• The pressure cooker is something of a revolution in Indian society. (Bhavna Kalra)Source: Bhavna Kalra
The kitchen appliance that gave women in India their time back.
Bhavna Kalra

7 Oct 2021 - 11:05 AM  UPDATED 15 Oct 2021 - 9:50 AM

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A famous advertisement in 1990s India was for a pressure cooker by a local company called Prestige. The ad jingle translates into English as: "someone who loves his wife, can't say no to Prestige".

Traditionally in India, women are the homemakers and it's their job to cook. However, over time women have been joining the workforce, leaving them with little or no time to cook meals.

In the '90s, microwaves and ovens weren't so common in India, but pressure cookers were and they changed everything by reducing the cooking time by half. Given that traditional society continued to see women as cooks, our mums could come home after a long day of work and still make delicious lentil and curry dishes to fill hungry bellies. 

"Over the years, we've moved cities countless times, and my pressure cooker has gone everywhere with me."

You could even hear the collective whistles of hundreds of pressure cookers releasing steam together across the neighbourhood, as if on cue.

When I was 12, I baked my first cake in a pressure cooker under my mum's watchful eye because, unlike an electric oven, pressure cookers can be extremely unstable and are known to explode when not handled with care. 

When my husband and I first moved to Australia, we carried three suitcases and a small box with a deftly cocooned precious cooker covered in multiple layers of bubble wrap to survive the flight from India.

Having visited Australia previously for work, I'd struggled to make lentils for myself in my small serviced apartment. I remember trying to cook yellow lentils in a pot for lunch, which I then ate for dinner because that's how long it took to soften them on the stove. That experience unnerved me, so I ensured I had a pressure cooker this time around. However, imagine my surprise when I found the house we had rented in Perth had an induction stove, instead of a gas one. My poor pressure cooker was relegated to the back of the kitchen cabinet because it was not induction friendly, and we had to move heaven and earth to find a pan that would work on the induction.

Finally, we found one, and it was only after I made my first pot of dahl in our tiny apartment and ate it with some hot rice, mango pickle and a generous helping of ghee that I felt settled. 

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Over the years, we've moved cities countless times, and my pressure cooker has gone everywhere with me. Like most Indian families, I've also collected an army of them, including a fancy so-called 'instant pot' with a few more tricks up its stainless-steel sleeve (it runs on electricity). 

The pressure cooker has also been a lifesaver during lockdown. I can make a comforting dahl or a gravy-based vegetable dish in between Zoom calls. The pressure cooker means hot, nourishing food, even on the busiest of days, is just moments away.


Bhavna Kalra is a passionate Indian cook based out of Sydney. She missed Indian food after moving to Australia over a decade ago and started to cook, write, and document the traditional recipes that she grew up eating back home. follow her on Instagram @themoderndesi.co

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