06 December 2009

Be yourself.

I was talking to my mother the other day, and we were discussing how she had a party for my baby sister’s (who isn’t such a little one anymore; the girl has a baby of her own now!) birthday. She’d made some noodles, lemon rice, potato curry, a few other dishes, and like a macaroni with pasta sauce. I was confused as to why they’d bothered with the macaroni drill, because there was so much other food, all of which would be quite delicious, and was distinctly Indian in both execution and flavour. She wasn’t quite sure why. I guess my sister thought that since the preponderance of people coming over were American, they’d be able to relate to it more.

Three guesses what finished first, and the first two don’t count.

She had all of one cup of lemon rice left over. She had none of the potatoes (and she’d made something to the tune of 12 lbs of the stuff) left, none of the other veg left, and pretty close to all of the pasta left over. Furthermore, the stuff that she kept mild (no chilli) was left over in greater quantity than the stuff she added the heat to. Why is this? Let’s think about it for a moment.

For one thing, people are coming to your house to have your company. Yes, the food is often a lovely bonus, but in reality, it’s you they’re there to see. Whatever you make is going to be a good thing. It’s much like going out for a meal with friends. Yes, there are times when the service or food are less than stellar, but for the most part, you’re there for each other’s company.

The other thing is that when you cook a unique style of food, people are going to your house to get stuff that they can’t get anywhere else. Think about it. If people come to my house, they know they’re going to get my special hummus that I make with obscene amounts of garlic and toasted cumin. They know that they’ll get an excellent daal. They know that they’ll get some kind of roasted vegetable, some kind of curried vegetable, and some kind of green cooked with coconut milk. It’s more or less a given.

At my mother’s house, you know you’re going to get a stewed veg, some kind of curried veg, some lemon rice (because it really /is/ that popular) and a raw salad. It’s pretty much a given. In fact, it’s so much a given that people specifically come to her house for it, since she does it so well. That’s what I had to talk to her about. People love her cooking, and can get pasta any old place. They don’t need to come to her house for it! And furthermore, they love her hot spicy food. Add the chilli! It’ll still be delicious, and if someone can’t take that much heat, they’ll eat more salad and balance it out.

The point I’m trying to make is this: be true to yourself. Yes, you can try to do things that are “accessible”, but it won’t be you, which is the entire reason that your friends are coming to visit in the first place. They want your food, your cooking, and your company. Yes, it’ll be different from what they’re used to, but that’s OK!

I guess part of it comes from her experiences in the past, where people thought that our food is “weird” and didn’t know what to do with it. But that was years and years ago, before the advent of the Internet, and before people were familiar with Indian cookery and spices. Nowadays, you can find cumin anywhere in the country. You can find turmeric in pretty much any grocery store. Heck, I even passed by a grocery store that had cardamom, and I haven’t seen that in a mainstream store before. Times are changing, and people are changing.

What would have been made fun of in the past is now looked upon with longing. It’s the same for your own culture (or another culture, if you’re given to borrowing). People aren’t so afraid of “unusual” anymore, and are fairly adventurous, if you just give them a chance. So give them a chance, and let them see the real you. They’ll thank you for it!