Sumptuous, delicious and extravagant food shows up at home during festivals – just like magic. My mother had memorized the secret recipes, passed down by word of mouth through four generations. These women prepared nourishment for their families whose very lives depended on their art to protect them from hunger. They controlled the fires at the right temperatures while sharpening and wielding their knives as if preparing for a showdown.
A week before the big festival took place, I followed my father to purchase a he-goat. The bazaar was filled with goats brought all the way from the mountains. There were spotted, black, brown, white, with moustaches and most had a pair of handsome horns. We returned home with a nice little black goat in tow.
Mother scrutinized the goat and nodded with approval. It was just right – not too young and not too old. A day before the festival the men prepared the meat for her.
The heated wood stove was fed with firewood. The spices already roasted and ground. Red hot chillies, turmeric, cinnamons, garlic, ginger, cardamoms, coriander and cumin seeds lay in a bowl by the stove. A huge iron cooking pot was placed on the heated stove on which generous amount of golden mustard oil was poured. The oil began heating up giving out a strong mustardy scent all around the kitchen and beyond. It was now time for the onions to go in which created little bubbles before turning light brown.
‘It has to be brown not black, you must remember this’, mother said.
This was one important recipe that needed to be passed down to my next generation and so on. The brown onions now mingled with the rest of the spices emanating more fragrance into the air. The big chunks of meat were slowly dropped into the pan. I could smell the coat of the little black goat and shrugged. She stirred the meat and spices with a big ladle, almost the side of a spade and stood guard to check on the firewood.
The meat was ready within two hours of slow cooking after which it was stored overnight for the ingredients to seep into the meat. I slept with the strong fragrance of the spices floating around the house and dreamt of the goat.
The next day we wore new clothes and visited the elders for their blessings. Members of the extended families were invited over to lunch. Brass metal plates were filled with white rice, the goat meat, vegetables and pickles served. The meat melted in my mouth. It was simply marvelous. We ate till we could not move.
But now, things are different. Most of my elders are no more and the younger ones have moved on to other places leaving only a few of us to celebrate festivals. The goat has long been replaced with purchases from the neighborhood meat shop. Though the tradition of cooking must still go on, it will never be quite the same for me again.