Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Reluctant Sous Chef

I grew up in India and till I was ten years old lived in large “joint” family. My mom, although born and brought up in the same city as my dad, was from a different community and spoke a different language and was used to a very different cuisine from my dad’s family with whom we shared the house. My mother loved her food but was a very strict vegetarian but, whereas all the others in the family were used to a non- vegetarian diet (except for my dad who was not that fond of it). My grandmother was an excellent cook and I still treasure her recipes but my mom had to adjust to eating food cooked their way. My grandmother would supervise the menu but we had a cook to execute her recipes. There was a set menu for everyday of the week. If it was Monday then it had to be sprouted moong curry, and on Tuesday it had to be a lentil dish, Wednesday was vegetable stew etc. My mom would dread Sundays when invariably fish was served for lunch. Those afternoons when the fishy aroma of pomfret or mackerel cooked in coconut milk and spices assailed her nostrils, it was more than my mom could handle. Sometimes she would plan visits to her mother on these non-veg days.

My parents and I along with my brother moved to our own apartment when I was around 11. This is when I first realized that my mom could cook. All the time that we had lived together she had not had an opportunity to use her culinary talents. Her dishes had a very different flavor. She used diverse spices and herbs. For the first time in my life we didn’t have a cook to help make our meals.. From the very first day that we moved to our apartment, my mom got me involved in the kitchen. I was her reluctant sous chef. I remember wishing that I could play outside or be hanging out with my friends rather than chopping vegetables or loading the pressure cooker. But her persistence stands me in good stead today. I can make a perfectly round chapatti and I don’t hear too many complaints from my husband and children when there is a full meal on the table. I have in the years under her tutelage picked up a fair amount of her recipes. In the last few months of her life, as cancer raged through her body it was extremely disturbing to watch her unable to digest the very foods that she had loved to eat. Although my mother is no more, her flavorful memories will reside my heart.

Suneeta T.

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