Inviting Writing: The Mother-in-Law’s Kitchen

My folks thought it was time I started thinking about marriage and therefore take the kitchen more seriously. Seriously? Why?

Do you know the five spices that go into fish curry?
Do you know the five spices that go into fish curry? Image courtesy of Flick user spo0nman

Relationships can be complicated, sure. But relationships with kitchens? It turns out people have very intense affection, respect and even fear for these rooms. For this month’s Inviting Writing, we’ve read about dorm kitchens, tiny kitchens and kitchen boundary issues, and now Somali Roy tells us about intimidating kitchens.

Making Friends With the Kitchen

For a very long time, the kitchen to me was a room where magic happened day and night. I grew up watching my mother, grandmother, aunts and cooks flurry into that tiny space, armed with innocent and naive looking vegetables, meat and fish, and after much chopping, stirring, frying and steaming, transform them into incredibly scented and deliciously attractive concoctions.

I was amazed and forever in awe. I loved food in whatever form or shape, and the humble kitchen delivered it every time. That’s all it was between the kitchen and me, until my folks thought it was time I started thinking about marriage and therefore take the kitchen more seriously. Seriously? Why?

Well, here’s why. In India, prowess in the kitchen has always been considered the most important facet of a woman’s repertoire, and it takes on ultimate importance when your daughter reaches marriageable age. To the prospective mother-in-law, it matters less if you are a rocket scientist or a school dropout. But answers to certain questions—Does she know the five spices that go into making fish curry? Can she made perfectly round, 12-centimeter-diameter chappatis (Indian flatbread)?—can make or break nuptial ties.

Such questions haunt the minds of Indian mothers who have bred their sons on a diet of spicy and unctuous home-cooked meals (repositories of fat and cholesterol, but that’s another story) and shudder at the thought of handing them over to cooking novices.

I wasn’t a shining beacon of hope. I needed assistance to even boil water in the kitchen, and that is after I learned how to turn the gas on. I was well fed, initially by my mother and later by the numerous take-outs around college. “So why do I need to get in the kitchen and move pans and pots, again?” I asked with gay insouciance.

Just when my distraught mother was losing all hope of getting me married, I found the right guy. Since he never mentioned how good a cook his mother was, I married him without a hitch.

It was customary to visit in-laws after marriage and that was when hell broke loose. For the first few days I deviously avoided the kitchen and watched my mother-in-law conjure up dishes and savories faster than a magician. Panic hit me when I saw my husband lapping up every drop of gravy on the plate with utmost pleasure under his mother’s caring gaze. What could I ever feed this man? I mentally cursed whoever said that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. I needed to keep him alive first—and to do that, I needed to make friends with the kitchen.

So on the fourth day of my stay, I wandered into the war zone and confessed that I was a novice and needed training. That was five years and countless burned, under-seasoned and over-cooked dishes ago. My love for food, the gift of a good palate and an extremely forbearing mother-in-law helped me reach where I am now. Not only did I keep my husband alive, I now spend countless happy hours in my kitchen, cooking away.

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