Ever since beef became such a contentious issue

Since moving into his own apartment, with a compact but well-stocked kitchen that opens into a breezy balcony with potted plants, home-cooked meals are often far more indulgent than anything he orders in. “And ever since beef became such a contentious issue, I try to cook it at least once a week. Because who knows when it will stop being available in Bengaluru.”

Placed outside the kitchen

Joshua’s 290-liter white refrigerator sits outside his kitchen, adjacent to the dining table and water dispenser. It is stocked with dairy, a mind-boggling array of pickles—we counted nine varieties—organic honey, juice by Paper Boat and a bloody Mary mix. A whole range of sauces and pastes are on standby for meat curries, and his vegetable crisper is packed with fresh greens.

Interestingly, his freezer also contains kajal and tissue specimens of gecko—the latter of which is evidence of his biologist flatmate’s on-site collections.

There are no processed foods of any kind, barring a few strips of bacon, a bag of Goan sausages and some cheese. His pantry is bare of any ready-to-eats. “We don’t snack. Teatime usually features a mug of black coffee, but otherwise, we eat only at mealtimes, and almost all meals are freshly cooked.” Leftovers stretch to two extra meals at the most, usually spruced up with a different pickle.

Joshua didn’t always eat this way. His 20s were filled with two-minute noodles, pizzas, and pasta. Economy and convenience were the order of the day and a rebellion against his childhood of savoring precious wedges of imported cheese sent by NRI relatives and generally slowing down to enjoy a meal.

Back then, his fridge only had condiments like pasta sauces and sundried tomatoes. “But now, in my 30s, I find that I’m eating as I did at my grandparents. Fresh ingredients, and home-cooked nutritious meals,” he says.

Cooking ultra regional

According to Joshua, part of the reason that we are now reverting to older ways of cooking and eating can be attributed to the cool quotient that is attached to buying hyper-local and cooking ultra regional. “We’re seeking out Suma Coffee Works and Cothas Coffee over Blue Tokai! We’re shopping at HopComs over Namdharis and Nature’s Basket, and buying amaranth instead of kale. And being hyper-aware of using plastic, of reducing wastage, of cooking consciously, etc.”

Kusum Sahani, 76, lives with her sister Meena Malhotra, 73, in Gurgaon—a couple of thousand kilometers north of Cooke Town and Bengaluru—along with two live-in domestic workers and four dogs.

Their fridge—a grey 190-liter model, easily the smallest of the six—is meticulously kept, and given a thorough sort-through every other day. The fridge does not store cooked food as a general rule because the sisters insist on eating freshly cooked meals every day. Instead, it holds the cheese, butter, milk, soy sauce, ketchup, chili sauce, rose syrup, fizzy drinks, yogurt and cans or packs of juices. There is always, without exception, ice cream in the freezer.

Picking up the fresh eatables

Every day, Meena picks up fresh vegetables and fruits from a wholesale market nearby to prepare their staple meal of rice and dal, with two seasonal vegetables (something you might see on any North Indian table). The sisters also run a farm a few kilometers away, where they grow spinach, cauliflower and onions.

The vegetable section of the fridge has a steady supply of green chilies, coriander leaves, peas, and tomatoes—the bedrock ingredients for the dishes that make up the majority of their meals. Vegetable sandwiches make a frequent appearance on the menu when they are in the mood for a lighter option. Thrice a week, however, the order in or step out for a meal.

Kusum, who spent the early decades of her life in the tea estates of Assam, near Tinsukia, says, “We used to eat chicken every day, but now we eat it just twice-thrice a week. Food is more simple these days. Once you lose your husband you don’t want to cook so much. We don’t eat red meat these days, but we do eat fish regularly either baked or fried.”

For the canine members of the household, there is chicken soup in the fridge at all times. Meena makes sure of this by buying 10 kilograms of chicken at the start of every week and freezing it. The soup and all the other contents of the fridge are stored in steel containers that fit neatly into the shelves like pieces in a Tetris game.

 

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