Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Snap, Pop and Muse

Remember this post? Some of you couldn't believe I'd given it such a title, and even I've been wondering at my own sense of humour ever since. In the quest for attractive headlines, I seem to have attracted an entire category who, in all likelihood, had cooking and humour far from their minds.

But, again, this is literally about the same thing. To do my bit to throw such abovementioned seekers off track and get the right seekers here, I will refer to this vegetable now as okra.

Yesterday, there were two urgent (well, consecutive) calls from my friend V, so I terminated the conversation I was having and called her, wondering what was up. "I'm so irritated," she said. "Last night, I went shopping for vegetables, and all the okra were mutilated. What do these old people hope to achieve by snapping each and every one of them? All you need to do with okra is touch them, and you'll know whether they are tender or not." (At this point, I had to interrupt the conversation and hurriedly own up that I too, young as I am, am a compulsive okra snapper; and V being my friend, dismissively excused me for my behaviour and continued venting.) "And everytime I go to XYZ (a certain shop that sells vegetables), there are hordes of them, old men and women, holding bags, feeling up these vegetables, discussing them endlessly, choking up the aisles. There was one such group yesterday, discussing turnips, and they didn't even buy them ultimately! They didn't even know the vegetables they were calling turnips weren't turnips. Why do they even come there? Can't they find another place to socialise?"

Most importantly, she said, people don't want to listen to loud recipes which are supposed to be proven aphrodisiacs (V, you could be wrong there!); or how you can shame your mother-in-law into oblivion with your baingan bhartha recipe; or the boring bottlegourd for oedoematous feet. She would, however, appreciate a recipe to lower the blood pressure caused by all this banality. Bloggers and non-bloggers alike, please feel free to leave your tips here in the comments section. As these cannot be tried and tested immediately, I'm not offering any prizes for the best tip.

She'd wanted to get this off her chest since the previous night, she said, and rang off. That left me wondering - what other behaviour during vegetable shopping gets your goat? If merely touching okra can tell you whether it's worthy of you or not, I thought, I've failed miserably in the Department of Vegetable Choosing. But on prolonged reflection, I think V does have a point - even I seem to understand how I can assess the okra.

When I started everyday, well, not everyday but routine, home cooking, I found out my uncle could tell whether the food cooking on the stove was salted enough or not by the smell. Not having any previous experience, I was amazed and even wondered if Uncle was pulling a fast one on me. But believe it or not, nowadays I am able to suss it out myself occasionally! Incidentally, I've also seen a few men of the older generations, who have probably never cooked in their life, hold forth on how a particular taste can be achieved or enhanced or altered. If only they'd played their part in the kitchen!

That brings me to another subject that's often on my mind: the joy - or not - of cooking. For many women (and men) who do it regularly, as well as us bloggers not excluding me, it is often a tiresome chore. See the discussion in this post. I've always wanted to bring to your attention a wonderful poem, Vantillu (Kitchen) by a Telugu poet, Vimala, on how kitchens and cooking sap women of their personality, dreams, joys, how such tasks are chores unwept and unsung. The poem also highlights the role of the omnipresent male dominance and chauvinism that contributes to these situations. For me, the most powerful part is when the poet points out (and I'm translating and paraphrasing here) 'how even the jasmine has begun to reek of the kitchen, damn it, let's destroy these kitchens now!'

Many of us, bloggers or not, are privileged in that we are able to enjoy cooking and write about it, take pictures of it, celebrate it. For some, the kitchen could even be a refuge. But just imagine how wearying it must be to make and plan meals every few hours of the day! How could it have been enjoyable, unless you were a strong-willed woman who decided that you would have fun no matter what?


  1. Your post reminds me of my Mom "how such tasks are chores unwept and unsung" is what MOM says!She is a Telugu Poet/Lec too.She is not big on cooking but she is a good cook!But if she were to chose b/w reading a book and Cooking, I am sure she will choose the first.But somethings have to be done, she says!Well I do feel lucky, I like cooking!I am not sure if I can cook twice everyday like her or for that matter like any other woman in India!Should have tremendous patience to do that!

  2. Looking forward to the comments ;-) and those carrots look damn cute

  3. LOL. So are you going to stop snipping the tail of the okras from now on?...u better...:)
    That which irritates me the most:
    People please don't discuss recipes in veg shops standing in front of a particular veggie. especially when the shop is too crowded, we don't want to listen to your recipe which is a proven aphrodisiac ;) or how u can make the best baingan bartha putting ur old hag of a mil to shame. If u have to absolutely, keep your voices down.
    If u find a new veggie which has not been seen in the shop before, please don't give them new names and discuss their benefits.
    And please don't let the world know that cooking bottle gourd daily could cure swollen feet.
    Well.....all the above could increase one's bp...any veggie for that anyone? :)

  4. You and Shri said everything more eloquently than i could ever!

  5. Sra, I like to ask questions in the grocery store when I see other customers purchasing stuff that I have never seen before, I saw this guy holding something dark green with lots of leaves in his hand. I found out they were celery and they looked a lot different than the one we see here.

    I might be a turnoff for people who want to grab their stuff and leave.

  6. Hey, Sra! If that's your veggie-shop, I am sure I could put up with the over-zealous shoppers ;) Gorgeous pic and as usual, I am in stitches reading... !

    Also loved your banana pepper salan -- yours must have been the hot variety because I have to add hot chilies to everything I've made with mine. Looks great :)

  7. I agree with you friend - most people who break off the ends of okra do so out of habit and because they have seen it being done like that (perhaps while growing up) - no offense to you Sra :)

    I can seem to feel the stringiness and the seeds if the okra is not tender....and the tips are always the easiest to break anyway!

  8. Lovely post Sra. But I am an obsessive okra snapper. But I make sure I buy all that I snap ;) For old people who come to veggie shops thats a delight to discuss about recipes, yeah I swear many old men miss their wife's or mom's food and just satiate their cravings by discussing the recipe! Cooking all the time is a punishment for any womend but I have seen atleast a dozen of old ladies even in their late 60's want to get into the kitchens. Thats applicable for any job done continously. And yeah I can find by smell if there is less salt ;)

  9. Ooh, so are we supposed to pick okra if they look green and young and reject them if they seem well into the retirement stage? :)

  10. I get really annoyed with the okra snappers (no offence to you).
    Just the other day, my husband and I were at the Indian grocery store planning to buy okra, among other veggies, and I saw a lady snapping the tips off them to check and see if they were fresh. I had half a mind to walk up to her and ask her if she intended to buy the okra she'd snapped especially since all the grocer had that day was a small bin of the vegetable. My husband asked me to just let it go. I came back without buying any okra that day. I think I'll let the owner of the store know the next time I see it happen. I was pretty mad as you can probably tell.:)

  11. In US there is a different story for okra. The grocer stick a huge poster "don't break" in front of the okra, the okra bin has been placed near the cash. So people who tend to snap are caught!
    I usually don't snap, look for green, slim and no longer than the finger. It is always a sucess!
    About the smell, my mom does but still I cannot figure out :(

  12. hee hee...nice post and again, I identify with the sentinments of your friend. I hate it when I find nail marks on veggies. Just the thought of eating a veggie that some random stranger has poked is disgusting. I learnt a way around it..don't mean to offend anyone..this is a Asian grocery store and most ladies are short in height including yours truly though I are slightly more taller than most of these I jump out as far as I can reach and grab those veggies...voila, those don't have nail marks! ;)

  13. LOL Sra!

    I am an okra snapper, unless they are young & small I have to snap them to find out. i am not an expert to recognize them just by my magic touch. Also I have noticed that the most of what i snap are inedible & nobody would ever buy them anyways.. if they did, they would just land up in trash.

    those veggies are the cutest.

  14. Cooking for me is enjoyable, challenging and means work based on my mood and motivation (or lack of). As to the the shoppers who linger on or hover for too long denying access to others, boy they drive me nuts. There are the ladies who involve the whole family in the vegetable selection process(blocking other co-customers who might want to pick a different vegetable, but are forced to wait their turn). Then there are the men who think they don't need to step back a little, even when a polite "Excuse me" is blurted by the many women who are already multi tasking or trying to be super moms. OMG! do they have to claim the shopping aisles as their territory too or is it a simple case of men not being groomed the way women are, to respect civility in others? Whatever the reason might be, the grocery store is not a museum to dwell and contemplate, so please could you mover over fellow shoppers?

  15. I love poking around groceries, carefully selecting and discovering new products, but I always have my peripheral vision in gear, ready to maneuver myself away if I see/sense another shopper approaching. I get peeved most when others just stop mid-aisle for a gossip session, oblivious that they've completely blocked the way.

    Didn't know about snapping okra; I always choose the smallest ones that aren't browning at the gills.

  16. Don't like okra snapping either! :) Actually, if you just bend the tips slightly, you'll know if they're tender.That's how I choose mine.

    I can't stand people who jump in and start picking out the veggies you're picking up!

    I tend to shop for veggies at odd hours like early morning, or mid afternoon, early evening because it means easy parking at the market, and so no crowd too. :)

    And on many days, I'd rather not cook at all, even if it meant surviving on bread or cornflakes!:(

  17. I am basically not an okra snapper,but just forced to do that to assort from broken-tipped remaining okras :)...
    These days just a call to the market vendor and fresh veggies(mostly) are at the door step..Thank You India! :)

    But yeah, 100% approval to your statement abt the weariness one would feel once planning/cooking meals every few hrs a day..(Bleh, I am going thru this, very much, currently..):(

    Good read! :)

  18. lovely post...people have said so much already here..many interesting comments, i m enjoying this...

  19. I used to see people snapping okra when shopping and I was always angry that they never picked up the ones they had snapped to indicate their approval! No, they leave them there for whom to pick up?!

  20. there is a board at my veggie store to the effect of" don't snap the okras"..if u touch it u take it.:)i am a reformed okra snapper but now just buy it looking at the size of it.
    i just bought a ton of okra without snapping.

  21. I am such a bad vegetable shopper, I just grab a bunch, stuff it in a plastic bag and usally come home to find that half of the veggies are bad. Siv is really good at this though, he will press and poke and smell each one before bagging them, but I have never seen him snapping an okra though. :)
    Oh, and I love listening to others talk about the vegetables and recipes and generic gossip in grocery stores :)


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