When Kochi-based Kaviya Cherian graduated with a degree in actuarial science in 2015, working in Mumbai as an actuarial analyst with ICICI Lombard seemed like the natural next step. “But my work wasn’t fulfilling, and I knew I had to do something on my own,” she says. So she quit her job in 2019 and came back home to Kerala to look after her grandmother, who was recovering from cataract surgery. “While I was helping her out, I could see a drastic difference between the cookware we used at home and the cookware my grandmother used,” she adds. The food also brought back memories of childhood.
From the rustic taste of rasam cooked in the tin eeya chombu or the sweetness of the jackfruit halwa made in a bronze urali, the flavour was more authentic suddenly. She also fell in love with the earthy taste of vegetables cooked in a clay pot and the raw burst of flavours of the soapstone-ground masalas used while cooking in a longpi pot, a traditional Manipuri clay vessel. It convinced Cherian to start a platform to make traditional cookware accessible to people like her. “Not only does the food taste clean and pure, but it also has a host of health benefits. Going back to the roots in the kitchen is the best option,” she says.
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Retro is in. And it’s a win-win situation for all. Not only are the chemical additives (modern-day non-stick cookware is full of chemicals harmful to health) kept at bay, but the food simply tastes better. In addition, earthen, copper, iron and soapstone vessels do not leach toxic trace elements into the food and preserve the food nutrients. “Adoption of traditional Indian cooking practices such as fermentation, roasting, and germination and of course using the kind of cookware our grandmothers used, is increasing the consumption of a healthy diet that aims to prevent many health-related problems,” says Anam Golandaz, Clinical Dietician, Masina Hospital, Mumbai.
Cherian reached out to local artisans across Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Manipur and Meghalaya. With products such as the cast iron skillet, blackened clay urali pot, bronze, soapstone and even Manipuri longpi stone cookware, she gave her patrons enough healthy reasons to return to traditional ways of cooking. “Clay pots turn acidic foods alkaline, making them easier to digest. Plus, this sort of cookware is a sustainable option because it can literally outlive you. And one can use or dispose of them without worrying about the environmental implications,” she adds. With the help of her bronze uralis and tin eeya chombus, her patrons realise that traditional cookware is bringing back the lost taste and texture of dishes. Take, for example, the soapstone kal chatty or even Buddha bowls; they cook greens faster and promise to preserve nutritional values besides adding some extra minerals to the food.
“The adoption of Western cooking practices and cookware increase the risk of health problems such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, malnutrition, and obesity. Aluminium toxicity and nutrient breakdown have become common problems in pressure cooking. It is important to shift to our traditional cooking practices, i.e., use of earthen cookware, clay pots and some selected metal utensils, e.g., copper, iron, and brass,” says Golandaz. It’s almost like reliving your childhood when pollution and chemicals were just words in the dictionary and the school laboratory. And the best part? It brings back memories of your grandmother’s cooking. In fact, professional chefs are pioneering the use of age-old kitchen accompaniments such as silbatta, sigri, mortar and pestle, and more.
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The pandemic also added to the increased interest in traditional cookware. Multiple generations, stuck at home with chores piling up, depended on each other to tide over the crisis. Suddenly, grandma’s lessons were much in demand. With time on their hands, the newer generation was quick on the uptake of the many benefits that cooking with traditional utensils offered. Delhi-based Mihika Chowdhury, an IT professional, says, “Spending time with my mother-in-law in the kitchen taught me the goodness of using traditional cookware such as cast iron woks and bronze kadais to cook typical Bengali meals. The taste of the food seems to have undergone a sea-change. The texture of the vegetables, the flavour of the dal and the sweetness of the kheer is enhanced by the earthiness that this traditional cookware imparts.”
The chaos and run for good health that the pandemic prompted gave people a reason to look at the past to handle their health better. And yes, going back to their grandmother’s cooking styles helped up the ante in the wellness department. But two years down the line, what started as a fad has now grown stronger into a movement as people are beginning to realise that past health practices are still relevant. Little wonder that as people like Cherian tread the nostalgia path, health is the winner.