Unlearning Patriarchy: Flavors of Change in the Kitchen

By Niharika Tripathi

In the heart of our family kitchen, where the flavors of tradition and conformity converged, I witnessed a peculiar blend between food and patriarchal influence. As a child, I observed how my father’s preferences dictated our kitchen. His love for pumpkin permeated every dish, while the absence of spices like amchoor reflected in our meals. The very clear patriarchal hierarchy fueled by the society shaped our family dynamics. However, amidst this influence, my mother quietly rebelled by striving to please my brother and me with foods that catered to our tastes. It was a small rebellion, but it stood out as a symbol of individuality in a household that often adhered to traditional norms. Little did I know then that this seemingly mundane aspect of our daily lives held a deeper connection to the journey of unlearning patriarchal codes and the pursuit of personal rejuvenation, reimagination, reconception, and rebirth.

An image of kaddu ki sabzi (pumpkin dish), lovingly prepared by my mother.

Thinking back on the food choices that were made, one ingredient stands out in my memory: khatai. This small, pickle-like condiment, with its tangy and savory notes, held a special place in my heart. Growing up, khatai was a rarity in our meals, as my father never allowed its inclusion. I could only indulge in its delightful taste when I visited my grandmother once a year.

The limited access to khatai made it all the more precious to me. It became a symbol of the connections I cherished, the memories I treasured, and the small rebellions that brought me joy. So, as I continue to infuse the flavors of khatai into my meals, I do so with gratitude for the memories it evokes and the personal liberation it represents. It’s a reminder that even the smallest additions to our kitchen can carry profound significance, honoring our past while shaping our future.

A collection of spices, including amchoor, representing the diverse flavors explored in our kitchen.

Thinking back on the food choices that were made, one ingredient stands out in my memory: khatai. This small, pickle-like condiment, with its tangy and savory notes, held a special place in my heart. Growing up, khatai was a rarity in our meals, as my father never allowed its inclusion. I could only indulge in its delightful taste when I visited my grandmother once a year.

The limited access to khatai made it all the more precious to me. It became a symbol of the connections I cherished, the memories I treasured, and the small rebellions that brought me joy. As I continue to infuse the flavors of khatai into my meals, I do so with gratitude for the memories it evokes and the personal liberation it represents. It’s a reminder that even the smallest additions to our kitchen can carry profound significance, honoring our past while shaping our future.

As I grew older, I couldn’t help but notice another aspect of patriarchal codes: the unequal distribution of food. Even as times changed, the practice of serving men first persisted within our extended family. Even now, as my cousins’ wives and my sister-in-law strive for change, my aunts and mother find solace in feeding everyone else before savoring the meals they have lovingly prepared. 

Amidst the flavors that defined our family’s culinary landscape, there was one dish that my mother held close to her heart: kadhi. Its tangy notes and velvety texture had always enticed her taste buds. However, a cloud of restriction hung over this beloved dish. My father, driven by his own preferences, made it very clear that he did not care for kadhi. The mere mention of it seemed to trigger an unspoken restriction. Although my mother had a strong fondness for kadhi, she still adhered to the restriction. It was a silent sacrifice, a relinquishing of her own desires to appease the patriarchal codes that subtly dictated our family’s culinary choices.

Kadhi Recipe

Ingredients:

1 cup yogurt

3 tablespoons gram flour (besan)

2 cups water

1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder

1 teaspoon red chili powder

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds

A pinch of asafoetida (hing)

1 tablespoon ghee (clarified butter)

Curry leaves 

Salt to taste

Fresh coriander leaves for garnish

My mother would whisk curd with gram flour to form a smooth mixture. In a pan, she would heat ghee and add cumin seeds, mustard seeds, and a pinch of asafoetida, saut√©ing them briefly. Then, she would add the yogurt-gram flour mixture and stir in water, turmeric powder, red chili powder, and salt. The kadhi would simmer on low heat until it thickened and the raw taste of gram flour disappeared. Finally, she would garnish it with fresh coriander leaves. While this process resulted in a delicious dish, its significance has always been beyond its flavour for me. 

Through these experiences of our kitchen, I developed a sense of self awareness of the pervasive influence of patriarchal codes and their impact on individuals and relationships around me. I started questioning the norms and expectations that permeated our family dynamics. Witnessing my mother’s quiet rebellion and the compromises she made to accommodate the preferences of others opened my eyes to the hidden sacrifices and silencing of personal desires that often accompany traditional gender roles. It became clear to my brother and I that unlearning patriarchal codes required a conscious dismantling of ingrained patterns and a reimagining of relationships rooted in equality and individual autonomy.

A bowl of tangy and velvety kadhi, representing a dish restricted by patriarchal preferences.

The change in our kitchen may have seemed subtle at first, but in hindsight, it was a much-needed and transformative shift. As I began questioning the patriarchal nature of our surroundings, a seed of change was planted within our family dynamic. The conversations initiated sparked a collective awakening, encouraging each family member to reevaluate their own beliefs and behaviors in the kitchen. We recognized the need to break free from the limitations imposed by tradition and embrace a more inclusive and authentic way of living. Gradually, our kitchen became a space where everyone’s voices were heard, preferences were respected, and contributions were celebrated. It was through this subtle revolution that we cultivated an environment of harmony, equality, and individual empowerment. The change in our kitchen rippled into other aspects of our lives, inspiring us to challenge societal norms, pursue personal growth, and forge deeper connections with one another. In hindsight, I now realize that this seemingly small shift held the power to transform not only our family’s relationship with food but also our overall sense of well-being and fulfillment.

The dining table displays a variety of dishes. In the center, a vibrant pumpkin dish stands out, accompanied by a creamy kadhi bowl.

Niharika Tripathi is a feminist researcher and writer specializing in research and advocacy. With a background in law, she brings a unique perspective to her work, focusing on gender-based violence and social change. Through qualitative research and community engagement, Niharika challenges patriarchal norms, striving for a more inclusive world.


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