I don’t cook. I don’t like to and I never have. If more than opening a can, tearing into a box, or using a microwave is involved, you can count me out. Scrambled eggs are my one specialty and to be honest, I typically overcook them. With that said, what I’m about to share may shock and amaze you.
In addition to finding housing, accessing food has been another challenge in getting settled in India. I understand this may sound a bit helpless, and if you agree, I’m sure my mother will fully back you up. However, cooking in India is a bit of a different story than in the States, with things like ingredients, kitchen equipment, and ways of shopping varying. With that said, I will take you through my culinary journey.
Convenient Packaged Food
To start, we aimed for economical and convenient. We were jumping between flats as we searched for a place to live and pre-made packaged meals and Maggie noodles (aka Raman noodles) fit the bill. As you might imagine, we could only stomach these for so long.
Once we got a little settled, we had every intention of diving into Indian cooking but by the end of the day we were absolutely exhausted, so that wasn’t happening. Fortunately, we found a solid delivery place. Even this accomplishment is not as simple as it sounds though. First we needed to work through some communication barriers, during which time we received MUTTON Masala instead of Paneer MUTTER (peas) Masala – not something a hungry vegetarian was happy about. We also had a difficult time conveying directions and had many frustrating calls (on both sides) with a lost delivery man. Don’t worry, he soon came to know the route and now when I call, the man taking my order quickly recites my address, only mixing up the last digit of the flat number. Everything is not hunky dory yet though. If I order an unavailable Dal, the man hangs up on me before I can sputter an alternative dish. I now feel like I can relate to a character in Seinfeld trying to order from the Soup Nazi.
Consider a Cook, Make What You Know, and Try a New Local Restaurant
Soon the same delivery place could no longer satisfy our appetites. Many suggested we get a cook, but we weren’t sure we could afford it, and the hassle of finding one was overwhelming. Sometimes we cooked western dishes like pasta, but pasta is relatively expensive here and we quickly got pasta-ed out. I got brave once and tried a questionable dosa place in the neighborhood, only to become incredibly ill. Our diets were seriously lacking, and enough was enough. After several threats of cooking Indian food, my flat mate and I decided to tackle it again with an even stronger resolve.
The Solution and Lessons in Indian Cooking
To a novice, the Indian pressure cooker presents a puzzle. Every time I have attempted to use it, my flat mate and I pass it back and forth trying to untangle the lid from the pot, like a magician pulls apart magic rings. I still watch in amazement every time she manages to solve the puzzle and try hard not to blink because I always seem to miss the magic moment.
After guessing the dal (lentils) or channa (chickpeas) to water proportion to put in the pressure cooker, you need to get ready to hear the whistle. My google search recipe says to listen for three. I listen intently and eventually hear a hissing. Is that the whistle? Maybe by whistle, they mean hiss? But there’s not three hisses, just a long sustained hissing. Steam billows up and as the name suggests, pressure is building. What happens if the pressure becomes too much? I stay calm and use my intuition. Somehow, this method always seems to work. I only became concerned later when someone described the pressure cooker as a “bomb” if used incorrectly. To date, we have a perfect explosion-free track record…knock on wood.
Before using the pressure cooker, you need to soak the channa. If you don’t, it will take far too long to cook. “How long?” you ask. Not three days. By then, you have fermentation and a smelly kitchen.
We have overcome though and I am proud to say that in one week’s time, my flat mate and I made a total of FOUR successful Indian meals. That’s right. The girl who can barely make grilled cheese made Dal and Aloo Gobi. We even took a sample of the dish to our neighbor to get his stamp of approval. His wife then showed us how to make rotis. We aren’t quite roti ready, but soon enough!