Having stayed in North India for most of my life, I have noticed a peculiar phobia of North Indians. It is towards “outside food” or as they call it “Bahar ka khana”. I have also stayed in West, Central and East India & noticed this only in North India. Basically, most North Indians are extremely averse to eating restaurant food. Going out to eat or ordering food from outside is seen as a failure of the wife or mother in the family.
The first time I remember noticing this was when we had just moved to Chandigarh. We were invited to the home of one of my father’s colleagues for tea. When it was time to go, we excused ourselves by saying we have to go out for dinner to some restaurant. A look of disappointment dawned on their faces, immediately followed by a look of pity. They all looked at my mother and asked her why we “have to” eat out. We just told them that we always ate out on Sundays. They never respected my mother again, a useless wife/mother who won’t even cook for her family on weekends.
Over the years, I started noticing this phobia towards “outside food” more and more. When I would go out to eat with my friends, their parents would look down on me as if I am corrupting them. They would even ask me if “I didn’t get any food at home”. I also noticed that most of my friends never went out to eat with their families, even on special occasions.
I would notice this peculiarity even more when I went to Kolkata during my summer holidays. Everyone ate out all the time. Even my poorest relatives living in small towns went out to eat regularly. During major festivals, people there eat out all day and night. In North India, it just means that the wife/mother has to work extra hard to cook special food at home during festivals.
After my graduation, when I was working in Kolkata, me and my colleagues would order lunch everyday. No one brought food from home. When I moved back to Gurgaon, I noticed that almost everyone bought food from home. Mothers/wives are expected to wake up early every morning to cook lunch tiffins for their kids/husbands before they left for school/work, come rain or shine. When I ordered food, colleagues would be tempted to eat it, but would also be afraid to take their food back home uneaten. Sometimes they ate the “outside food” with me and then also had to finish their lunch.
During the lockdown, ordering food from outside though not illegal, was frowned upon. People always stared at me with disgust while I carried food from the society gate. Can his wife not cook?
In Bangkok, everyone goes out to eat during lunch, except some Indians (mostly North Indians). They all cook their own food in the morning and bring to work with them. During lunch, they go sit in the parking lot and eat that food as our office doesn’t have a designated place to have lunch.
I am not quite sure where all this stems from. Most people I have asked think restaurant food is unhygienic (sure, if you eat roadside food). Most just consider eating at home the normal thing to do and eating out an anomaly. Maybe some of it comes from the looming patriarchy in North Indian culture where a woman’s primary role is to cook and clean. Also, why spend money eating out?
On a positive note, in spite (or because of) all this, North Indians are some of the warmest people I have met who always invite you to sit with them and have a (home cooked, of course) meal. I do appreciate home cooked meals, but I also want a fancy meal at restaurants every now and then.