A Kitchen of My Own

Violet
Violet
Feb 21, 2019 · 5 min read

You need turmeric for this recipe. Not the powder, but fresh root. Maybe you can use the powder. I want fresh root though, and I believe it makes a difference. But I couldn’t buy fresh root in the vegetable shops I usually go to. On a boring Sunday after Pongal, I suddenly found fresh turmeric roots in the shop. Leftovers brought for the Pongal paanai decorations. The shop owner warned me that they are not ginger. I smiled and took it.

You need the usual Ginger, Onion, and Garlic now. A lot of garlic. And Coconut milk, We will be making a creamy coconut milk kuruma with egg poached in it. Once upon a time, I would have insisted on freshly made coconut milk, for which I would have messed up half of my kitchen. But the last time I made it, some pocketed coconut milk powder was enough for me. End of the day, it is supposed to be a comfort dish. Comfort in the kitchen, when you cook is a complicated story.
*

In the movie, Like Water for Chocolate, the old maid Nacha tells Tita, who was then heartbroken to Eat, as It will make it hurt less. Later, Tita, who had stopped speaking and considered to have gone crazy, starts speaking again after eating her sister’s bowl of beef broth. For, broths are the cure to all physical and mental illnesses. The novel, on which the movie is based on, begins every chapter with a recipe.

Some recipes, don’t mention salt or water. Most of them don’t mention the tools you need. Or a stove. For you need a kitchen to cook. But how many of us build our own kitchens? What is handed down and what is bought without thought? How much of this is related to the other intricacies of the larger society?

If kitchen means a kitchen, as mentioning a nondescript one among the many many that exist in this world, I built one, one that can be moved from one rented house to another across cities. Inexperienced, clueless, with just two hungry stomachs equally less demanding. Though not unique, mine is a different kind of voyage than one imagines when the sentence is spoken out loud.

*

I learned to cook with the internet. I read recipes, I saw how to videos. How to cut onions. How to clean clam. Some of which were life-changing and some I have stored in memory, hopefully, to use one day. It’d be more romantic to believe that, the kitchen is making your mind remember a perfect hardboiled egg stays in hot boiling water for ten minutes and plunges into an ice bath. But the kitchen is the vessels, a stove, a place to stand and a knife to wield.

*
My dad just never entered the kitchen or even moved his dishes from where he sits down to eat. I helped my mother in all kind of things. My mom never told me kitchen is not for boys. She can’t afford to, with a single child and the feeble income of my father, she had to toil on her tailoring machine and do all this. I was often washing the dishes, peeling onion garlic, shredding coconut or crushing the chutney in our stone ammi. But I don’t have any rememberable instances, nor recipes passed down. Dysphoria, and other memories, I just wanted to not remember most of them once. But it is a different story, and Now It just is life, hidden in a blur.

Of the four small rented houses in which my childhood is spent, there were no boundaries. The kitchen was everywhere and nowhere. I can still remember the ammi and its placement on all the four houses. Closer to the drainage outlet, so that washing it is easy. Garlic chutney was probably my favorite, the red of chili on the wet black of Ammi was earliest memories of the colors of the kitchen to me. But I never was interested in cooking, maybe I never thought about it for a long time.

Then I read Like water for chocolate. It was a time of confusions in my life. Even my self wasn’t clear. The magical world shown by Laura Esquivel was enthralling, and the doors to it opened from kitchens. But it wasn’t a place or many places. Kitchen meant memories, passed down generations through women, strict and jolly, terrible and angelic. It gave ideas. I had no place to test them. But I kept them safe. The secret doors to womanhood were in the kitchen, in all the things talked there, in all the recipes that were never written down, in all the tools that were never shared until one’s death. Little did I know, these ideas will be shattered before I can put them to use. Then I met women who hated Kitchens, men who can cook a wonderful meal full of love for friends, and like the opposite of the biblical god, will rest for six days basking in the glory of their creation. I met people who made me learn and unlearn. Long story short, I learned that there were doors everywhere, Yet I started loving cooking and I had to cook.

*

When Kitchen become more cooking than food, I believed it’ll be a matter of erotic sensualities. It indeed was love, nothing could make me happier than someone loving what I cooked. I dumped more food on people. Disappointed more than often, that they didn’t eat much, they didn’t think to tell me that it tasted nice. I cooked always with an extra hand of rice. But more and more, it became a space of anxiety, and eating out became a matter of guilt. The kitchen became responsibility without any external pressure. Despite assurances from my partner that cooking is not my responsibility, it became one. Making something inedible while some waited for it was a great cause of anxiety.

Then I watched all videos available online by Becky Selengut. Becky is a great chef and a lesbian woman. But how did that anecdote helped me connect to her? More than often, the home chefs had families, all chefs had families. Not chosen ones, but ones of blood and marital relationships. Becky helped me break food making from a heterosexual family structure. Everything she did, just because she did it, became an act of intimacy to me. And she was good too, extremely good, see her onion cutting video and see Gordon Ramsay’s you’ll feel the difference. She showed me how to kill and cook crabs with love.

Slowly, when I had to cook for myself, did I experiment, and learned the science of cooking. The anxiety of putting a little more salt was lost. I who learned cooking through online recipes and books finally felt on my fingers the intuition that my mother and grandmother always talked about. Kitchen was performance, pleasure, life and just food without added meanings.

*
If by chance, you are still thinking about the recipe I mentioned in the beginning? We are living in the age of the internet, and all good recipes are…

Violet

Written by

Writ-err, Translator, Eternally wondering what’s so special about yellow flowers, living in the wastelands between Tamil and English! www.Violetree.com

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade