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Birth, Death and the Food in Between

“I recently read something that has not only resonated with me but also made me wonder about how this is something that I have been practising without actually realising” began Hamsika. “Well, it went ‘When in doubt, cook something!’. It struck me that cooking and everything associated with the process makes me feel Zen even on a troubled day. My love for cooking and eating dates back to my childhood days.” Ashmitha chimes in saying “For me, it’s the exact opposite. I find the process of preparing for a meal calming and rewarding.” “Oh, it’s interesting to look at it from that perspective, from the perspective of someone who enjoys the process” ponders Hamsika. They enjoy capturing these conversations as they reminisce and recollect what food signifies for them!

“The love for making food began way before the love for eating food, at least for me! It's the very feeling of making something for others, enjoying the outcome together, learning from the process and working on the ideas and suggestions that have kept me going” “Ah! I guess, for me, it’s more about the prep, getting the ingredients together, figuring out how one would like them chopped, cleaning up and washing the vessels, disappearing during the cooking process and joining back in when the food is ready!” Both are content in their roles, for now.

“In fact, there were various instances and situations that let me explore different varieties of cuisines and dishes, some of which I have grown fond of and some that I now have realised is not my cup of tea. In the process of making food, there are various old food recipes I have come across, some passed on by my grandmother, mother and aunts. This is another topic that is very close to my heart and something I discuss with people every once in a while.” They have both grown up with their grandmothers which meant exposure to several interesting approaches to cooking. It has also helped them understand that simple ingredients can end up transforming into delectable dishes.

“These discussions have been an eye-opener in understanding what people’s preferences in food are and the reason behind them, helping me grow and comprehend simple things from varied perspectives. From these conversations, one that has stayed with me is when elders in my family keep saying ‘Idhulam panna ippo ungalukku time irukaadhu, adhuku badhila ippadi simple ah (specifying a hack or cheat ingredient) potu mudichidu.’ Yeah, it is comparatively much easier and quicker to cook with these hacks and ingredients, but the taste of the dish, the joy of making it, changes with it too. The only part that irks me is that the flavours have changed.” Ashmitha points out how it has also got to do with the fact that the vegetables, fruits, condiments, spices that we get today are a dark shadow of their rich past. “These changes in their flavours also drastically alter the end product that is arrived at. This, in turn, feels like the original taste of the dish is lost, when in reality, it is the original flavour of the ingredients that’s been lost!”

Nervously checking to see if the vadai comes out in the correct brownish colour, the smell of rasam when the curry leaves are added to it, the well-cooked vegetables added to avial, the smell of butter being melted into ghee, a spoonful of ghee spread over the freshly cooked rice, and how thayir saadham can make any meal taste complete gets them excited. “I would like to believe that our taste buds have evolved and are constantly changing (you might suddenly like a dish that you’d sworn off or a vegetable that you’d run from in the past), and are constantly looking out for new forms of exploration.” “This, combined with the social changes one can observe in kitchens today, and the slow progress that cooking is making towards being gender-neutral gives us some hope.”

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