A pot, a knife, a dabba—all made far more precious because they come with the memories of people who used them, and the stories that they shared. We invite you to look through treasured kitchen things from across the country.
Kitchen hand-me-downs are not just a wonderful way to hold on to family heirlooms, but also a meaningful way to preserve and carry on important parts of our culinary heritage. They hold within them the precious traditions of our regional cuisines and diverse communities, and offer a window into aspects of our food culture which are slowly being forgotten.
Whether they take the shape of a worn out cast iron pan, a quaint old mortar and pestle, or even a dogeared handwritten cookbook, they remind us of a time gone by, and connect us to the people that we love and are separated from.
I inherited these chattis (pots) from Ammachi, my late maternal grandmother. She used different chattis depending on what she cooked. The large chatti (top left) was used to make fish curry, the small one (bottom left) for pachadis (yogurt and coconut based vegetable dish), the pot-like chatti for kaachi moru (seasoned yogurt), and the iron-kadai (bottom right) for making small quantities of mezhukupurattis (vegetable stir fry). Never did she allow any to be used interchangeably!
Ammachi always cooked over an open fire, and all her pots still have the fragrance of the smoke from her kitchen in Kerala. Even today when I cook in these pots, I am transported back to her kitchen.
Text & images by Simy Mathew (Kerala)
This traditional Orotti-maker was passed on to my mother from my Ummumma (grandmother), and is with me right now. It is used to make orotti, a traditional Kerala Muslim dish. To use it, you need to first place a wet, white cotton cloth on top of the Orotti-maker. Then, keep a portion of the rice dough in the inner circle and press it with your hand to make a perfectly round shape. To cook the orotti, flip the cloth directly onto the tawa so that it doesn’t break.
Text & images by Shyba Nizar (Kerala)
My mother got the Shil Nora and Boti as wedding gifts from my Naanu (maternal grandfather) when she got married 35 years ago, and these have been a part of our kitchen ever since.
My Nani would only use the Shil Nora (mortar and pestle) to make spice pastes—a tradition that is dying out in a lot of modern Bengali kitchens. The flat stone is the Shil and the cylindrical one is the Nora. In the alleys of rural Bengal, you can still hear the forgotten echoes of “Shil-nora dhaar koraben?” (Will you get the Shil Nora sharpened?) as engravers move from alley to alley, and engrave beautiful designs on the Shil Nora.
The Boti (cutting utensil) is still used daily by my mother, especially for cutting banana flowers, pumpkin and other vegetables that are tough to chop with a knife. This particular Boti was custom-designed by my grandparents for my mother’s wedding: a Narkel-Khuruchi (coconut grater) was attached to it. I still remember how when I was young my mother taught me how to scrape fresh coconut on it. This became my main task during the Lokhkhi Puja (Lakshmi Puja) season when she used to make coconut narus (laddus).
Text & images by Pallavi Dutta (West Bengal)
The bread knife is reminiscent of a time when bread was sold only as whole loaves, and you had to actually cut slices out of it. This particular knife is by Viners Ltd (established in 1908) – official cutlers to King George V (also inscribed on this knife). The wooden case that it is housed in and the lacquer handle make this a beautiful piece of heirloom. It is something that I continue to use every time I buy bread loaves from any of Cuttack’s remaining old-school bakeries.
Text & images by Rachit Kirteeman (Odisha)
Snacks are an essential part of all Maharashtrian households. During Diwali, faral—a collection of snacks—is relished by Maharastrians and distributed to visiting guests. Faral items like karanji, shankarpali, chakali, chiwada, sev and laddoo were enthusiastically cooked at home, but they needed to be stored for a longer shelf life.
My Aaji (grandmother) loved hoarding kitchen storage containers, and three decades ago, she bought these stainless steel square lock dabbas. My mother recalls how instead of serving the faral in individual plates, Aaji used to keep these steel dabbas out on the table, like a prized possession. But the idea was that anyone could access the dabbas, and eat their favourite snacks from it.
My Aaji passed away 13 years ago. We have lived in 11 homes and in different cities over time, but Aaji's dabbas have travelled with us, and will always have a place in our kitchen. And though we now use store-bought faral during Diwali, we continue to follow the ritual of storing snacks in my Aaji's stainless steel dabbas. It makes us feel her presence amidst the celebrations.
Text & images by Shivani Kulkarni (Maharashtra)
I was not a cooking enthusiast till a few years ago. But I’d been taught cooking by my aai (mother) who believed it is a basic life skill. My happiest memories around cooking were visiting the local fresh produce markets and the kitchenware shops near the railway station with her. I loved watching her name and the date get etched by hand on different vessels by the man sitting outside the store. Aai reminded me that the name identified the owner but the date marked a special occasion when the kitchenware was brought.
When I got married, we shopped for some basic utensils and serveware which were a part of my rukhawat (a collection of gifts, food products and cookware gifted to a young bride). My mother-in-law instructed me not to buy too much since we already had a lot collected over two generations. Over the last few years, my kitchen has seen addition of new equipment and fancy serve ware. But it’s my mother-in-law’s kitchenware which ranges in age from 20 to 50 years old that is used for everyday cooking.
The three metal spoons each have their specific purposes– the kaltha (used to flip rotis, bhakri, dosas), the bhaatwadi (used to serve rice) and the jhaara (used while frying to drain excess oil). The lemon squeezer and the lakadi ravi (wooden curd churner used to prepare butter and buttermilk) will complete 20 years soon.
The three graters, one for vegetables, second for garlic and ginger, and the finest one for nutmeg and dried ginger are around 35 years old now.
The two thokyachi paraat (ठोक्याची परात)--hand-chiseled large plates with raised slanted edges–are almost 50 years old. I use the bigger one daily to knead dough while the smaller one is used to feed my baby, just like her father was once fed. The brass katani (cutter) is used to prepare shankarpale (Diwali sweet) and chakolya (dal-based fresh pasta), and the sorya (wooden press) is used to prepare shev, sevaiyan and chakali (Diwali savouries).
The telacha dabba (cooking oil vessel) is almost 25 years old, and the sushila vessel next to the pressing machine is used to store ghee by me. I recall my mother-in-law using it to store coconut oil for hair application.
I remember laughing when my mother became frantic that a spoon or vati couldn't be located. I never understood why she became so worried over something I then thought was trivial. It was only after my mother-in-law passed away a few years ago that I realized why. The vessels might be old but they are sturdy. They have seen the efforts that went in working day and night to dish out delicious meals. They have seen the once young-and-smooth bridal hands become old and rough with wrinkles. They are the memories of my mother-in-law in our hearts. Just like her and Aai, I too now get the name and date engraved on the kitchenware I buy. One day, the next generations will look up to them just like I do and cherish the memories we created together.
Text & images by Aparna Apte Karandikar (Maharashtra)
A Yong Khot is a fairly common, humble and 'uncelebrated' tool that can be found in most Manipuri homes. It is used to scrape the green skin off of yong chaak, an indigenous twisted wide bean that grows abundantly in Manipur and typically a winter harvest. Yong chak has a very distinctive and unique smell, and is usually sold in bunches. It's a bit of a task to scrape off the outer skin and get to the legume inside - which is what is used in most recipes.
This one has been in our kitchen for over 35 years, even before I was born. Today, it's just my dad and I who live out here, but a simple kitchen tool like this brings back memories of a time when his house was much fuller - replete with the laughter of children, my siblings and cousins, the buzz of relatives and visiting guests coming in and out, tantalizing smells and sounds emanating from the kitchen of singju and eromba in preparation, and cold winters.
Text & images by Ammo Angom (Manipur)
Do you have a favourite #KitchenHandMeDown? Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org with a high resolution image of it, and don’t forget to include why it’s special to you.