Part 1 The burden of omelettes
The burden of omelettes
I have a strange, unhealthy obsession with watching cooking shows, especially ones that feature maternal women at the centre focus of their homes.
Anyone who knows me before I was about 20 years old, will happily attest to the fact that I was – arguably still am – an incredibly picky eater. I suppose it was a consequence of my parents never really emphasising on eating healthily or encouraging nutrition or the love for food. My father was working from 9:00am to 8:00 pm and was pretty absent for most things. On the other hand my mother was so involved in running the house, lecturing the domestic staff, dropping and picking us up from school, extra credit classes, tuitions, piano lessons, looking after her own parents and then looking after her in laws. I believe that as long as we ate anything edible and looked alive and were able to walk and talk she had no intentions of having an additional ‘to-do’ item on her list.
My sister and I were very skinny as children and we used to never touch a single fruit or vegetable. Food had to be yellow, crispy and fried for us to eat it without a fuss.
Some women love to cook and weirdly I’ve become one of them; giving someone food made from my own hands is the only decisive way to say that “Yes, I care about you or yes I value our relationship or this situation”. It’s a bit obtuse that I have become this way because my mother on the other hand really detests the heat of the kitchen because it makes her dizzy and she’s not very good with flavours. One time she tried to salvage a two day old chicken salan that the cook made by pouring red chilli flakes (the type you get in packets when you order delivery pizza) over it. I think that’s when I was quite sure that there was going to be zero maternal bonding in the kitchen space between us.
And so, I turned to YouTube to fill this void of food education and learning to eat. Before YouTube we used to get BBC Food on Pakistani cable and I developed an addiction to only being able to eat a full meal off my plate while watching a cooking tv show.Watching these women cook their food, snip their herbs from their window gardens and potter about their kitchens while speaking about their history with food made me believe that the crappy nuggets I was eating could really be the luscious cherry pavlova on the television screen. It didn’t matter that I had never seen a pavlova or knew what a cherry tasted like – I wanted to emulate sophistication and worldly knowledge like these women and the key to that was (for me) to understand cooking as an art. I thought that I could be as beautiful and radiant as them if I ate like them and I thought that the beautifully furnished kitchens would come if I spoke like them and was as charming and attractive as they appeared to be.
My first ever serious celebrity crush was on Nigella Lawson who is the original creator of the holy grail of maternal cooking shows. I know she’s literally one of the most controversial women on British television but my obsession with her began long before I knew anything about her personal life. I am a devout follower of her food rules –
- I never stir rice with a spoon, I only fork it through.
- Nigella doesn’t acknowledge green peppers because they’re basically an underripe pepper, as a result I don’t eat green peppers.
- Nigella reinforces that vinegary and salty things are her weakness and so now, vinegar and tangy food items are my weakness. For me, what makes her stand out from other presenters is her unapologetic romance with food – she always uses alliteration when speaking about the components of her dishes and is forever snacking and stealing sneaky bits before serving dishes to her guests. She speaks about how cooking for yourself is the most important kind of cooking one can learn. In her earlier seasons of the show you would see her first husband in the episodes and later on as the show developed, her children grew up as teenagers. The food she cooks evolves with the years through her marriages and her family life, as well as the availability of imported ingredients in the UK. I am completely aware that this obsession is absurd but I cannot be blamed because she really does offer herself up on a platter through her life on television- this includes the good the bad and the ugly. Literally.
In the beginning of every episode in ‘Nigella Kitchen’ produced in the early 2000s the opening credits begin with her entering into her kitchen, switching on appliances while saying the following:
“I love the kitchen. For me its not just a place to cook in and eat in, it’s a place to live in. And maybe I shouldn’t say this because I know it’s a terrible cliche but, it’s true(!), the kitchen really is the heart of the home. And whats also true for me is that it doesn’t really matter whether I’ve got time on my hands and I can cook slowly and leisurely or if i’m really up against it and have to have frantically fast meals. The thing is, if I’m in the kitchen, I’m happy.”
Not much of her food philosophy has changed with her latest series aired in 2017 ‘At My Table’. The introduction for this series begins with her voice over:
“A table is more than a piece of furniture, just as food is more than just mere fuel. When I moved into my first home, many years ago, before I did anything else, I bought a table. Not just to eat at but to live around. At my table, when I’m winding down at the end of a long day, celebrating friendship over weekend feasts, memories with family, the food I eat is vibrant and varied. But always relaxed. Old favourites and fresh discoveries the comfort of the familiar combined with the exuberance of the new. The essential welcoming taste of home. Whether I’m pottering about at the stove or sitting at the table, I want pleasure, I want flavour and I want ease. Life can be complicated… cooking doesn’t have to be.”
She is obviously a maternal influence on me and even when I cook Gujarati food which is not really her thing I think of her and apply her approach to cooking. One of the easiest dishes to knock up when I feel like I need a balance of Caucasian and Sub continental food is a Parsi omelette. Eggs were a safety zone for my mother when it came to feeding me – eggs are coincidentally a very iconic element in Gujarati Parsi cuisine. We place boiled eggs in curries or gravies, we serve fried eggs at the buffet table on weddings, we make omelette sandwiches with strawberry jam and we cook eggs with thin potato strips to use up leftover ingredients in the store. The crazy omelette stack is somewhat a withdrawal symptom from not being able to cook as much as I like because of budget restrains and not having my own private kitchen in London.
In Part 2 I’m going to discuss how cooking and food has turned into a point of exhaustive discussions I have had with myself over why cooking is complex source of pleasure, shame and regret.