My dad has never travelled outside India (if you don’t count our trip to Nepal). I remember many years ago when I was but a little girl, he naively asked our neighbor’s “foreign –returned” uncle what he ate in the UK. Sandwiches were considered snacks not meals and processed meat clearly did not make its way into my dad’s understanding of food. “Well “, the uncle-jee said, “we get Indian food & spices too but it’s expensive”. My dad replied earnestly, “then you must really miss good food”.
Not that other cuisine of the world are not good, there is something about the first foods we ate, the cuisine we grew up with that remains with us almost forever. A big part of an immigrant’s experience in a foreign land is the relationship with food. I scouted all the east-indian grocery stores in my city (actually we have around 10 of those now ) before I settled down to one.
Last week my friend created a frenzy of sorts among our group when he announced that Alphonso mangoes were available at our local east-Indian grocery store on his Facebook page. By the time I reached there; everyone was scrambling for them and I managed to get my hands on only four. After a brief discussion about mangoes with my fellow wordpress blogger, she sent me this link about mango –mania. Goes to say, we Indians love our mangoes.
Then recently my aunt found this small south-Indian restaurant in town that reminded her of authentic food like her grandma used to make and you might have guessed by now that we are frequenting that place on a weekly basis.
Food is also an integral part of our memory system. All the restaurants in the world cannot out-do ‘ghar ka khana” or “ maa-ke haath-ka-khana” (home cooked food or food cooked by mom ). Every holiday I spend back in India, I insisted on eating at home except for street foods. It is not because she cooks most perfect food but it is because its the food I have grown to love. I have fond memories of those monsoon evenings spent with a cup of tea and a plate of pakoras with friends and the feasts that my grandma prepared when we visited her over the summer. There is something about those foods that triggers those memories and makes them more enjoyable today. In case you are dieting, eating foods associated with happy memories may not do you too good because you may end up eating too much of it !
Some of my friends have peculiar eating habits, like my friend ADR who insists on eating curd-rice after every meal….even after a Mexican or Italian dinner, she comes home and eats a bowl of curd-rice to feel full. Then there is DJ who is never full unless he eats some sweet soon after his meal. My husband prefers a side of onions and green chillies with his meal.
Apart from an immigrant experience food is a vital part of experience of a place. As many people travelling around the world would attest, tasting the local cuisine is as important as seeing the sights. Surprisingly most of my fellow travellers of Indian origin prefer Indian food even when they travel, that would explain presence of Indian restaurants in Kenya and Niagara falls!!
I guess I am still not fully settled in as a Canadian of Indian Origin. The toned-down curries we get here have yet to satisfy my palette. I could not go one week without rice and lentils. LIke my dad said I really miss the good food. Thankfully, we have friends from various parts of India and we get to taste one regional speciality once in a while.
What are your food associations and how do they play into the experience of a place?