A menu in my file from 2003 reads as follows: Rice, Pulao, Masial, Raita, Aloo fry. I can’t remember what the occasion was exactly, but in grad school I loved having people over and cooking for them. I think it’s something I inherited from my mom. The menu is written on the same page as the recipe for an okra and eggplant masial that I got off the Internet. It is perhaps one of the first recipes I pulled off the Internet from a time when I first developed an interest in foods other than those I was familiar with from childhood.
At the time my roommate and I had an Indian-American friend whose family was from Karnataka. He would have pity on us because we didn’t have home cooked food and bring over some of his mom’s cooking. She would lovingly put the food in ziploc bags, label and freeze them for my friend to bring back to school whenever he went home. He would drop off a few packets every now and then and on days when we were too lazy or busy to cook we would defrost one and eat the contents with rice. The labels would read huli and gojju and I had no idea what that meant. But I can still smell the asafoetida and fenugreek that filled our apartment as the gravy boiled on the stove. I could not believe that frozen and defrosted food smelled and tasted so fresh. That was my first lesson in food storage! And then it was a revelation for me that Karnataka food could be so different from the Tamil Nadu food that I was used to. I used to think that all South Indian food was the same! So I began reading up on Karnataka cuisine and began to understand the differences between the two cuisines. One state led to another and soon I was neck deep in the regional cuisine of India. All this information, all these recipes on the Internet to try out and I didn’t know where to begin! I was like a guy in an Apple store. I didn’t know whether to do my PhD research or read about Indian food and cook.
My then boyfriends would say I needed a distraction while doing research – something to take your mind off the problem at hand once a day. I think I had discovered mine – only it became a guilty pleasure, a passion and every chance I got I would make something new. And that is how I rediscovered South India and with that, my taste buds.