Cooking, culture, and covid-19

We’re in the midst of a pandemic which among all other things has forced us to rethink our relationships with food. How do we shop, cook, and eat now being locked down and socially distanced from each other?

To answer this question, we sat down for some virtual chai with about 20+ people to understand how have their buying, cooking, and eating habits have changed.

When a lockdown was announced overnight, not all of us were equally prepared.

For those who relied on delivery services like Amazon and Big Basket for essentials services, ended up having to compete for the few available slots. The vegetable thelas are making a comeback. Their limited yet essential supply of fresh fruits and vegetables have been a saving grace. Markets are coming to people with vans and autos coming into residential complexes to sell essential supplies.

Some farms which usually supply produce to restaurants have now started directly supplying produce to consumers. We wonder how this will continue once restaurants open but the direct farmer to consumer to linkage is definitely a positive outcome.

In times of crisis like this, it’s heartwarming to realise how we’re adopting some roles automatically. Be it doing grocery runs for your old neighbours or donning the hat of a vegetable vendor for the entire complex.

Our apartment complex has organized a grocery system where 2 people go to the markets, shop in bulk and come back to divide the produce among all the households.”

We’ll never take a retail experience lightly again, with unconventional ways of shopping taking over. How are we holding on to supplies, and rationing them to cook?

While Swiggy and Zomato are essential services, not all restaurants are open during the lockdown. Plus, there’s the hesitation to order food, despite hygiene practices being implemented.

During these times, most of us are scurried into the kitchens, trying to learn cooking. Most chefs and home cooks are sharing their cooking lessons and even guiding people with simple recipes.

“Cooking and baking is one in which I’ve stayed sane. It is what gives me comfort in these crazy times. And from the responses to my stories, more people are venturing into the kitchens”, says Aysha one of the co-founders of Goya Journal. She documents her everyday cooking escapades on her Instagram channel and also her blog, Malabar Tea Room.

While for some cooking is a way to unwind and get over the anxiety, for some of us cooking has been the very source of anxiety.

“I used to enjoy cooking, it was my way of relaxing. But now, I’m constantly in fear of running out of ingredients and don’t know if I’ll have enough resources left”.

For those of us who already made elaborate meals before, have realised that cooking is not just prepping and cooking anymore. With most of our house-helps also locked down, some people have new found respect for washing dishes.

“I spend so much additional time in doing jadu, pocha and dishes, that my actual cooking has become really really simple”.

But the same scarcity has also forced us to discover different styles of cooking, more frugal, keeping in mind the limited supplies we have right now. This means drying out or pickling vegetables to make them last longer. For others, it is looking at totally different styles of cooking.

“I started by looking at easier ways of making sambar when you don’t have sambar powder or tamarind, and discovered the milagai killi sambar. Frugality is this whole new variance of cooking which I wouldn’t have discovered otherwise”.

It’s not just our shopping and cooking habits that have changed drastically over the last couple of weeks. The way we eat now is also very much different. We’re also drinking more than before and missing street food.

For those of us who are lucky and locked down with family, we are cooking together and eating together. Meals have reduced in number and mealtimes have changed. “3 square meals have become one oblong meal“, jokes Aysha.

“I am sticking to a routine and a meal time just have to more sanity in my day. Mealtimes are how I am aware of the time of the day, which otherwise is easy to lose track of. Food is a marker of time for me now”.

But one thing’s for sure. We’ll never ever take food for granted anymore and will hopefully think more of how privileged we are, that we can talk about what to eat and actually make food choices.