I seem to attract people who share the same passions as I do. I have an Indian friend who is passionate about food. One morning, we stumbled on the topic of food, I must say that he surprised me when he told me about his love for cooking as typically in the Indian culture it is the woman who are always in the kitchen. He started talking about various Indian dishes and how fresh spices were the secret to an excellent Indian dish. As he passionately started explaining how to test the freshness of the spices, I embarrassingly admit that I drifted away to a loving memory of my Mother.
My Mother was an eccentric woman and loved all things bright, bold and beautiful, especially her food. She loved any Indian dish and was always in the kitchen trying to replicate one of the many Indian dishes, she was always keen to taste. Never one to ask for much in life, she often sacrificed her time to ensure that all of our needs were met.
She did however have one delight, which she would religiously do week after week. A visit to the local Indian bazaar was a necessity for her and not just a treat. It was during these weekly visits that I would go along with her and she would always make it crystal clear ,that this was her time and she was not to be disturbed.
I followed her wherever she went, in and out of every shop. My senses were overloaded, seeing brightly colored saris made from the finest materials, adorning stall after stall, sounds of lively Indian percussions would put a spring in your step as you wandered through the bazaar and the mixture of spices and incense left you ravenous, alluring you to sample some of the finest freshest dishes.
With her remarkable warm personality and her ability to read a person’s character in an instant, it came as no surprise that my Mother made friends easily. She befriended an elderly Indian woman, who had a small spice stall. She would be at the spice stall for what seemed liked hours, seeking advice on how to perfect her dishes. Asking what spices were the best and how to apply them to her dishes to produce the finest results. The kind elderly lady would always tell my Mother that the secret was in the correct amount of fresh spices. In a flash, she would be scooping away at the spices, making a “secret” blend for her. My Mother, being inquisitive and determined to find out what spices were being blended together would be trying to write down the names, but only managed to get a few. It was fun to watch this game of cat and mouse, as both woman knew what the other was doing. Finally after much persuasion and persistence, my Mother had earned the trust of the lady and we were invited to tea. It was during this time, that my Mother was taught how to identify fresh spices and was given the secret blend.
Not that my Mother needed any further motivation, but having learnt about her spices , my Father and I were in for a treat and I can’t begin to tell you how many Indian dishes we sampled after this encounter.
It was through my Mother’s Love for Indian food, that I became interested in finding out more about how to prepare various dishes and befriended a chef at a hotel I was working for. It wasn’t long before She would educate me on the know how’s on preparing various Indian dishes. Soon I became acquainted with her family and was invited to dinner. I remember calling my Mother and telling her that I was going for dinner with my friend and her family and I really cannot remember who was more excited – myself or her!!!!
The evening of the dinner arrived and I was warmly welcomed into my friend’s home, immediately the kaleidoscope of colors caught my eye and the familiar smell of spices and incense made me feel at home.
I was introduced to other family members and friends and was told to take a seat and relax as I was their dinner guest. It was only after much debate with my friend and her family that I was allowed to enter her kitchen. I was offered a warm spicy tea before dinner and as I took a sip, I realized how fortunate I was to be able to have dinner with this family. A wave of emotion rushed over me as I could not thank them enough for their generosity and kindness. I stood in the warmth of her humble kitchen, feeling awestruck, unbeknown to myself that I would be momentarily culture shocked. Remembering my manners, I offered to help lay the dinner table and my friend laughed at me. She looked at me in amazement, as if I should have known the words that were about to come out of her mouth, as she said that it would not be necessary to lay any table, as we would be having our dinner on the floor. I looked at her bewildered and was led into the next room, only to find a beautiful circle of scattered cushions on the floor, candles lit, incense burning and light music playing in the background. While I stood staring, the food had been brought in and I was told to take a seat on any cushion. Lovingly the dishes were placed in the middle and we joined hands and thanks for the food was given. I watched as bowl of water was passed around. Following everybody else’s lead, I washed my hands and then dinner was served – BY HAND. I could not believe my eyes. I really did not want to look rude as I stared at the sight before me. I knew that my shock reflected on my face and so I pretended as if this were the norm and joined in. Going against the culture that I was brought up with, I wearingly put my hand into a bowl of rice and then dipped my hand into a bowl of mutton korma. As I sat, on the floor, eating my dinner with my hands I was overcome by the sensation of this amazing experience. I don’t know if it was because I felt as if I was rebelling against the “norms of society” that I was brought up with, or whether it was the texture of the food, as I delicately lifted it from the bowl. Feeling the warm soft sticky rice, pushing it together to form a sealant so that the sauces of the korma dish would not seep through, I savored each bite as the robust flavors of spices married with the meat teased my palate. Bite after bite, the sharpness of the fresh spices shocked my taste buds and left me in a spice induced craze, making me want more.
Dinner was definitely a social get together and I joined in on the conversation and the laughter and smiled graciously at my host, knowing that she knew that I could not find the words to thank her for this experience.
With yellow stained hands, a full belly and an overflowing heart, filled with joy I thanked everyone for a moveable feast and returned home.
I recall calling my Mother and trying to express my emotions. Explaining each detail of my dinner and leaving nothing out. The experience must have captivated her because I can still remember that she did not have much to say, only questions that would make me elaborate more on my experience.
The reflection of this memory leaves me with a smile on my face and wanting to share the joy of friendship, especially over the festive season. It is certainly the simple things in life, that makes the most lasting impressions.
I believe that it is important over this season to take time to reflect on pleasant memories and build lasting ones. No matter what culture you are from, eat drink and be Merry, wishing you all a fantastic festive season!