I grew up in a household where no one cooked. Not unless that was your actual job that you got paid to do, every day, rain or shine. Which meant that no one in my family ever woke up in the morning and thought, “Hmm, I feel like whipping up a batch of muffins.”
My mother famously didn’t know how to boil water till long after she was married. And that happened only because both our cooks happened to fall sick at the same time, and she wanted a cup of tea. Even then, she had to ask Michelle who had, coincidentally, recently learnt that very topic in her home economics class.
Mother was astonished. “They really teach you how to boil water in school?”
Ten-year-old Michelle paused. “Well, not really. But we were cooking spaghetti and I was watching Adeline and I asked her what she was doing to the water and she said she was boiling it.”
Meanwhile, our father had literally never set foot in our kitchen. He was barely aware of its precise location in the house.
With such grotesque ignorance masquerading as our parents, is it any wonder that my sister, brother and I grew up without the faintest inkling of how to cook?
It wasn’t till I became a functioning adult that I took my first tentative steps in learning to cook. First, Michelle taught me how to boil water. By then, she’d become the family expert in boiling water. And once I knew how to do that, I learnt to cook pasta, to which I added a tin of tomatoes I’d opened all by myself. I remember eating that dish in solitary splendour, standing up in the kitchen, marveling that I had actually cooked something edible.
And slowly, one dish at a time, I learnt to cook. I got better every day. If you were to telescope the whole experience in slo-mo, it was the culinary equivalent of Sylvester Stallone training for the big fight in Rocky. The day I pulled a soufflé out of the oven was a moment eclipsed only by Kim Kardashian’s wedding to Kanye.
Of course, it’s helped that we’ve had celebrity TV chefs like Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay, Madhur Jaffrey and Martin Yan to show us the tricks of their trade but watching them whip up a dish has always been kind of like watching a yogi stand on his head and split his legs, all whilst handsfree: amazing skills, but not something the rest of us will ever be able to do.
One day, recently, YouTube’s algorithm delivered the Village Cooking Channel to my feed. Three minutes in, and I was hooked. I immediately forwarded the link to my sister, Michelle, and tapped on a new eight-minute video. And another. Then another.
“It’s basically a bunch of dudes in sarongs on the edge of a rice field in southern India chopping up ingredients and cooking them in the ground! And after that, they feed the old people in the village,” I told Saffy.
“And that’s interesting, how?” she asked.
“It’s honest, simple, yet sophisticated cooking,” I told her. “No fancy kitchen. No expensive pots. They cut the vegetables on the pot lids. Grind the spices on a stone mortar. And they build a fire in the ground, stick a huge aluminium pot over it, and start cooking all those delicious food!”
I also love that the cooking is all done outdoors. When it rains, the guys hold a pot cover over their heads and keep stirring. Dhal, poori, fruit salad, curry, pilaf, juices…every delicious dish made by hand, each man working on his own ingredient, and adding it to the communal pile. And while they peel, dice and grind, around them, the village children play and laugh.
Michelle WhatsApped me after she’d spent an entire afternoon binge-watching. “I wish we’d learnt to cook like that. What an amazing childhood we would have had!”
Meanwhile, Saffy was instantly addicted, especially when the third episode she watched featured a guest appearance by Rahul Gandhi. “Oh my God,” she sighed, her bosom inflating as she forwarded the link to Sharyn who loves Indian men the way some people love durians. “When did that guy get so incredibly hot?”
Ten minutes later, Sharyn rang.
“Why are you calling me, Shazz?” Saffy answered, by way of greeting.
“Aiyoh. I just finish watching that clip you sent me. My hand shake so much, I cannot type!”
“That video has had 21 million views!! Isn’t he hot?”
“Buay tahan, ah, I tell you!” Sharyn told Saffy. “I would leave my husband for him and have his baby!”
“Me, too!” Saffy turned a moist pink as she gripped her phone. That night, she dreamt of curry and hot Indian men cooking at the edge of a rice field.