Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Scissors Are a Cook's Best Friend

We bought lots of containers in our first few days here. MANY food items (e.g. oil, spices, milk, ghee, laundry detergent) come in plastic bags. You open a plastic bag of food and need to store the contents in a container. Fortunately, our service apartment comes with daily housekeeping because we spill a lot of milk and other food when opening plastic bags. Indians just seem much more skilled at pouring things. I read The Toss of a Lemon in which the author mentions several times how the characters would pour from a jug straight into their mouths without touching the jug with their mouths. I was excited when I saw a lady perform this feat at a street stall in Bangalore. It wasn’t a real performance. She was just getting a drink, and I was watching.

We have a three-step process for turning on the stove. First open the valve on the gas cylinder on our balcony, then turn on a switch on the wall, then turn the burner knob. If the fire doesn’t light (which is most of the time), use the little ignition tool to create a spark to make the burner light. When you are done with the gas, turn off the gas switch inside and close the valve on the gas cylinder.

Sometimes we have power in the apartment, but the washing machine stops prematurely or the microwave oven doesn’t turn on. Evidently there are two electrical systems in the apartment. (See Eric’s “Retrofit Technology” post.) The power will go out for the outlets connected to the heavy-duty appliances: fridge, microwave, kettle, toaster, iron, and washing machine. These outlets have a different configuration from the normal electrical outlets for plugging in lamps, laptops, etc.

Every morning after the girls head off to school, I eat breakfast in the dining hall operated by our apartment manager. There is always “bread” such as paratha, idly or dosa [picture of a dosa maker below] with a sambhar (spicy sauce) and a chutney (usually coconut sauce). These are eaten with one’s fingers, the fingers of one’s right hand. Often people put the sambhar, chutney and yogurt (to cut the spice) in separate bowls. Sometimes there will be another grain such as flavored noodles or couscous. We can also order eggs. Chai and coffee are available. Toast, butter and jam are always offered too. I’m used to the breakfasts now and quite like the paratha and sambhar. In the dining hall I read the paper every morning cover to cover. The reading is going faster now that I am more familiar with the context of the Indian soap opera – oops, I meant politics and Bollywood. I also check out the English-language movie selections in case there is anything I want to see.

Lunch and dinner are also available in the dining hall. Eric took advantage of these meals when we went to Delhi, and the family eats there when I’m playing bridge and therefore not cooking or we have some afternoon outing like going to see Avatar at the movie theater. The girls’s school offers breakfast and lunch though Sophia prefers to eat breakfast at home. The school food is pretty simple, often daal (lentils). The girls give mixed reviews of the food. In our apartment I sometimes cook Indian food, but I think the girls appreciate an “American” dinner after an Indian breakfast and lunch. Today a neighbor in our complex is going to help me perfect my saag recipe.

I made chapattis once. They were a big hit. We used them like tortillas to wrap up burrito fixings. Standard kitchen equipment includes a rolling pin and a very flat pan for cooking the chapattis.

A word often used in India is “pulse.” It means “edible seeds of various pod-bearing plants (peas or beans or lentils).” The price of pulses is discussed in the newspaper, but I have never seen the price of meat mentioned. It is difficult to find meat in grocery stores here though it is not so hard to order it in restaurants. McDonald’s here offers chicken and vegetarian options, but no beef. I did find chicken in a store two bus rides away. I’ve only bought meat once in a grocery store here. I sort of felt like I was committing a sin by buying chicken. That grocery store also carries Sophia’s favorite breakfast cereal -- we bought out their stock – and salsa and soy sauce.

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