The most obvious expression of the Indian love story with food is at the dinner table of every Indian household. Our tables are filled with all things fried, boiled, grilled, roasted, steamed, chutnified, pickled – you name it, we’ve tried it on our food.

But have you ever thought that our rich Indian cuisine with its culinary variety might be related to patriarchy? Well, I hadn’t. Not until a friend phrased the thought in this way –

“Variety of food on the table meant hours of work behind it. Patriarchy confined women to their kitchens which evolved Indian cuisine in terms of the complexity it’s known for today.”

You may think that this is a tad too far-fetched, just as I initially did. But humour me for a few minutes and we might be able to get some worthwhile food for thought out of this theory.

Breaking Down Our Complex Cuisine

According to a survey taken in 2015, an average Indian woman spends 13.2 hours a week in the kitchen. I personally think this figure is much less than the actual amount of time Indian women spend in kitchens. All the women in my life (even when they handled full-time jobs) spend a minimum of 3.5 hours a day in the kitchen, which equals to 24.5 hours a week and 57 days in a year – almost 2 whole months. In the past, the numbers were much higher. Why? Because it takes insane amounts of work to prepare most of our dishes.

Indian cuisine is known for its variety and complexity

The Indian cuisine is known for its generous use of spices and difficulty in preparation. With technological advancement and all sorts of kitchen appliances, there has been a profound and welcome reduction in preparation time. In the past, even something as simple as dosa had hours of work behind it – urd dal and rice had to be soaked for 6-8 hours, then manually ground using a mammoth-sized mortar and pestle for at least an hour to make a smooth batter which was stored overnight for fermentation. Basically, if you wanted dosas for breakfast, the preparation would start from the previous morning.

Being more familiar with South Indian food, I know that the spices used in each dish were traditionally ground into a paste using a grinder stone, which was no simple task. The process of extracting coconut milk, which is a staple in most curries in Kerala, was a tedious process, now replaced by the availability of coconut milk powder. Even the classic Punjabi dal makhani takes a copious amount of time to be cooked just right. It’s no wonder that women were tied to their kitchens.

The Taste-Hierarchy Theory

It wasn’t just the difficulty in preparation that the women had to deal with, they also had to satisfy the demands of picky husbands. Even after the emergence of refrigerators in households, many women continued to cook on a daily basis for husbands who preferred freshly prepared curries over refrigerated ones.

The age-old prejudice in favour of sons also drove mothers to gratify the demands of their young boys as well. This situation where the taste of the whole family is determined by the men is a subtle hint at classic patriarchal scenarios where men dictated all the norms.

Patriarchy: When the man is put before the family

What does this really mean?

So what if it takes long hours to cook Indian food and if wives want to give preference to their husbands’ tastes over their own? What’s the point in pointing out the obvious? The point is that patriarchy is so finely ingrained in every nuance of our culture, even our food, that it’s almost imperceptible to us. It isn’t obvious until it’s pointed out.

Only by ironing out such folds in the way we think about everyday situations will we be sensitized to perceive the changes we should bring about to more significant gender-based issues.

Cooking has become a less laborious task, but the extent to which the whole situation has changed cannot be accurately determined. This being said, there have been subtle, but positive transformations in gender roles in the kitchen which makes one hopeful of a gender-sensitized nation right around the corner.


Image Credits – Google Images


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