This article appeared in the 28th Feb issue of HT Cafe
Food is an expression of love for Women. Take me for instance, my first thoughts with my morning cup of tea are of scheduling the day’s meals, my last thoughts before I sleep are of meal planning for the next day and through the day, stray thoughts will parade through my head as I go about daily activities; of those lettuce wraps that my friend Priya will love, a batch of mayonnaise I have to whip up for my brother or a bottle of chutney I have to send to someone. My obsession with balanced meals for my family, is tempered with the conscious awareness of what my family will enjoy.
I am not alone in this pre occupation with food. Look around and you will see women all around you thinking the same things and doing the same equations every day to ensure their families eat well.
Women and food are inextricably linked. This blending of food with emotion is characteristic to women. I have seen very few men (if any), that will go beyond the easiest option available if they have to put a meal together. But it is different with women, perhaps because they have been the recipients of their mother’s caring from the time they were fed at her breast or perhaps because somewhere in their childhood, they naturally shouldered some of their mother’s responsibilities, watching, helping in the kitchen and imbibing their mother’s ability to stir caring onto her family’s meals.
I remember the vegetable seller that stopped outside our house in every day. My grandmother would spend ages selecting the best vegetables and bring them up with a glint of victory in her eyes. Her family would eat well that day! Things haven’t changed too much, whether she is sorting out the freshest tomatoes at Bhuleshwar, fighting for the freshest fish at Koliwada, or digging out the whitest mushrooms from the bottom of the pile at a supermarket in South Mumbai, a woman has her family’s best interests at heart and nothing short of the finest she can afford will do - even if it means shopping at Grant road vegetable market and cutting and cleaning the vegetables on the train journey home!
For women of our grandmothers generation planning a meal went beyond throwing a few things together; everything from the season (winter, monsoon or summer), the last two meals (to avoid repetition) and individual preferences of each member of the family were taken into account. I used to marvel at this ability until I watched my friend Mita mentally planning meals while shopping at Dmart in Powai. Women today perform the same equations – only the backdrop is different and perhaps the options are wider. Heightened awareness led to more observation and I discovered that women not terribly fond of cooking – like another friend Nita – were still in tune with their family’s preferences and planned meals carefully with the cook. In fact I was amazed at the ingrained concern of women that their families eat well when I found that my sister – in – law whose work includes a lot of traveling, actually takes time out to leave a shopping schedule and meal plan with the housekeeper!
Family dinners at my Nani’s house usually have all the makings for a movie “The big fat Indian family” but every one of those 16 or more people will find something in the meal that they like! And my mothers table will still cater to the tastes of each of us siblings. Beyond the procurement, planning and preparation, it is this ability to keep track of an entire family’s likes and dislikes that always amazes me. The ability to recall the preferences of the people you love to such an extent that you meet a nephew after ten years and remember that he loves extra raisins in his halwa. It brings home to me the amazing ability of a woman to show her love with a simple cup of tea – with lemongrass or without ginger as the preference may be - that she cares for you.
It brings home to me that for a women food is an extension of caring. The evidence is before you; in the form of their refusal to settle for anything short of the best, the time they spend planning menus, the hours they will spend preparing meals, the aroma of that indulgent dollop of ghee that melts over your steaming hot rice but most of all in the nostalgia we all have for our mothers cooking.