Our kitchen is not like traditional kitchens you would find in the homes of regular Indian families. My wife does not do all the cooking. In our house, every family member takes turns making dinner. My wife cooks on Mondays and Tuesdays. I cook on Wednesdays and Sundays. My son Imran cooks on Thursdays and my daughter Anushka cooks on Fridays.
When my eldest daughter Anushka (name changed for anonymity) turned seven years old, I took her into the kitchen, hoping I could successfully teach her how to make scrambled eggs. She was young, eager, and most importantly a very curious child. I set out two small frying pans. To ensure she observed properly, I made her stand on a stool because she was not tall enough to see over the stovetops. I turned on the heat to five and carefully repeated the process three times. I then let my daughter hold the knob and allowed her to play with it as I did, pushing her to stop at five. I placed one pan on the heated stovetop, took a butter knife, and cut a small slab of butter. The butter fizzed and bubbled, then at this Anushka exclaimed wow. That was cute. I then cracked two eggs and let Anushka stir the scramble, gently guiding her movements. After it was done, she wanted to taste it. I said no. I told her to repeat the process with the other frying pan. Long story short, she wasn’t able to replicate the process. She understood the heating dials. She was able to cut the butter (I was almost afraid she would hurt herself with the knife, which she didn’t). But when it came to cracking an egg, she only managed to get it all over her hands and the stove. To be honest, it took me three attempts to learn how to crack an egg the right way in my teens, so I didn’t judge my seven-year-old’s efforts too harshly.
Within two weeks, at age 7, Anushka was able to scramble eggs better than I was. She loved doing it so much that it became her favorite and only dish she liked to cook for the next 3 months. Within a year, her mother and I had taught her three to four simple recipes and we could tell Anushka loved learning the intricacies of Indian spice blends. Within two years Anushka was cooking Indian curries and knew how to marinate a juicy tandoori chicken, all at the tender age of 9! Until then, she only cooked when she wanted to. When she turned 10, we asked her to regularly contribute to family meals. She didn’t say no unless she had a test the next day.
Teaching my son Imran (name changed for anonymity) was a whole different story. He was less interested and reluctant to learn cooking. Initially curious at age seven, within two weeks, he stopped trying to learn. So we tried another tactic. I told my son that if he didn’t learn how to cook, he would go hungry once a week. Thankfully, I didn’t have to continue with that threat. Imran, with renewed vigor and interest, joined his mother in the kitchen to relearn the steps to cook eggs. At such a young age, I took advantage of his young, impressionable mind, but as parents, don’t we all do this?
I encouraged my kids to learn cooking early (super early) because when I first came to the US as a university student, I found eating home-cooked food to be the biggest hurdle. As a son who was totally spoiled by my traditional Indian mother, I did not know how to cook at all. Moreover, I tried cooking a few times with my dormmates, but the food really didn’t taste like home. I burned through my monthly expenses eating at Indian restaurants, and as soon as I saw my bank account numbers going down, I realized it was time to learn. That was two years after I had already arrived in the US. I did not want my kids to feel handicapped when they had to fend for themselves in college.
The second reason was more selfish. My wife and I hated cooking so often. Indian food takes a very long time to prepare. We would eat out, but being both frugal in nature, we did not like spending the money. We weren’t willing to give up the dishes from our homeland, nor were we willing to spend so much money eating outside, So one day, I decided that why not teach our kids early so they can help us make the meals.
It worked out well in our favor and we believe it worked out even better for our kids. My wife and I spend less time cooking and more time doing things we love. I have more time to read books, catch up on work, and play video games. My wife has more time working on her online business. My son and daughter both have added responsibilities and our cooking schedules help them maintain a disciplined and consistent routine. This routine helps them give back to our family, something that we hope will not be a burden to them in later years. As Indians, family obligations mean a lot to us, and teaching them to cook early on could help us in the future.
Lastly, my kids now make amazing dishes. And I love eating what they make!