“I cook way better than my wife, but I have never cooked at home,” JM said during an icebreaker moment at a recent workshop. His friends and siblings know that JM can roll chapatis and blend spices for some tasty pilau. He loves cooking too. But his wife has no idea. To make it worse, JM added, “Cooking is not one of my wife’s areas of strength. In fact, we tolerate her meals, just to keep peace at home, and to avoid starvation.”
He has kept this a top-secret, so much so that when she must travel out of town, she will make enough meals and pack them to chill in the fridge. “When I take them out to warm, I recook them, my way.” She would be stunned if she were to cut short her trip and find him marinating and grilling. He especially makes soft, well-rounded chapatis, the opposite of his wife’s. “Her chapatis are hard, crispy, and out of shape.” For this reason, he pretends not to like chapatis and will rarely touch them when he finds them served at home. His caring wife makes him Ugali when it is chapati day on the menu at their house.
“In fact, my wife believes that I have some allergic reaction to wheat. I love chapos!”
It is no surprise then that he will eat chapatis when out of home more than other meals.
“Why the trouble? Why not jazz her with your cooking?” I asked, remembering how no one has yet to replicate my brother’s mastery of cooking beef, the wet fry. When they have guests, my sister-in-law will make other meals and leave the beef cooking to him. For sure, guests will always compliment the soft and tasty meat.
“Mimi ni wale…no way can I enter a kitchen. As a man, we don’t do that, in my culture.” JM said, which was a shock seeing as we are age mates, and this tradition was only observed by our parent’s generation. I recall seeing my grandfather cooking, especially roast meats, and baking cassava in ash, but I do not recall my dad or any of my uncles cooking. It is like someone told them that they would be fined or taxed if they so much as learned how to slice an onion.
“When it comes to professional cooking, the male chefs dominate the world, but for domestic cooking, at least in Africa, women are expected to take on that as their wifely duties.” I lamented, to which JM added, “We also do other things, for example, school fees and other big bills.”
Janet almost jumped up. “Women take half or in some cases more of the bills, yet we do one hundred percent of all the domestic chores, even when we hate it.”
Like other cultural roles and expectations, cooking has no doubt metamorphosed over time. Traditionally, a woman’s place was in the kitchen, whether she would whip a meal or mashakura together was no consideration. Today, especially for urban homes, cooking is more for the talent and love of it than an expectation.
Those who are gifted and relish cooking, like my friend Betty, will not allow a house assistant to cook for her children and husband. She makes a daily ceremony to get home in time and whip out a meal that would turn any chef envious.
Her culinary touch and superior taste buds mean that she is also hard to please. When we eat out, I lick my fingers and exclaim, “That was super tasty.” She will frown and say, “The cayenne pepper was too much. It overpowered the thyme.” It is one thing to love cooking. It is a whole other matter to be great at it. Many of us who love cooking have had to spend hours on cook shows, trying, testing, sometimes succeeding, and sometimes serving burnt offerings to long-suffering families.
A Yale University research found out that women have indeed more taste buds than men, hence their sensitive palates would make them better cooks. In fact, about thirty-five percent of women are supertasters, which means they identify flavours such as bitter, sweet, and sour more strongly than others. Pregnant women take the crown as their taste buds are above the normal average. Only fifteen percent of men qualify as supertasters. Cooking then is more about the love of it, than a duty for the wife.