‘A woman’s place is in the kitchen’ this saying holds true in my household, but what’s also true is that all the men are right there cooking alongside them. Every three months we have a family tradition where my grandparents come over to our house and bring copious amounts of food along with them, we call it ‘The Potluck Sunday Brunch’. My paternal grandmother brings her famous butter gravy, a dish she learnt to make from her father in the culinary capital of India- Amritsar. My maternal grandfather cooks his famous fish curry, macher jhol, a dish he cooked for his family when his job took him to the seafood hub that is the city of Kolkata. My father and sister prepare their innovative take on the Indo-Chinese dish chili chicken. Finally, my maternal grandmother and uncle, who have a mutual love for anything and everything sweet, put together an exquisite dessert which is more often than not bread pudding. I on the other hand always create a new dish, which reflects my label ‘the adventurous eater’ in the family. These dishes are more than just food to my relatives and me, they reflect our history and culture.
बटर ग्रेवी (Butter Gravy with Chicken)
I remember before coming to college I pestered my grandmother to teach me how to make butter gravy, so she told me to observe her while she prepared the meal. First she browned off garlic, onions, green chilies and tomatoes in a pan. She then thickened the curry by adding cream, and finally finished the dish by throwing in a plethora of Indian spices into the sizzling pot. The aromas in the kitchen transported me to the streets of Punjab and the smile on my grandmothers’ face made me suspicious that she was right there with me. I inquired “Why do you look so happy?” she laughed and told me that every time she made this dish it took her back to her childhood, she felt like a little girl running through the cornfields of her fathers’ estate. Further this was a way for her to fondly remember my great-grandfather, who passed away a few years ago. By the time the dish was ready both my grandmother and I were wiping tears from our eyes, but we blamed it on the spices.
मछेर झोल (Macher Jhol)
The next dish on my culinary journey was the turmeric yellow, mustard fish curry my grandfather would make. While collecting the recipe from him, my curious nature got the best of me, and I asked him what made the dish so special for him. He hesitated at first, but succumbed to my questions and told me that during his primitive days of working in a new state he wasn’t the most prosperous man. He couldn’t afford the simple luxury of nourishing his family, and was consequently forced to feed them macher jhol and rice for weeks at a time because of its inexpensive nature. He recalled how much he detested the dish at the time, however when his business began flourishing he craved that very plate of food. It was a way for him to connect to his roots and be reminded of his simple background. I left his house that day not just with a recipe for fish curry, but with a great appreciation for my grandfather and his struggles and a deeper connection with my humble ancestry.
ब्रेड पुडिंग (Bread Pudding)
Later in the year, my uncle and his mother asked me to serve everyone the bread pudding they had baked earlier in the day. As I cut into to the dish I was surprised to find a note attached to a frayed piece of paper, on further discovery I realized that it was the recipe for the bread pudding. The accompanying letter explained how this recipe had been in the family for generations and that it had started of simply with bread, eggs, milk and sugar. It further read that every time the recipe was passed down to someone they had the opportunity to add a new ingredient to it. This was evident through the different inks and handwritings of the names of the ingredients; my sister had added the most recent element, her favorite, toasted almond shavings. After numerous hours of pondering I took the bold decision of adding peppers to the dessert much to the dismay of my sweet toothed grandmother. By the simple action of jotting down the words ‘Red Chili Powder’ on a tattered piece of paper I felt united with a lineage of people, relatives like my great-grandmother who I hadn’t even met in the course of my life.
चिली चिकन (Chilli Chicken)
These may unassumingly be dishes for some people, but for me they define who I am as a person. I’m an amalgamation of North and West India represented by the Punjabi butter gravy from my father’s side and Bengali fish curry from my maternal pedigree. I feel a connection to my grandmother every time I taste the robust crimson tomato gravy and to my grandfather when I gather the produce to cook his notoriously spicy yellow rohu curry. It also helps me internalize all the knowledge they passed on to me throughout the formative years of my life. They provide a means for me to connect to my roots and my culture even when I am a thousand miles away from my homeland. Dishes like the Indo-Chinese chicken my father makes impart some more implicit knowledge, by helping me embrace two different cultures at once; My inherited Indianity and my adopted Americanness. When I feel lost, I read the recipe of the bread pudding and am reminded that I’m a part of a bigger whole. The sweet dessert with a dash of spices is also a reflection of who I am as a person and just as the pudding is altered by the individuals they are passed down to, I am shaped by the people I meet throughout my life. There’s also the fact that they are delicious and full of spices which make them easy and enjoyable to eat.
When it comes to ethnic communities in Atlanta I don’t have an abundance of experience, but I have been to Patel Plaza a Gujrati dominated market in Church Street, Decatur. While the people in this community are generous and play a vital role in alleviating the feeling of homesickness, I can’t say the same about the food. The food is inherently sweet and, in their defense, I’m a picky eater who loves spicy food. The combination of the two puts me in a disposition to dislike the food. However, I am open to new experiences and discovering more communities and foods to fall in love with in the metropolitan city of Atlanta. If that fails, I can always fall back on the option of carrying hot sauce to these restaurants.
Chai Patti (Indian restaurant)
I’m attaching a video of a step by step guide on making butter chicken. You can remove the chicken if you want to eat butter gravy (it’s way better in my opinion). Also add some more red peppers if you like spicy food!