A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots. -Marcus Garvey
This weekend we packed up our bags and drove through the night crossing the border into Canada to see one very special person, my Dadima (paternal grandmother). My parents had planned a special reunion for my Dadima and her sister (they hadn’t seen each other in over 7 years) and we thought it would be such fun to surprise them both. It was a heartwarming experience to see both sisters reunited, sharing childhood memories and stories about the times they’ve missed together. The day started out with us surprising my Dadima in our pajamas early in the morning. She was speechless and thrilled as were we. Once we got ready we headed over to see my Dadima’s sister and the oooh’s and aahh’s started over chai about how they couldn’t believe I was a mom, about Little Mirchi’s antics and of course the menu for breakfast. As the discussions continued my Choti Dadima (Dadima’s sister) offered The Husband some mathri, a savory Indian biscuit to enjoy with his chai, and mentioned they were from India. Upon taking a bite, my very frank (and sometimes embarrassing) husband blurted out: “These are nothing compared to Dadima’s mathris”. Awesome. Surprisingly, everyone laughed it off and my Choti Dadima admitted that lately she was buying more and more of the traditional snacks from the stores since they were readily available and saved on time. My Dadima piped in saying there was no replacement for ‘ghar da swaad’ (home cooked taste) and how important it was to her that her children and grandchildren to taste food made by her hands.
As I sat this morning with my chai and homemade shakkarpare (fried Indian cookies covered in sugar syrup) I reflected back on this weekend and realized the importance of homemade. Growing up we never knew anything else. While living in London with my grandparents that’s all there ever was and when we moved to Florida the availability of ready-made traditional foods wasn’t there so my Mom did all she could to keep up with traditional recipes, allowing us to familiarize ourselves with the foods my parents grew up on. Now, after getting married and living in New Jersey for the past fews years, I find no shortage of pre-made Indian spices and foods – after all, it’s home to one of the largest Indian populations in the country. Ironically enough, the more available it becomes, the more I stray away from it. There is a reason my Dadima’s mathri tastes the way they do, the way my mom’s Aloo ka Paratha melt in our mouths and why my mother in-law’s Nimbu Pani refreshes us like no other store-bought juice. Yes it’s their love, but it’s also the care that goes into their food, the way the spices are toasted and freshly ground at preparation, the quality of ingredients used and the deep-rooted tradition behind each and every recipe.
I started this blog to help myself document these traditional recipes and over the years I’ve noticed myself taking the longer, less travelled route more and more. My cooking has started to taste more authentic, closer to the recipes of my grandmothers. I’ve started taking the time out to blend my own spice mixes, make my own yogurt and grind my own masala. This became even more important after I become a mother and started reading all the fillers in store-bought products. While I know it’s not easy to cook homemade in the busy world we live in, it’s something that holds great importance to me and something I am willing to make the extra effort for.
Spending time with my Dadima this weekend made me realize that my cooking is more than just food I prepare on a daily basis, it’s a cultural road map for my family. It’s a love that I hope to pass on to my children so they can taste the same foods that their parents and grandparents tasted while growing up and experience our culture through food.