Becoming less of a gastronomer…
I, who hardly ever stepped into the kitchen back in Dhaka, now cook regularly. Life changes, and so do we. Many a thing which one never does at home, become part of everyday life abroad. Cooking is just one example.
When I first stood in front of the electric stove in my apartment, I knew for sure that I wouldn't be able to cook the fried mixed vegetables that I was planning on cooking. I called my mom earlier for the recipe. I stood in the kitchen with hands on my waist… I was scared, for I thought that I would end up burning my hands. I was worried, for I thought that all the vegetables and spices would go wasted… there was no way I thought I could cook something suitable for eating. In the first days of my life in the US, cooking simple things like bhaji and dal required long distance calls to mom. An aunt living in Florida was a saviour, who helped me adjust to this new way of life, sent me shutki bhuna, fresh lemon and homemade sweets made from coconut to help me feel better. A cousin sent a surprise parcel on the day of last Eid-ul-Azha; the parcel was stuffed with beef kebab and sweets like laddu and boondia.
My diet has changed over the last couple of months. Being a Muslim, I avoid eating non-halal meat. And since good quality halal meat is not sold in the city I live, I generally eat frozen fish and vegetables. However, there was a time when lunch or dinner meant nothing but chicken for me. As a child, I refused to eat my breakfast if there was no chicken curry to eat with roti (the handmade flat bread). Today, when I swallow tuna kebab and basmati rice, I can't help but wonder the power that nature has given humans to adapt to new and different conditions. When I go to the American grocery stores for a packet of masoor dal, I reminisce Friday lunch back home with murighanta (heads of big fish cooked with lentils, mostly moong and mashkalai), red-hot beef curry, fried Rui, Pabda cooked with chopped onions in thick gravy, and… the list goes on.
I have learnt to make tuna tikia/kebab, which tastes somewhat like meat. It saves my time. I prepare a dozen of them at a time and refrigerate for later use. It's a matter of convenience more than anything else.
Our first biryani turned out to be a disaster, the rice wasn't just fluffy enough. By the time my husband and I finished cooking at 1:00 am in the morning, we were hungry and exhausted. However, that didn't spoil the excitement of eating biryani after almost 5 months. As I swallowed biryani at 2:00 am in the morning, I remembered the days when I used to wolf down Fakhruddin's kachhi biriyani during lunch break at work. Both the taste and the aroma still linger...
When I first went to an Indian grocery store in Minneapolis, Minnesota, I lost my direction. There were too many things that I wanted to buy. I wanted to buy chanachur, sweets like shondesh and kalo jam, Baghabari ghee, dried red pepper from Shatkania, Chittagong, frozen paratha and what not.
Nothing can make up for the Bangladeshi food, its flavour and fragrance. Oh! How much I miss the food!
By Wara Karim