Not-so-confidential kitchen: five Indians on the lessons of lockdown cooking
Forget trends like dalgona coffee and sourdough. What skills have young adults in the country actually learned in the kitchen during the pandemic?
Over a year ago, India shifted into a state of lockdown and that brought with it the necessity of working from home and the need to cook and contribute to the household in a manner many young adults hadn't been used to. Was it all cloud bread and baked feta pasta? We spoke to five young Indians to check and discovered they in fact, had their hands full with the likes of sabzi, roti and learning to cook ingredients from scratch instead.
Learning the A-B-Cs
"I mostly was a help in the kitchen, reaching places and doing things the 'cook' in the household i.e. my partner wanted me to do," Soutrik Chakraborty, a music composer recalls. "All I knew was Maggi, sunny-side-up and cheese omelettes. Since then, I've picked up my mother's chicken curry recipe, palak paneer, dum aloo, rajma masala and pesto pasta." When asked if there's still something that evades him, he acknowledges one thing: "I can't manage anything with dough. Just can't dough it. The other part is the wait. Half the time, I'm snacking while cooking and that diffuses my appetite," Chakraborty confides.
Facing your anxieties in the kitchen
Sonalika Puri, producer and digital creator, admits that kitchen duties used to make her anxious, despite having seen many YouTube tutorials. "However, during the lockdown, I would crave certain dishes and ordering in didn't seem like the best possible option. So, I started to cook for myself. I've experimented with dishes like kheer, sooji ka halwa, aglio olio pasta and aloo gobi to name a few." Her takeaway? "I've realised cooking isn't that difficult. You just have to make up your mind and enjoy it without any pressure and you'll get there."
Learning new tricks
"By the time I turned 20, I'd learnt to make dal and rice, which was edible, but always seemed like it had been put together by an amateur. The pandemic forced me to learn to make food that I would enjoy eating and feeding to others," says Neerja Deodhar, chief sub editor with a leading English digital publication. "I remember trying to make coconut milk from scratch and spraying the entire kitchen counter! Now, I can poach eggs and make an entire kilo of gajar ka halwa too. I've also gone from following recipes meticulously out of the fear that I will get something wrong, to trusting my instincts," she quips.
For some, it was a learning experience mixed with the need to take responsibility for health and family, like Fawzia Khan, bookings and photo editor at an Indian fashion magazine. "I think people forget how important it is to learn everyday cooking. Like, making dal-chawal or your run-off-the-mill sabzi-roti. I was that person," she confesses, adding that it changed once the pandemic hit, and she had to start contributing to daily chores. "I began by learning the basics. Then I was diagnosed with Colitis and soon after, my mom got Covid and had to be isolated. It became a matter of making dishes the family would like and that I could eat as well," she says. Now, over a year later, Khan jokingly calls herself an expert at cooking lauki.
Cooking for the health-conscious
"Initially, during the lockdown, the aim was only to make something edible out of what was needed for my body. I used to make a meal not looking at ingredients and flavour, but instead at carbs, protein, fat and fibre. So, it wasn't the tastiest but tick marked all the boxes of health," reveals actress Nikita Dutta, who eventually got comfortable with cooking. "That's when I started experimenting with flavour," she adds, confessing that her food might still not be appealing to most, but helps her get by just fine.
For many, cooking during the pandemic turned into a learning experience that allowed them to embrace simple pleasures typically ignored in the rush of daily life. It taught millennials and kitchen haters to appreciate simple, flavourful dishes, including those that didn't make it to TikTok. And that's definitely something to write home about.