Measuring in ‘whistles’

Why do we Indians measure time to cook pasta (or noodles) in minutes, but time to cook rice in ‘whistles’?

In India, rice is mostly cooked in pressure cookers. This led to households measuring cooking time based on the number of times the pressure cooker whistles. I was taught to cook rice on a high flame till the pressure cooker whistled three times, simmer for five minutes and let the cooker depressurize naturally.

However, whistles as a means for measuring cooking time is flawed. Much like pasta in boiling water, the thermal conditions within a fully pressurized cooker are practically stable. The only variable that truly matters is the time the setup remains under pressure. The frequency of whistles depend upon the energy output (size) of one’s stove and can vary substantially, given that we Indians now cook rice upon gas stoves, induction stoves and electric cooktops.

Back when everybody used the same gas-stove and stopwatches were a rarity in an Indian household, whistles served as a good enough heuristic. It is time we moved on. Yet, I see almost every Indian recipe prescribe whistles instead of minutes – I don’t expect this to change anytime soon.

What we are used to sticks around even when it doesn’t serve us any more.

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