A friend sent me the link to a site containing videos of some easy-to-make recipes and when I opened the site I was struck by a particular link on”how to chop an onion.” The charming cook complete with white coat and all ( much in the manner of scientists performing complicated experments in a lab) explained the right manner to cut the onion: You had to cut the ends off and make a single slight cut and then take the peel off taking care of the soft skin in between which is very slippery ; Then you had to make vertical cuts all the way like the numbers on the clock ”like so” leaving it connected in one end and finally make the horizontal cuts to get those hundred nice pieces which can then be used in any sauce or marinate or anything. Very useful vegetable, he said. You can view it here.

I wonder what the intended audience of this video must have been doing all these days when they didn't have access to this video – coveting those luscious red onions in the supermarket and not knowing how to cut them and dropping them back in despair. Poor souls, now finally they can use them, now that the secret has finally been revealed to them in its tiniest detail. And they can even cook a dish when they have a map to the kitchen and access to videos on how to boil water and peel and steam potatoes etc.

This reminded me of another program on the BBC where the cook was explaining how to get shredded coconut. For all those uninitiated, here’s how: You put the coconut inside a plastic or cloth bag and hit it a few times with a hammer ( taking care not to hurt your fingers!!). Then take out the pieces and scoop out the white portion which can then be shredded in a food processor. Difficult but not impossible huh?

That is when I realised the number of complicated processes I was performing day in and day out without giving it a second thought since the time I was 7 when my mother just told me to cut the onions or shred coconuts without even giving me a specific demo or a “How to” manual.They were ruthless, moms of yore!

And then I decided to break down my daily cooking into all the tasks involved and came up with some hundred tasks on a normal day and many more on festive days.
My sister called me this afternoon and asked me what I did all morning and I took out my task list and started reading and I had not even got to number 10 when she stopped me and said “Ok, you cooked and then?”
Can you imagine? My mother's daughter that she is, she labels my 74 tasks (enough work for 20 videos) as just “cooking” and then expects me to do more too...I hope you understand how upset I am. Overworked and exhausted as I am, I needed to talk to someone who would sympathise and here I am!
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28 Responses
  1. Barani Says:

    Ha Ha !! Funny.. Liked it.

    But know what there are lot of people in this world who need everything in their life to be taught procedurally. Especially in the country I Live.

    They would watch this video and applaud the dexterity with which the chef chopped those onions and term it a difficult task.

    Yesterday at work when I told of one of my colleague that 365-12 is 353 without actually using a calculator. She told me that I was "awesome" in Mathematics.. ;)

  2. usha, dont mind - but when i started cooking for the first time - i was some 10000 miles away from my mom - had never cooked before (see the bravado - first trials were made on hubby) - i would really have appreciated detailed instructions (not as detailed as the onion cutting ones - but detailed nevertheless) - I never understood - take some oil - add some onions - and put some veggies - and some masala instructions :)

  3. Usha Says:

    Barani: I am glad you found it funny - I hoped someone will. YOu see humour is something for which I need a Video manual.

    Somethingtosay: Hey, YOu are free to contradict anything I say. This is a free space.
    I know what you mean - a pinch of chilli, a dash of pepper and salt as desired are not easy instructions to follow. But a video on "cutting onions?"

  4. Anonymous Says:

    You may slice the onion whichever way you like, it's still onion :D

  5. Anonymous Says:

    Usha, 100 tasks in one morning. Ashtavadani, I believe is the term. Superwoman!

  6. Anonymous Says:

    Very funny! :) Well written!

  7. Anonymous Says:

    I know, cutting an onion is just cutting an onion. But then I see those master chefs on TV, cutting away the onion in fine pieces at superman speed without nicking their fingers and without a drop emerging from their eyes, it just seems that even a mundane task can be so good; for me, when the wife asks me to cut an onion, I know I am in for atleast 10 minutes of non-stop tear shedding.

  8. and then again one should remember that only we Indian women think it is o.k to spend an entire lifetime in the kitchen cooking and that cooking is second nature to us. I think such lessons are directed towards the average American mom whose idea of cooking is to open a can and microwave the contents..I don't mean this in any derogatory way but just another cultural yes, there is a target audience for such videos, sadly not us:( and oh! they even offer to break the coconuts for you at the local grocery store here,so....

  9. passerby55 Says:

    Usha, lol good post.

    cutting onions and shredding a coconut not a big deal in the kitchen.Mom had advised. So i learnt it faster. What counts in the end is the taste of the dish. It should be good.

    If i follow that procedure/instruction i would never finish with my cooking.

  10. Usha Says:

    TheRF: Unless you can carve it into a flower then it is a deluded onion with an appearance change!

    Raj:Ashtavadanam - our own name for multitasking.
    But these 100 tasks are no big deal. I was only splitting into detailed activities (fill the kettle, light the stove, heat the water, measure and fill coffee filter, add water, open carton, pour milk out, boil milk, wash cup, add sugar, add milk, add deoction, stir, serve that is 14 tasks for making coffee- some thing we do without giving it a seond thought while cutting vegetables, preparing the cooker for rice and dal and so on...

    Chitra: :)Thanks.

    Ashish: Now, That is a diff story. I used to love watching a chinese cook (Yan) on a cookery show going chop chop chop and that is an art!oh mundane tasks can be so good and so cathartic.

    Orchid:It is not just the Indian woman who spends time cooking - japanese do,koreans do,chinese do, srilnkans do, all arabs do, the french do and I think the germans too. In fact it is the Americans who don't. And even in India, the face of cooking has been transformed in families where both the spouses work and with the gadgets.The poor dont spend much time in the kitchen because they dont have much to cook. I spend 45 mins in the kitchen in the morn and 30 mins in the evening (and we eat all meals cooked and at home)
    I assume that the American mom is of basic intelligence - how difficult is it to figure out what to do if you keep an onion and a knife on a cutting board - without a video?
    if they cant, it requires extraordinary effort to be so dumb.
    well coconut thats a diff story- for example I would n't know how to cut a fish, which part to cook and which to throw!But if that was all I had to eat, I am sure I'd figure it out without needing a video.

    Passerby:Although not for these simple tasks, sometimes I have found some methodical recipe instructions very time saving - like Tarla dalal. Cooking has become simplified with the gadgets and readymade masalas and efficient kitchenware.

  11. Artnavy Says:


    But here is a tip that helped me- if u refridgerate the onion bef cutting-you will cry less

    Downside- ur fridge may stink to heaven if the onion peel is not intact

    I LOVE chopping veggies

  12. Mahadevan Says:

    Peeling off the skin and chopping an opinion, has always been treated, as less skillful job, and juniors are generally entrusted with the task. I often offer to undertake the task for two reasons - to relieve others of boredom and it suits my limited skills. But my wife used to warn me not to leave nail mark and therefore my skill had to be stretched too often.

    You post shows that nothing is trivial and that even in chopping an onion, one can pursue excellence.

  13. Anonymous Says:

    And this is a much better template.. the earlier one was like peeling onions.. made my eyes water and all that... :)

  14. Anonymous Says:


    It is not necessary many a times. But sometimes I have observed that cutting an onion into short pieces gives a different feel than when an onion is cut into thin long slices. Don't know why that happens, but it does happen and that makes a difference. :)

  15. Usha ji, this has to be one of the times I have to respectfully disagree with you.

    I don't see any reason why women around the world have to be stuck with cooking. It might have made sense when men were hunter-gatherers, and women stayed home. But in this day and age? If women in Germany and Sri Lanka and Korea are doing it, too bad, maybe it's time for things to change.

    Even the words I choose "stuck with cooking" tell you exactly what I feel about cooking - I hate it. I only do it because our society is structured in a way that expects women to do the cooking. I cook anyway in spite of my kvetching because I can't see my little one eating microwaved food or something straight out of a can.

    Here in the US, I see women working outside the home, and then they get back home by 7:00-8:00 to prepare dinner and pack lunch for the next day. And the crazy race continues. The lion's share of other household chores also falls on us. Is it fair to women in any way?

    The videos might be directed towards average Westerners, who might not be as well versed in chores as we are. Or maybe South Asian men, like my friend - who used to proudly proclaim that maggi and hot water were all he could make.

    I think more power to videos like this. I'm glad that technology allows people to learn what they couldn't/didn't at home under their moms' tutelage.

  16. Usha Says:

    artnavy: You can just place it in cold water for 10 mins before chopping. has the same effect. I love choppinb veggies too. Find it relaxing.

    Kishore: Beta is making my eyes water by eluding me!

    Balaji: Yes, it does and that is why the recipe suggests whether the onions are to be sliced thin or cut. Even the duration you fry them makes a difference.

    Priya: You misunderstood my intention - did I mention anywhere that it is the WOMEN who are doing it in China, Korea, France or even India? I used the phrase "not only Indian women" to repeat it from the comment I was responding to. I didnt suggest that it is a woman's role.And I am not advocating that every woman should cook or whatever - each one unto their own but to me, my ability to cook gives me the power to make and eat what I want and not have to depend on others.And I tell my son to learn to cook precisely for this. Food is an important component for healthy living.
    I learnt most of my cooking on the job and from books too - but chopping onions seems a bit of an insult to anyone's intelligence while I loved the other recipes in the same site.
    In any case I was stretching it a bit to get the humour across.

  17. Paavai Says:

    My stomach hurts - pardon my repeating - you do have a way with words Usha.

    A German friend when he saw me drink water without the glass touching my lips (thooki kudikkumbodu), said hey you are pouring water from top and catching it with your mouth. Simple tasks for some seem to be complex I suppose. A really good and entertaining post.

  18. Paavai Says:

    Stomach hurts because of laughing so much ...

  19. ha ha .,. u cud release some task videos too

  20. Anonymous Says:

    Hehehe really good one :). There are such videos all over the place. But I didn't know there was one for cutting onions :-D. As you said, some of the things are taught to us when we are in our teens like cutting veggies and shredding coconut, so it doesn't make sense for us.

    But there are some videos to use some of the machines here which my hubby finds helpful. Like once we found that we needed a glue gun to fix some of the tiles in the house (the policy of US - do it yourself :-p) and we didn't know how to use it. Yes, my hubby found a how-to video and it was helpful. Similarly for some pesticide-thing another time.

    Maybe some American is laughing at us for using the How-to-use-a-glue-gun video ;-). What seems foolish to us maybe life-saving for somebody else :-D.

  21. My bad, Usha. Probably read too much into what was meant as a funny post. Down with flu the last coupla days, so maybe that's making me go a little soft in the head. :) Take care.

  22. Anonymous Says:

    Hey Usha.. true, Internet and TV dish out such stuff, but sure their is an audience.
    I know a gang of men who apply rocket science when it comes to chopping onions..:B

  23. passerby55 Says:

    Hi USha,

    It just occured to me.

    Mom says that only the outer covering has to be peeled and then cut it. She strictly said don't peel all, just enuff,otherwise you will waste the onions.

    My MIL says after careful peeling Put the peeled ones in the bowl of water and then chop them. lot more boring, but then i teared less.

  24. Usha Says:

    Mahadevan: Missed your comment last time.Yes, those are junior's tasks - anything to do with lighting the fire requires proof of merit!
    Your wife is like me _ I also hate the pretty skin of onions being scratched with nail marks!

    Paavai: hehehe..Glad you liked it.
    Throw water in air and catch it huh! thats a very nice description.

    ITW: Starting with how to boil water??

    Deeps: Agree. And I love the way they laugh at themselves calling them idiot's guide, xyz for dummies etc.

    Priya: Howre you feeling now? Sorry I added to your grief. Get well soon.

    Antara: Aha and fundu management principles too I guess sss!

    Passerby: Oh doing housework to the exact specifications of Moms can be a tough task. And the worst part is they were mostly right!

  25. pop some peppermint or some chewing gum into your mouth.. and cut the onion.... eyes never water.

  26. Usha Says:

    Escape: Ah thats a "cool" tip!

  27. LOl Lol Lol This is why I have the patience to go thru your posts... you catch an occasional gem of sheer humour.
    How COULD your mother's sister say that?!!!

  28. Usha Says:

    JLT: Thanks for your patience. YOu really make me feel good.
    Not my mother's sister - MY sister, MY Mother's daughter!