I recently watched the terrific documentary Salt Fat Acid Heat on Netflix, based on host Samin Nosrat’s cookbook of the same name. I highly recommend it if you like food, travel, and eating food while traveling.
In each episode, she explores a country’s food culture, local ingredients, and cooking traditions. What struck me the most was how many of the ordinary cooks or renowned chefs she interviewed told her what they had learned from their mothers. Samin herself cooks traditional Persian rice, tahdig, with her mother.
It made me think of my own mother’s cooking – the recipes she knows by heart; the dishes she makes that I love. I have tried to make them and failed. It never comes out the way hers does. Then I realized that if I never learn them, those recipes will die with her. I’ll never taste her carne asada or her amazing arroz ever again. That part of my mother – her cooking – will be gone forever. And that makes me terribly sad.
Cooking is an oral tradition – passed down mostly from mothers to daughters what they learned from their mothers and grandmothers before them. But as women have had more doors opening to life opportunities, they no longer have to stay in the kitchen. And in the age of Hello Fresh and Uber Eats, who needs to know how to make the perfect pot roast?!
Don’t get me wrong – I think this is great! But at the same time, what of value is being lost or left behind? What is the cost of this progress? We forget to pause and think of such things as we barrel toward the future and improvement and cultural revolution. In this case, we are losing the art and traditions of cooking.
Ironically, I partially blame my mother for this breakdown. She never forced me to help her and I selfishly never cared enough to watch her work. I really regret that in hindsight.
Mami, if there was ever a meal you carefully and lovingly prepared that I brushed off and didn’t appreciate how much time and labor and love you put into it, I’m so sorry.
She cooked the dinner she put on the table at least 5 out of 7 nights a week. She is the quintessential wife and mother – doing the cooking, cleaning, laundering, housekeeping, and so much more. And she did it all selflessly, with love. I don’t remember her making my sister or I do any chores growing up. Sure, occasionally she would ask us to do stuff, but it was more in a “can you do me a favor” kind of way than in a “you are expected to do this around the house” way. How I didn’t turn into a spoiled, self-indulgent slob is by the grace of God. Instead, I turned into a very lazy cook.
So, I’m starting with her rice. I’ve already made two attempts (undercooked both times). She tells me to keep trying, keep practicing and adjusting. Her perfect way of doing it comes from years of experience. And next time I’m home I’ll do it with her – watching and learning; absorbing what has been passed from generations down to me.
This is what legacy is. It is in the simple, everyday things we pass on. Her cooking, among other qualities, is a part of my mother that I want to live forever, or at least for as long as I live.