Monday, February 21, 2011

Kitchen, Kitchen!

(This is probably the most instinctive post I have ever written.
Though I have been brought up in Mumbai with a hugely cosmopolitan crowd, I have grown up in a Maharashtrian family. So, sometimes I get amazed and also overwhelmed by the amount of diversity around me, in terms of food, language, customs, traditions etc. This post symbolises not only the food, but the diverse cultures I am soooo closely associated with.)

As a kid, I would love to play "Kitchen" with my friends. My friend's grandmom used to give us grains of dal, murmura and stuff so that we could use it to cook "rice" and "subzi" in little containers.

I have grown up now, but I still love to play "Kitchen" - albeit, in my real one. It's one place in the house where I am reeeally happy. The smell of different foods, spices make me feel heady. But my kitchen happens to be different than most others. It is open to everyone. The number of people who have cooked in my kitchen, in just one year, is huge. And what's special, is that they are all of a different ethnicity!

Let us begin with my maid. She is a Nepali. She cooks food that is closer to North Indian food. I have Keralite in-laws. I have pukka North Indian friends who visit us as often. I happen to be from a Maharashtrian family. (What's more, my bhabhi is Punjabi and my niece and nephew are mac-and-cheese loving Americans. But that's a whole different story. She is very adaptive and has more or less acclimatized to my mom's style of cooking and we, too, love her great style of cooking...)

We have a lot of guests, at all times of the year. With each guest, my mode of thinking in terms of grocery shopping starts to readjust. When my North Indian friends come, mustard oil, (bucketloads of) butter and ghee leave their places on their respective shelves for the day. The vegetable-shopping ranges from the quaint old cauliflower, mushrooms to blocks of paneer. My kitchen smells of awesome ginger or masala tea...And the chicken jumps into a completely different broth. I had a North Indian roomie, so I more or less have stuff heaped according to the old PG kitchen we had. There is basmati rice, kasoori methi, the pink and brown masoor dals, rajma and a different set of spices.

When my in-laws are here, my kitchen gets into a very different mode. The first thing to come out is the coconut grater.
The story of the coconut grater is thus. I have two of these things. When my mom and mom-in-law noticed that I dont use coconut in my cooking, they promptly got me one grater each during the same visit! Recently, one of my North Indian friends, found one of those in one corner of the kitchen. It was funny, because he did not even know which side was up. He held it upside-down and asked me what it was. On the other hand, I stifled a smile when my husband's aunt who was visiting us, frantically asked where it was, when she could not find it. It had been sadly sitting in a corner, as in the previous week, we had the North Indian folks cooking! But now, it suddnely was the star of the kitchen!

When the Kerala cooking begins, the coconut oil mightily shoves the mustard oil out. Curry leaves, curd and dosa batter come and sit in my refrigerator. So does the awesome South Indian coffee! And of course, lots of bananas. The tools that comes out of the shelves are also different - the dosa ladle, the puttu maker, and sometimes the idli stand. At this time, the atta feels ignored a bit as rice is the center of attraction...

Sometimes, I find things I didn't know exist in my kitchen. Once I found a very old packet of "red matta" rice. I really didn't know what it was, or who had bought it, but I let it stay - lest someone comes looking for it. There were also some black coloured tiny grains. I still don't know what they were, and who got them. Sometimes, my friends get into a sudden mood to make macaroni or pasta that, in turn, need lots of cheese, tabasco or a tartare dip. So, I have that stacked in my kitchen, too. Luckily for me, all my guests have been kind enough and very adjusting. They don't mind the absence of certain ingredients in my kitchen and voluntarily run out to buy whatever is missing from their recipes...

When my mom comes into my kitchen, she inquisitively looks around and sees tools she cannot figure out what they are. She looks at the pink and brown coloured dals in my kitchen and cannot believe that it is her own daughter's kitchen, who is a Maharashtrian! :) She is relieved when she sees a jar of sabudana and poha. A sweetheart that she is, she tries to rearrange things for me in the kitchen for my convinience, but it sometimes confuses me and my maid, and we start on yet another hunting expedition around the kitchen.

I have seen the sabudana khichdi travel to Kerala, North Indians hog on dosas and my mom cook rajma. A complete cultural exchange right under my nose..I know how much green curry leaves in rajma, black specks of mustard seeds in pav bhaji and the absence of coconut in sambar can super-annoy a North Indian, a Mumbaiite and a Malayalee respectively.

I have often wondered what would happen if all of them came together. That has happened a couple of times - at least my parents and in-laws have stayed together. But it went so smooth. We had a whacky meal of sambar rice, popadum plus roti and baingan ka bharta! My mom-in-law could not stop talking about it! My mom made a perfectly dry sabudana khichdi and awesome aalu ke paranthe. Amma and I oooh-ed on as the alu-stuffing didn't ooze out even one bit. And Mommy and I ooho-ed on while Amma made perfect crisp dosas that we could never make! :)