Kitchen Queen Masala

“If you want authentic Kerala cuisine, come home for dinner.” My friend invites me over after I’ve spent the last few minutes cribbing about my husband’s increasing demands for gourmet cuisine.

“Today he wanted to have puli kuthi upperi along with other Malabar specialty food such as kalan, olan!” My despair comes through clearly and my loyal friend is ready to pick up the gauntlet on my behalf. In the beginning, I thought my husband was joking when he came up with these dishy names, but I quickly realised that he was dead serious. Having grown up in a joint family where women secretly tried to outshine each other with their prowess in the kitchen, he was exposed to a variety of dishes from practically every district of southern India. So, when he wasn’t waxing eloquent over an aunt’s aanai pachadi served at a funeral, or a finely roasted brinjal dish with some fancy sounding name cooked at a housewarming, his innuendos starting sinking in.

The first few times he walked into the kitchen with a spring in his step and a look of unholy joy on his face, just before the meal was to be served. Only to crumble and drag his feet back to the dining table. All my mutterings of “why can’t the man be satisfied with the usual wholesome fare” fell on deaf ears.

Cook, I am; gourmet cook, I am certainly not. Neither do I aspire to be. Chances are, if I participate in the desi version of Master Chef Australia, I would be a mass of nerves and even the neighbour’s dog may barf at the idea of licking my production.

 “Why don’t you call my mother for the recipes?” There was a long silence after his query. After wasted efforts of ingratiating with my mother-in-law over swapping of recipes, my valiant attempts at reproducing the culinary masterpieces always seemed to fall short in his eyes. Being the chivalrous man, my husband would make the right noises before the first bite in anticipation of what he claimed was his glimpse of Utopia. But, after that very first bite, his excitement would start dissipating in front of me. This would be my moment of reckoning and I would watch every emotion on his face, holding my breath as much as possible, and rivulets of sweat trickling down my forehead. “Hmm… it’s good. I don’t know what to say, but my mother’s dish tastes a tad different…” My eyes would start tearing up, or start flashing, depending on my mood. Here was the red flag that men invariably waved out of sheer ignorance in front of their better-halves. When they mention their mom and wife’s cooking in the same breath, they don’t realise that they’ve already dug a hole. And trying to scramble out of it will only make it deeper.
When I recently dished out a meal of vatral kuzhambu (a tangy gravy made from tamarind pulp) and potato curry, it turned out to be a surprise winner. “Ah! This hand needs to be adorned with a diamond ring,” exclaimed my spouse. It’s been weeks since that meal. I continue to wave my bare fingers at him in constant reminder even as he wonders whether I have developed a muscular disorder.

This article originally appeared in the Sunday edition of the Deccan Herald.

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