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Cooking in India

INDIA | Thursday, 29 March 2007 | Views [763]

One of the best things about traveling through India is the food. After 14 months of living in Korea where vegetarianism is a strange, foreign concept, it is so good to be able to go into any restaurant and have often more options than the meat-eaters. Besides that, Indian food is probably my most favorite of all cuisines. I decided to bring a little of that joy home with me by learning how to cook some of my favorite dishes. In Udaipur, I signed up for a cooking class with the sister of a friendly man who owns an internet cafe. It turned out to be one of the best experiences I've had in India. At 6 pm, I met the man, Yash, at his internet place. Then I hopped up onto the back of his motorcycle, side-saddling it like I have seen so many of the women in Asia do, because I was wearing a long skirt. We weaved in and out of traffic (cars, bikes, rickshaws, and cows) and drove into the outskirts of the city. When we arrived at his home, his sister greeted me. She was sitting in front of a small table, on which were dozens of small bowls containing various chopped, sliced, and diced vegetables and a tray of spices. She explained to me what she had prepared. I also met her son, who is 9 years old and a very sweet young boy. He was delighted when I told him that I had been an English teacher. He pranced and danced around the room while asking me questions, practicing the language. After watching my hostess cut, slice, and dice for awhile, I asked if I could help. She pointed to a dish of onions and asked if I could chop onions. I told her yes, but that I would probably cry. She handed me a knife and left the room. I assumed she wanted me to chop up the onion pieces that were in the bowl she had pointed to, so taking charge, I grabbed the bowl and started chopping. I realized then that I should probably wait for her to return to tell me how finely to chop the onions. I stopped and waited for more direction. She came in and I asked, "Is this alright?" pointing to my pile. She kind of half-smiled, and said reluctantly, "Yes". Then she took the bowl away from me and handed me two full onions. Oh, I see. I had chopped the wrong onions. I decided to observe a bit more and participate a bit less... after chopping the onions that she wanted me to (and yes, I cried).

During the lesson, my hostess caught me off guard with a question, "What caste are you from?" "What?" I asked, although I had heard her. She repeated her question. "There is only one caste in Canada and everyone is in it", I explained, "Everyone is equal" (Or so the theory goes...). Then she explained that she was from the Brahmin caste (the highest priestly caste or the "intellectuals"), and because of that, her family does not drink alcohol, smoke, or eat meat or eggs. No wonder she was wondering what caste I was from... it dictates so much of her life that I'm sure she finds it hard to imagine a society without a caste system. I told her that I basically abide by the same restrictions of my own free will, with the exception of the occasional drink or egg. I also mentioned that I did not eat anything sweet, sugar or fruit, because I hate the taste. I always have. She looked skeptical, so I said, "It's very strange." "Very, very strange," she agreed, looking at me out of the corner of her eyes with lowered eyebrows. Then she made Indian tea (chai) for me- without the sugar- and it was delicious.

Then we started. I stood in the corner of the kitchen taking notes as she dictated her recipes to me. I learned how to make Malai Kofta, Alu Palak, Chappati and Paratha. During the lessons, the issue of water came up. I didn't even ask... she decided I was thirsty- and she was right. Her son came in and said he'd run to the store for me to get bottled water. His mother looked cross and said to me, "Our water is fine. It's clean. I filter is everyday. You can drink our water, but if you want, my son will go." I decided to trust her and drink their water. And again, she was right. Her water was fine.

After we finished everything, my hostess asked me to sit at a small table in the next room. She brought out the dishes that we had made (really, that she had made)and I ate. I ate alone. I asked if she would eat too, and she told me that they would eat after I left. Across from me, she sat watching me. Her mother, who was laying on a bed and picking bay leaves off the plant stems, was also watching me. They stared. I chewed. They stared. I swallowed. Occasionally she would ask how it was. "So good", I would say politely. More staring. Slightly awkward...

Everything was delicious and I can't wait to experiment and try to concoct the same food in my own home. Something tells me it's harder than it looks.

At the end of the meal, Yash drove me back to my hotel on his bike. He asked if I would move in with them. I could stay and teach English, he said. I declined, although I wonder what it would have been like. Tasty, at the very least.

Tags: Food & eating


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