that we already know how to make. Sometimes when it is easily available on every special occasion we start taking mom’s matar-paneer for granted. You see, karele ki sabzi and lauki that we frown upon is not exactly like the delectable selection that nearby restaurants have on offer but it is really an art to cook them right.
In fact my mother is keener on learning than I am. When I first worked in an Indian specialty restaurant I taught her all the restaurant-style gravies but I am still learning how she makes her Dal ki kachori. My mother knows less than my dadi and nani, and I don’t even have half the knowledge that she has. There were so many difficult skills that are mothers and grandmothers used to have. They had knowledge about nutrition, medicinal properties of our spices and herbs and also knew the importance of eating as per the season.
In this age of nutritionists, health experts and Google we take the longer route in understanding what to eat. Instead of learning from mom, we learn from our nutrition expert and do exactly what mom already recommended. Nutritionist says, “go for flour with more fibre”, mom said to always grind your wheat in a chakki for that coarse fibrous flour. Nutritionist says, “eat karela is good for you”, mom would always have all those boring “good” vegetables on the menu.
Not just in the nutrition department even our restaurant Chefs are learning from their mom’s and our moms. One of my mentor Chefs who is among the top Indian Chefs in the country still consults his mother when he wants to get a cooking experiment or a complex dosa batter proportion right. It is not only him but also so many other Chefs who are coached by their mothers for a skill like making the perfect handmade murrukkus.
You see, India has so much skill and so many interesting handmade delicacies that are slowly dying out as the generations pass because we don’t have the patience to learn at home. The culinary world searches for and invents techniques everyday to add variety and to introduce new dishes to the world. In a culinary world of rediscovery it is important to go back to our moms and acquire the skill to make a full-blown puri or a rice paper sheet or bamboo rice even before we attend that handmade pasta-making workshop, else soon these might become another lost art in our culinary manuscripts.