Monday, January 16, 2012

Oh Hail No! Here We Go Again

So as I foreshadowed in my post yesterday I'm going to be highlighting some things I have learned/discovered/found about food here in Amritsar. I say Amritsar but, according to the news, this sort of thing happens all across India and is an issue of concern these days. Today and tomorrow are bringing up some important issues both in my life here in this city as well as the lives of millions of people all across India.

Let me start with all the details of a typical incident for me here trying to get a decent meal. Please keep in mind this is after multiple complaints and discussions of why I needed certain things to be kept in the house. I sometimes mistakenly think that the issues are being resolved but they still continue. Anyway, here goes.

This occurred on Friday Jan 6. (The video doesn't do justice to the sound that I was hearing...stupid BlackBerry...I gotta get my camera fixed again so I can take better videos.)

We had a hailstorm. This is a rare thing here in Amritsar and it took a little pushing to convince hubby that the hail was indeed hail and not snow. It was cold (around 50F/11C) and there was rain mixed in and I was trying to figure out what to cook so I could eat. So I went downstairs the first time and there was an overpowering perfume smell so I held my nose (since my chest had already started hurting and my nose was clogging up) and grabbed an orange and a bottle of water and ran back upstairs. Then I dug through my food drawer where I keep my stash and found a granola bar to hold me over till the smell cleared.

Then I went back down a while later (the smell was still there after over 3 hours but was bearable). I saw we actually had a decent supply of veggies still left from the Tuesday shopping trip FIL had taken so I decided vegetable soup with a grilled cheese sandwich would be comforting and all happy and nice right now. I got green beans, carrots, a green pepper (capsicum), an onion, and several potatoes and then went to grab some tomatoes. Hmph. They were all mushy and nasty. Great, just what I need...let's be out of tomatoes for once (as I've written several times these things plague me as being one of the only things always available in the house....but somehow not today...wtw).

I got a little perturbed and took the rest of the veggies upstairs and figured I would ask hubby to bring some fresh tomatoes. He said okay and I started getting my other veggies ready. I prepared them all and it only took a few minutes of smelling the fresh cut onion before my tummy started churning and knowing how long it can take a good vegetable soup to get ready I began thinking about what else I could make. Then it dawned on me I had stashed a small pouch of tomato puree. So I took my stuff downstairs and washed it all and went to the kitchen to start cooking.

I got all my veggies and seasonings in the pot and then poured in the tomato puree. I turned up the heat to get it boiling and thought how nice it was going to be to have one of the meals that reminds me of my childhood and provides me a great deal of comfort (physical and emotional) on a cold rainy day. I was going to add some garlic but that too had gone so soft that I could squish it with my fingers. Yeah, I'll pass. The soup got to boiling and I decided it was time to go get the bread and cheese for my sandwich so I could be ready. Yes, sometimes I get excited and anxious too.

Much to my dismay I get to the fridge and find my bread is gone. Now, as soon as the hailstorm started the power went out so I was hopeful that I was missing it because there wasn't enough light for me to see it. So I turned on the light (and felt bad because that's when I realized MIL was in the room sleeping and now I'm disturbing her). I took another quick look in the fridge and to my dismay, the bread was indeed gone. I closed the door and turned the light back off and had a bit of a pitty part. I mean I don't even know which shop in the street sells bread to go out on my own (because no one has bothered to tell me where to go for anything and even though they don't want me to go out on my own they also have no desire to teach me how to survive if I do). I felt like it would be cruel to send the children out because this isn't the kind of weather you want to go walking the streets in anyway. (The hail literally sounded like a war zone beating down on our terrace.)

So I pitched a mini fit (thank you to my new friend for listening via SMS!) and then it dawned on me I also had some crackers stashed in my drawer upstairs too. I could make do with crackers. So I finished my soup and went upstairs and took the brand new package of crackers out of the drawer and sat down. I opened the crackers and something didn't look right about them so I checked the expiration date. Then I was floored....they expired in August 2010 (that would be 9 months after they were manufactured in Nov. 2009)!! OMG. Hubby just bought those damn things last week. So there I had to sit, eating my soup without any of the accompaniments that make it a fun meal.

Yes, I had soup but we were out of veggies after I made it. (Back to potatoes only now.) My soup even turned out so tasty. I got a small amount of comfort from the memories and thinking about how I didn't have any lima beans (because they aren't available here at all) to pick out like I did as a kid. I picked them out to eat them first because they were my favorite. I also had no corn because there was none in the house but I was proud I had made a good and flavorful soup without all the ingredients I was used to. But it still was missing that grilled cheese or crackers that make it the kind of meal that makes you happy all over.

Another thing that happens is that the foods I purchase (with a meal plan in mind so I don't feel like I don't have things available) get taken. Like the other day when I went out for my first ever trip to a subzi wala (veggie vendor on the side of the road). I purchased enough for 2 large meals for the entire family and some things for me to fix a couple of quick lunches. I cooked one large meal that night. The next day when I went to make my lunch literally half the ingredients I had purchased to make the 2nd large meal were gone. I looked around and MIL had taken them to use for a completely different meal and had already started working on it. So then I had no dinner for the second night. I am the only one left out because I cannot eat her food due to the spices, oils and amount of chili's she uses. Even if those could be adjusted there are other reasons I choose not to eat her food. All this happened AFTER we had reached a mutual agreement that when I purchased food it would not be taken (so I wouldn't be left without food).

These kinds of incidents happens to me over 75% of the times I try to cook. I have to give so much credit to my MIL because she has become the master of using whatever is there (even if she's asked not to). Of course, it's no doubt my man has an iron stomach because half the food he's eaten in his life is made from old veggies. Now I understand why sometimes he likes the food his mom made and sometimes he doesn't. It's because it's not always the same. If she doesn't have the ingredients she leaves them out and the food doesn't taste the same. If they are there, she pounces on them.

To an independent westerner this is maddening. Yes, this kind of thing happens in every country. In the US though I would have been able to get in my car, go to the store and pick up what I needed and make the soup just the way I always had. I wouldn't be dodging rotten ingredients or restricted by the availability of foods and the lack of independence. Yes, I can go out any time I want now but I have learned not to trust the street vendors and I don't know which 3 are in our neighborhood that can be trusted. The two stores I know of that are okay don't sell grocery items. So that left me with the choice of having to alter the recipe or to go hungry for 3 more hours waiting for someone to bring them to me.

This post isn't meant as a complaint, though it is meant to highlight some of the difficulties of adjusting to life here in Amritsar. Any one occurrence by itself is minor but consider this was happening almost every day for a year and on many days happens for 2 or 3 meals unless you just give up and stop looking for food and start skipping them. This post is leading to a much more pressing topic and an enlightening discovery that I will be writing in detail about tomorrow. Take a little time to think about how you would feel or react in these situations if you were in a different country and under these circumstances.


  1. Why don't you buy a mini-fridge and keep the food you use the most in there?.

  2. We don't have room in our bedroom for the fridge and even if we did I doubt it would solve the problem. If I have food sitting in my room they seem to have no problem coming in and eating it. They just pick it up without asking. It's happened before. So if I had a fridge that didn't lock I still wouldn't be any better off. It seems like the only way to work this out is to buy foods they don't like or won't eat - which isn't much.

  3. I live in Delhi, and almost all the fridges I've seen, and the two that I've owned, have locks/keys. I think it would be pretty easy to find a small fridge with a lock. Is there any possibility that you and your husband could move out and live on your own?? You know this behavior will never stop, and they will drive you crazy. You're on their turf, and they don't give a rat's ass how you feel about food.

  4. Interesting on the fridges. I hadn't really looked because we don't have space for one. I am working on getting out of this house because you're right, no amount of asking/bitching is going to make the behavior stop.

  5. Yeah I agree with getting your own fridge, most small fridges in India come with a lock and keys, and it would be a good idea to find a small corner in the house to put one for your own use, that would make your life way easier, and the lock on the door will ensure that you are the only one with access to it, definitely something to look into.

    As for finding bread, any street corner general store will have some, if you have a store like this in your street, they will have it :) Of course going out in the rain or hail isn't a good idea though.

  6. I'm sure you would like India much better if you guys had your own place, you should really nag Rohit about finding a job in a big city, having your own place and be in a place where things are much more available and going out by yourself as a woman isn't as much an issue  is what you need.

  7. huh!!! i would never have believed that an independent american girl could become so dependent in india!! c'mon - it is only a matter of buying your own fridge with a lock - you can keep it anywhere in the house if there is no place in the bedroom. and what is this about running up and down with the veggies before cooking? and about lima beans not being available? amritsar is a very very small town in india - it is like there are level 1 cities comparable to new york, then there are level 2 cities and then there are level 3 cities - amritsar is one of the level 3 citities. so availability of things can be a concern - but storage - please - grow up - assert yourself - get a spine - buy your own refrigerator. you won't believe how many indian daughters-in-law also have to do that in their in-laws' homes! work up, girl - i'm saying that india is a better place to work in these times compared to US - otherwise where you stay is between you and your husband.

  8. You're right. Although now it's pointless to nag him over a job because I'm leaving. Should he ever try to insist we come back here permanently, it won't be to this house. At least not for me.

  9. As I've already mentioned I didn't look for a fridge because we have no room. There actually isn't a place in this house left for a fridge. All the available space has been overtaken by Uncle ji and his family. They take up literally 3 bedrooms by themselves just for the stuff they have brought in. Not to mention the ground floor is on their power grid and we are at odds anyway. He already refuses to leave the power on down there because he would have to pay for it so there went all the options. Your overly rude tone isn't even warranted for this post to begin with. You don't know me and to think I'm spineless is way off base. It's also absurd to think that coming into an established home as a foreigner and demanding all these changes just to suit my whims and culture would even be entertained or the right thing to do. Both cultures need to be balanced and that takes time.

    In this culture here it is not common for DIL's to have their own fridge and literally none of the Indian wives I know here have their own. (And before anyone starts any more crap I know women from all social classes and from many different parts of town.) Here the DIL comes into the home and is given full rights to the kitchen and everything is community property. No one has their own stuff and I already catch enough crap for how much I keep to myself as it is. Not that I care because they don't take care of their stuff and I'm not having someone destroy my things for their own personal benefit. So while you say that many DIL's have their own fridge, I have not seen any evidence of it in the joint families in Punjab.

    I also do not have authority to work in this country. However I do have a job in the US that I still work from here. And where we stay is not between me and my husband. Anyone that knows India exists is aware that in India the family comes first and not your own personal preferences. Though that is changing, it is still not the norm and people don't just move out of their moms house unless they have to. Just the act of trying to move out on your own could destroy relationships. Renters don't rent to young couples very often and even then it's not without a recommendation from a community member, etc. It becomes increasingly more difficult if you're a foreigner and then you also have to factor in the insane rates given to foreigners. That's a well known fact too.