Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Food and Comfort

Nothing is more important to a Punjabi man than food right? Okay fine, maybe that's an overstatement but I've yet to meet a Punjabi that doesn't love food. Especially Punjabi food. They talk about it, brag about the foods their city is famous for and how nowhere else in the world can you find such food. Of course, you'll also catch them talking about how Punjabi's go all over the world and take the food (recipes) with them.

American's love food too. We do similar things. Like here in the south where we're well known for our foods. I don't think we talk about taking them all over the world though. We prefer people to come to us so we have more reasons to cook.

One thing I've noticed in the pardesi community is that pardesi women go to great lengths to find comfort foods for their desi husbands. We take them to special grocery stores, order online, get local grocers to import food. If we live in bigger cities, we go to multiple stores to find all the items that we want or need to make food for our desi men. Many pardesi women learn Indian cooking. Most of us don't expect our husbands to adapt to life in the US and learn to love it all without any complaints.

Don't get excited, we expect the same when we come to India sometimes! This doesn't always happen. In most cities it rarely happens. Amritsar was not a big city, I understand that. But even in Delhi I had difficulty finding foods that I liked from America. I wound up living on a diet of pasta and veggies, literally starving myself at one point and then at times being told "you're going to have to eat this." They weren't being mean, they were concerned because of my health. ]

Not everyone has those same issues like I did. I would venture to say it's rare to find out you're allergic to such common, everyday foods but that's what I found out....the hard way! Regardless of that, I didn't see much effort being made to comfort me when it came to food. Many times we told MIL not to put any seasoning's in a food only to find out after I ate it and got sick that she had put just a little bit of something because she thought it wouldn't hurt and the dish needed flavor. (I do not think she was being mean or ill-spirited at all.)

I, like several other pardesi's I knew living in India, were expected to adapt to everything Indian. No one could understand why we didn't just love all that is India and accept it without question. This is a cultural issue. Most of the Indians I know (and from the stories I hear from my pardesi friends) are very accepting of whatever is given to them.

So we're at an impass. As a pardesi, many of us are not taught to be blindly grateful for everything. We're used to being catered to when it comes to food. No restaurant menu is safe as it's openly expected each item will be customized somehow. Either no salt, less butter, more butter, take out the bacon, etc. (Of course there are plenty of 5 star chefs that would be offended but it doesn't slow us down too much!)

Yes, at Indian restaurants you can customize your meals. It just doesn't typically happen at home. Maybe my home here is different. Growing up my Nanny customized our meals if we asked, she cooked special meals for those with health issues, etc. My mom does this, my dad does it, most of my family members do it and I've done it myself more times than I can count. Never once did I add something in of my own accord.

Food issues seem to be a hot topic among many pardesi's for reasons just like this. It makes me wonder what makes people so accommodating in these relationships. I see some accommodation in same culture relationships but not to this degree. Maybe it's because they don't have to or maybe it's because with intercultural relationships we're genetically preconditioned to try harder. (Pardesi's specifically as I cannot even begin to answer that one for any desi culture.)

Food issues can be sensitive topics as well. I know one pardesi in Amritsar who planted her own garden so she could have vegetables that weren't commonly grown in India. That's a lot of work! I also know women who were outright ridiculed by their Indian families for not eating certain foods (regional specific foods like poha or kulchas). Some discussions can be downright volatile when food comfort needs are not met. I know because I've been in such discussions myself lol.

What are some foods you can't imagine living without?
Did you learn Indian, Pakistani, Nepali or other desi cooking for your spouse?
How did your spouse react to not having their native comfort foods readily available?


  1. Sigh.....
    Food issues.
    Well Kashmiris have this tradition of 'hospitality' where the visiting guest is served a meal & is forced to consume it while all the other members of the household stare at the guest (in anticipation of the guest's approval or disapproval of the food).
    In Kashmir it is also considered 'hospitable' to serve as much mutton (goat) dishes as possible.
    So you'll probably get served like 5 different mutton dishes, 1 chicken dish, 1 paneer (chaman in Kashmiri) dish and NO vegetables.
    So anyway my Kashmiri husband is veg & I am non veg- so I get stuck having to eat the @#$%! goat!!!
    I put up with this for the first 2 yrs of my marriage, now I feign a tummy ache or headache to get out of invites.
    Do other Indian regions do this?

  2. Why not let the hubbies cook the stuff they crave themselves? It means the hubby gets it just he way he wants, the pardesi woman doesn't feel like she's having to go all out of her way and everybody wins!

    I am vegetarian married to a 'non-vegetarian'. I only cook vegetarian and I don't feel that I should have to learn to cook food I don't even eat to please him or that I should do all our cooking. He happily cooks all the meat dishes he wants. Cooking can be a shared chore, like any other. Commonly liked food can be shared, but if members of the family have different dietary needs/ preferences, why not share the cooking?

    The 'you should like the food we like' is something to do with lack of exposure I think. In a smaller town like Amritsar, some people have probably never met others who didn't like the same food as them. They probably genuinely think that if you try their food enough, you will love it too. It's a matter of getting over this assumption and accepting that people like different things.

  3. An issue we solved long time back in our household. I find Indian food at every meal super boring, DH has issue eating continental cuisine often and isn't very adventurous with food. I learned to cook Indian when I first moved there because in 2003-4 there really wasn't much of an option even in big cities, most supermarkets even the bigger ones were carrying all you need to cook desi and almost nothing to cook something remotely continental, pasta back then were the cheap "Bambino" brand that turn to mush in the pan, tomato sauce was ketchup, few had imported tiny jars of pasta sauce that costed a massive bomb.
    DH has no massive problem with my cooking, but since he doesn't expect me to know to cook his way his mom does he actually does some of the cooking from time to time. When I was pregnant in 2008-09 Indian food pretty much turned me off, I didn't like dal sabzi roti anymore, by the end of my pregnancy I was too big to stand in the kitchen and cook on a too low kitchen counter without killing my back so I went for simpler continental dishes, DH cooked the rest. After our daughter was born we realised we were both too exhausted to cook, so we hired one, I enjoyed his cooking because he kept the dishes super varied, then we moved to Navi Mumbai and my maid back then was horrendous at cooking, DH ate it because he prefers indian food in his tiffin, I just couldn't so I started eating continental more often. A few years down the line, we shifted to Mumbai, have a new maid, she cooks ok, DH is happy with his tiffin and I cook my own meal for the day, both our comforot in food is important to us, and so if having different things on our plates at meal time is the way to get than then be it :) We are ina position to be able to afford it and we would be silly not to :)

  4. Same thing in Rajasthan: goat, goat and more goat. Yuck. I'm non-veg but goat is my least favorite meat. I know this sounds snobby, but it's a poor person's meat. Yes, Indians don't complain out right; instead, they are passive-aggressive. Although I do think upper-crust Delhi people complain about food, usually in some pretentious way. My fellow Americans often complain too much when they go out to eat. If you ask the chef to completely change a dish to suit all your requirements, then what's the point of going out to eat? Just stay at home already and make it yourself! I didn't encounter this attitude when I lived in Italy, and Italians are picky about food. When I was pregnant in Delhi I had terrible indigestion and Indian food just made it worse:oil + chilli = bad news. I also find that north Indian food is just so ill-suited to hot weather. Punjab has fabulous paneer and dairy products, but who can eat all that cream, paneer and ghee when it's 40 plus? It's just not healthy and it doesn't make sense. I got sick a couple of times after eating/drinking paneer or milk that had gone off in hot weather. APPI-you should get the Art of Southern Cooking

  5. I was cooking Indian food long before we got together. After we did, though, I started picking up more cooking methods from the part of the country he's from. It hasn't felt like a sacrifice in the least; more like a culinary adventure. We both like it and I was honestly a Lean Cuisine, Rice-a-Roni, and Chef Boyardee girl before I started cooking Indian food and realizing that food could be healthy and taste good and be fun to make, so I'm not missing out on anything.

    He was also here for years before we met, so he'd learned by that time to cook things for himself if he wants comfort food. I make the boring everyday stuff, and he has fun on the weekends with gourmet dishes - oftentimes desi, but more likely than not these days something Greek or Peruvian or Chinese might grace our table on Saturday night.

    We do have our own idiosyncrasies though. He hates seeds or anything resembling seeds (texture thing); I think soya nuggets smell like dog food. So we make the things we both like. We grind our spices where necessary (he has to live with a certain amount of whole cumin and kalonji) and when I want a snack of pumpkin seeds or cheese or other things he's not keen on, guess what? IT IS ALL MINE. Similarly, when I don't want dessert in the house and he wants something sweet, I pick up a cheesecake since I don't like it, he loves it, and we're both happy.

  6. I remember being stared at while I was offered snacks and such as a guest. Once I took some and tasted the first bite everyone was happy and seemed to go back to talking about me. What's worse - being stared at or talked about? Hard question lol.

  7. I think you have a point about small town mentality in India. I know hubby talks all the time about how Amristari food is the best in the world. I do not agree lol. I find many of his treasured dishes bland or boring. But, I'm a veggie lover and most of his favorites only incorporate potatoes. So that may not be cultural but just preference. I just don't argue with him over this one.

    I encourage hubby to cook. In India he would cook himself or come into the kitchen with me when I cooked. It was a lot of fun and he really enjoyed it. I'm not sure if the pardesi's I wrote about feel like they have to cook these dishes or not. I know several actually want to cook them. Quite a few like the foods their husband eats. I've just noticed that a lot of the girls go out of their way to at least learn how to make a few of their hubby's Indian favorites.

  8. I like your solution though I'm not sure I could ever get hubby to do that with me lol. Only time will tell if he will or not.

  9. Sounds like a good cook book.

    I avoided paneer and dairy products in the summer except for the boxed Nestle milks I bought at HyperCity. I didn't feel safe eating the foods because of how they are kept. I won't even get started on eggs which are never refrigerated and sit out at the store all day until someone wants them. SCARY!

  10. I love that part of Paharganj! It's one of my favorite stops in Delhi and I go there every time we visit the city. Not just for the food but for the shopping.

  11. Lol. I like that. I do have some snacks I don't have to share with hubby as well. He also has some foods he's going to have to cook himself because I can't stand them. Some I can't stand the smell of and he loves them. I'll buy him the ingredients, but he's gotta cook hahaha.

  12. Eggs are never refrigerated in Supermarkets in Switzerland either so that never struck me as odd in India :-) In most kiran astores the eggs are all sold in a day, I have been to the store on occasion at night for eggs to be told there were none left.

  13. no offense iam from Czechoslovakia married to Punjabi man ,i cook Indian
    food and i loved it .i don't disgrate any country food because it
    smells bad ??hellow !!.i have some problems adjusting in India and i think everyone has same problem .and every man and woman loves food don't u think so? u need little more homework

  14. It's my opinion that some of the food smells are intolerable. That would be true in any country. Are you saying that you love the smell of every single food you've ever eaten? I would find that hard to believe. There are even foods I eat and love that smell bad at some point in the cooking process - pork being one of the worst ones.

    Every person is different and something that smells good to one person may not smell good to another. That's not something we can always control. And no one can be expected to enjoy the smell of foods they are allergic to either. I couldn't imagine sniffing and savoring a food that makes me sneeze. Can you?

  15. Did you try the chain Le Marche? You can get a variety of imported cheese, good quality chicken / fish / bacon etc, and everything from quinoa to tahini (used to make hummus) there. Most of these items are imported though, so they might be pricier.

    Growing your own vegetables is definitely a massive effort! Good for her!

    I don't have any food issues over here. I used to have a 12-hour maid who could cook anything (she learned pasta, khao suey, roasted chicken etc from the cooks in my husband's mom's and aunt's house). Right now we have a cook who comes in, in the morning and in the evening.

    I didn't really learn how to cook when I went out with my husband (he normally cooked because he liked home cooked food, I was fine with a $7 box of sushi).

    I actually prefer the food (in restaurants) in Delhi as opposed to Toronto or Vancouver. I think the only comparable place, in terms of restaurant quality and diversity would be NYC or London!

  16. There was no Le Marche in Amritsar. I did find a couple of small stores selling imported goods. They were pricey but I didn't care.

    My friend had her own restaurant and she grew the veggies so she could eat well herself as well. It was one of the best places in Amritsar to eat.

    Delhi did have some good restaurants. There's a fantastic Chinese place at Cannaught place I loved. I have found similar diversity in other cities here in the US. Smaller cities won't have as much but it's fairly easy to find Greek, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, German, Mexican, and several other foreign food restaurants in my area of Virginia. BUT, as one of the original 13 colonies that's not surprising. My area is where many cultures settled and started their life in the early days of the country. Many are well established in the communities there. I would venture to say you won't find this kind of atmosphere anywhere else in the US. I know I haven't found it and I've lived in 7 different states and traveled most of the eastern seaboard.

  17. Oh, and just to make sure there's no misconception, I do not live in the DC metro area. I live in middle of nowhere, hicktown VA hahaha.