Liv, Queen of the Chapati-Makings. This, I hope, will become my official Indian title by the end of these three months. For now however, Manju reminds me that I must practice, practice, practice, whilst Will is apparently a ‘natural’. Bloody typical. My Grandma Cooley, who was a great cook, will be turning in her grave. Queen of the Chapati-Makings therefore seems slightly unattainable thus far, so perhaps I can settle for the titles of Duchess or ‘Grand High Wizard’ (which has a certain ring to it). I might even settle for ‘twelfth in line for the throne, but only if she converts’. Until then, I persevere.
To be honest, in a country which prides itself on its culinary prowess and has all sorts of concoctions that would make Heston Blumenthal look like a wuss in the kitchen, I’m surprised I haven’t spoken about food so far. Indian food can be surprising in the best and worst of ways (Will got served a chicken HEART and NECK in the same curry), but everyone, everyone, takes an interest in it here. It’s one of those things that pretty difficult to ignore. Note: even if you tried to ignore it, Indian hospitality rules mean you will leave fuller than you’ve ever been before. There’s an element of risk to food here for a westerner, that street food that tastes delish at the time may come back to haunt you… but most food, most being key word here, is very very yummy and is absolutely fine. The sweets are incredible, and if you’re a sugar addict, Indians like it very sweet.The best food however, is always the properly home-cooked stuff. So yesterday I had an awakening, another one of my when-in-India moments, that I want to be good at Indian home cooking. Or maybe just home cooking in general. How hard can it be?
Hmm. Perhaps I shall start small. Learn how to make a Chapati? Tick. Learn how to make one without supervision from Manju so that it actually looks like a circle? Not-so-tick. Indian ladies, much like the Pakistani women I know at home, seem to be naturally amazing at such things. But by hopefully learning to cook for myself, I can cut out the nagging question when I eat out of ‘do I even want to know what the kitchen this was made in looks like’ and can make other people happy too! When I go to see my Aunt in Australia I can offer her a big chapati even if nothing else. Let’s be honest, veggie curry would never go down too well in carnivorous and alcoholic Oz anyway, so if I just achieve chapatis, I’m already on advantageous ground.
So step one in my mission? Get some cooking lessons. Manju has already offered to do so whilst she cooks – she cooks about 7 meals a day from what I can tell for various different extended family members – observing what she does in order to implement it myself. Then try to cook for myself regularly. Manju is a strict vegetarian though, eggs included, so no chicken dinners for me (not that I can cook meat in the Guesthouse anyway, and in a predominantly vegetarian state, you realise that meat cooked by a non meat eater never turns out the way you’d like it to – tip for life!!!). On top of this, the interns from last year also got some cooking lessons at a shop round the corner called Spice Paradise which comes highly recommended, so I have booked myself in for classes there too. The woman who runs the shop called Rekha is a very very smiley lady, so even if I don’t become a master chef, perhaps there’s a new female friendship in it for me (hurrah). Good news.
I’ve also decided I need inspirational figure to aspire to. Like my foodie role model. I would pick Delia Smith perhaps, but I don’t know enough about her except that she’s a hottie for her age. So I have concluded I require a woman I know who is a mean cook. Unfortunately for me, a large extent of my cooking knowledge was made at University (microwave pasta being an absolute breakthrough) or I pretend to pass off my boyfriends cooking as my own, so as much as I love my mum, I don’t think she has hidden culinary skills she’s yet to pass on. She once entered a curry competition with an ASDA indian takeaway (and won!). After racking my brains, although she is distinctly un-Indian, and I have no clue whether she can cook Indian food at all, I have therefore chosen my best mate Henry’s Mum instead. Having holidayed with Henry’s family in France for two years, I can happily testify that Nikki knows her way around a pantry. Master of all things culinary, there is no way you would attempt to compete in the kitchen (and if you did, you would be hurriedly rushed out pronto) plus she’s one of those rare people who has that elusive talent of actually knowing what to do with the things in her garden, resulting in a menagerie of all things homemade. Case in point: she knows how to make Quince Jam from the tree outside (who else is familiar with this?! I didn’t have a clue what Quince even was, but its yummy) and she can store peaches in jars (JARS I TELL YOU!). Jars always have that special stamp of approval which means they did not come from a supermarket shelf. Manju does very much the same, except stores them in tins (I prefer Jars). I want to be able to put stuff in Jars and whip them out at the appropriate moment! I am yet to own my own jar 😦 . As I write this I’m already imagining my bezzie Jess preparing a stunning rival argument (the females of the Lee variety also being professionals at making extraordinary things from scratch) but as I have only had the amazing pleasure of lots of free cake from Jess’ grandma during University, I’m sorry but I cannot comment to the same extent. We therefore have a winner.
Armed with a landlady who knows how to cook, a woman who is willing to teach me how to cook and a culinary icon who knows what to do with containers to aspire to I may actually stand a chance. Watch out world, I am cooking for you, and I will put things in jars (JARS!). Until then, I may buy said jars and put oddly shaped Chapatis in them. Or get my boyfriend to do the same and tell everyone that I did it.
ps. Just to prove I can do something, here is me making a pot. Not edible, child-like in nature, but made by my own two hands!