Saturday, February 18, 2012

Indian Men Can Cook

In the traditional Indian culture, men go out to work and women stay home to look after the household.  So in a smaller town like Mysore, all the ‘hotels’ ie restaurants are manned by men who manage, cook, waiter and clean-up.  Young boys work there, but never women.  The only eating places which feature women are those run out of homes, which are seldom formal eating establishments.

When the men get home though, they seldom set foot into the kitchen.  The women are expected to cook, clean and manage the household.  In wealthier homes, there are helpers to assist.  Even though this is changing (as it already has in Singapore), my Indian bachelor friends are still looking for the ideal wife who must know how to cook well and look after her husband & children.  The only difference is that my friends now respect the fact that their wives can work and have her own interests.  This is in additional to the responsibilities of the home though.

So, it’s rare to find Indian men who can cook.  The young men I have met in Mysore rave about their mother’s culinary skills and only attempt to replicate them out of necessity.  They do a good job though, especially in the Chai department (living up to my high standards).
There are a few men however, who cook better than their wives and cook on a regular basis.

As I have mentioned before, my good friend and rickshaw driver, Maney, is the ultimate cook.  He told me that his mum is an excellent cook (I have yet to meet an Indian woman who can’t cook) but he said that his father was also a very good cook who taught him a lot of dishes.  Maney’s wife couldn’t cook when they got married and he had to teach her.  Even now after over 15 years of marriage, he is still the expert.  When he cooks his yummy breakfasts and lunches for us, he is in charge and she is his sous chef.

Prakash (Sharath’s gatekeeper) is from Nepal.  His benefits include 2 meals a day and he sometimes prepares his own lunch.  He makes a mean chapati … rolling them out with great skill (I tried but couldn’t get them symmetrically round) and getting them to puff up so that they are light and fluffy.  Here's a photo of him making Bhindi (ladyfingers) and a video clip of him making chapatis.

Prakash's yummy Bhindi

My landlord Suresh is also a very good cook.  His wife unfortunately isn’t well so he has to prepare and cook the meals as well as look after the other household duties.  Both Suresh and Maney are very health conscious, staying away from sweets, fried food and other ‘’unhealthy’’ foods.  This really surprised me as India is the land of sugar and ghee.

Maney started giving cooking lessons to some yoga students after many fell in love with his light yet super tasty dishes.  I don’t like coconut chutney which is a staple with every Indian breakfast item (dosa, idly, vada, noodles .. you name it) but Maney’s coconut chutney I love.  His use of spices give his food a very well-rounded, subtle taste, with nothing overpowering anything else.  Most importantly, his food tastes as all the best dishes should ..home-cooked and prepared with love.  His knowledge of all the ingredients is amazing, not only what their properties are but how they should be prepared when combined with other ingredients.

Maney usually cooks at home then delivers the food.  On this trip, he came to cook a few dishes in my kitchen because I offered to help him write out the recipes for him.  It was great watching him in action – he made it look so easy, the sign of a true expert.

Maney's spice boxes (a staple in every Indian kitchen)

Maney making my favourite Tomato Chutney

Our instruments of choice - Maney's knife&chopping board and my laptop

Here are 2 clips (part1&2) of Maney making Dosa

I will now answer the obvious question … No, I still cannot cook! :o)

PS.  I sometimes go to the Sri Durga stand-up for chai after practice.  They open at 6am so sometimes I am there when they are preparing to open.  The guy made me make my own chai the other day.  He also ordered me into the kitchen one freezing morning to stand by the big 'table' they fry the dosas on ... to get warm :o)

The Sri Durga stand-up
My Sri Durga Chai Man boiling a huge pot of milk before adding the never-missing ingredient, Sugar.  It's cool how there's a tree growing in the kitchenn and out through the roof

I am a Singaporean .. I can follow instructions
Sri Durga gives credit notes when they don't have coins - no expiry date! If it's only 1 rupee, you get a sweet