Cooking was just the medium to discover our cultures together!
It was great having Vandana come over to my apartment to prepare a South Indian meal together! Our rendezvous over the cooking activity was less about cooking and more about knowing each other.
For me as an Indian, it was getting to know my counterpart born and brought up in the US but raised with Indian values.
While cooking the hot, delicious sambar or while making the soft, fluffy dosas or steaming the rice I realised the similarities in our growing up and discovered how an Indian born in the US views India.
Although not an expert, Vandana knew many of the recipes of Indian dishes from her mother. Her neatly chopped tomatoes and onions helped make the sambar tastier. The ready to cook ingredients available ubiquitously across Indian stores in the US made our job easy.
The day I am discovery America every day of my first visit to the US, I look forward to Vandana making her first visit to India as an adult and have the joy of discovering her roots .. I hope our interaction together through such activities increases her curiosity about India.
One culture, two perspectives
When Kiran and I were first assigned to be each other’s blogging buddy and to complete this assignment, someone jokingly remarked that it was sort of like cheating, giving that we’re both of Indian origin — wouldn’t that fact maybe diminish our opportunity to learn about a culture different from our own? However, while I understand this thought process, I wasn’t personally worried about losing anything by being paired with another Indian person. While Kiran and I do share an ethnicity, our life experiences are vastly different, creating the unique situation in which we share a level of common cultural understanding in spite of having lived much of our lives in different countries from one another.
Although I was born in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India, my family moved to the United States when I was 4 months old. Furthermore, the town I lived in for 18 years — Carson City, Nevada — is somewhat small and tucked away, a far cry from the streets of Mumbai, where Kiran is from. Nevertheless, our shared ethnicity serves as a sort of tether between us and to our country of origin. I was excited to make a meal with Kiran and learn more about the common ground between us, as well as our various differences.
Kiran’s hometown of Mumbai. Image credit: Maharashtra Times.
The view in front of my family’s house in Carson City, Nevada. Photo credit: my dad
As Kiran said, our exercise was less about cooking and more about getting to know each other. After all, in spite of being raised in the US, my mom made sure to make us Indian food nearly every day; I’m no stranger to the flavors of our homeland or how they’re combined and prepared. The meal we chose to make was quite simple. Kiran had prepared some of the ingredients, such as the dosa batter, in advance, and we used a ready-to-cook sambar mix for our sambar, making the cooking process pretty easy. All we had to do was chop the tomatoes and onions, put some rice in the rice cooker, and fry up the dosas. While we cooked, we talked a bit about our lives and bonded over our shared connection to Indian food and culture.
Freshly prepared dosa
A dosa being prepared
Sambar being prepared
Papadums being warmed up
Chopping onions and tomatoes.
The full spread of food!
When the food was done, Kiran invited Kazi and Szabolcs to eat with us. I enjoyed talking to all three of them over the fresh food we had just made, and it reminded me of how easily food brings people together. It’s one of the reasons I love to cook and bake food in my own apartment as well! I was also reminded of how much hospitality and friendship is valued in our culture. My parents, who grew up in India and lived there until their early thirties, always raised me to believe that, when you make something, you try and share it with others if you can, inviting them to share in the experience with you. The fact that we actually did so really rounded out the experience for me — although all four of us were from different backgrounds and places, we could sit down and have a nice conversation over a good meal.
While we ate, Kiran and I talked about my experiences with Indian culture as an Indian person who grew up largely outside of the country. Aside from a brief trip back to India when I was nine years old, I haven’t really visited India at all, and I certainly haven’t been there as an adult yet. My family — made up of my two older brothers, who are studying medicine, and my parents — wants to go back sometime, but between all of our busy schedules and our various priorities, it’s increasingly difficult for us to really get the ball rolling and make a plan to do so. However, Kiran told me that I should visit her in Mumbai sometime on my own so that I can experience the culture independently and on my own schedule. I completely agree, and I hope that in the future, I can visit Kiran in Mumbai and reconnect with her there! This experience definitely sparked my curiosity in delving deeper into Indian culture independent of my limited experiences with it, and I’m glad I had the opportunity to connect with Kiran over the subject and over some good food. I hope our future blogging assignments add to this experience, and I’m looking forward to them!
2 Comments on “Dosas and Sambar from Two Perspectives”
Vandana and Kiran, it was so great to see how you both connected over the similarities in your background, and just how different you are as well. Without having the ready-made dosa batter, how long would it usually take to prepare them from beginning to end?
Thank you! To answer this question, I turned to my mom. Kiran may have a different answer based on how she prepares it, but according to my mom, “you need to soak the lentils overnight or for 7-8 hours, grind it, then leave it out for another 8-12 hours to ferment. Without fermentation, it will not turn out properly. In colder climates, it’s very difficult for fermentation to occur, so I leave it in the oven overnight with the light on for warmth. Then, you can use it directly.” Making the dosas from the batter only takes a few minutes, but the batter itself requires quite a bit of preparation and patience.
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