Today June 21, it is exactly a year since we left San Jose, California, USA and moved to Mumbai, India. Un-fricking-believable, excuse the language. You keep hearing the phrase “time flies”. But as I grow older, I understand what it means a little better each day. There was a running joke in Ohio. If you don’t like the weather this morning, wait until this afternoon – it will change. That’s how time seems like. I spent nine years in the US and in a flash I was back home. So what’s one year?
This is not meant to be a depressing, oh-my-god-time-goes-by-so-quickly-we-will -all-be-dead-soon post, but more a stock taking one. That’s what anniversaries are famous for. We’ve already had this discussion with a group of friends with the mandatory “What is your biggest positive?” and “What is your biggest negative?” questions. I don’t want to answer them. Because that requires a deeper analysis than I want to do right now. But I can tell you what works and what doesn’t. And knowing me, it has to be somehow related to food doesn’t it?
A very common question from family is “Do you like it here or in the US?” or a variant “Do you miss the US?” The husband always says he doesn’t miss the US and here is my answer. Yes, I do miss the US. Of course, I like it here, but I also liked it there. Each place has its pros and cons and we decided that the pros of living here outweighed the pros of living in the US; so we moved here. But that doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes think of my former life. It is after all my history. I remember my international student orientation at Ohio State. Our very animated speaker told us we would go through love and hate phases. We would love everything initially; but as time went on, winter set in and courses were hard, we would cry that we hated it and wanted to go home. Of course he was joking. But I told myself I would never cry, no matter how bad things were and how much I missed home. And I never did. It’s been the same way this time around. Often there is a wistfulness for the life left behind; but never regret.
My mother-in-law asked me what I missed about the US? She herself has lived in the US for seven and a half years and mentioned that she missed some parts of her life there. You know what I said? The food. She was surprised. You mean you liked the food there? Of course. I loved the food there. The food and the accessibility to food. We could just up and go grab whatever we wanted to eat whenever we wanted. We have driven from San Jose to San Francisco on Saturday evenings just for dinner. Here we can’t because of traffic; either that or we don’t know how to.
I think what I loved the most about the food in the US, especially once I moved to California and became more food aware, was the variety that the multi-culturalism of the place offered. Yes, yes, we all know that the SF Bay Area is dominated by Desis and Asians and every corner has a desi restaurant and desi grocery store. But that’s not what I mean. It’s the number of restaurants serving good quality food. I think it’s because as an audience the Bay Area population is very quality conscious and so set a high bar. A bad restaurant doesn’t have a chance. And so we were spoiled for choice. Of course there is that pho place down the street but I will drive 20 miles to Mountin View to my favorite pho place and eat pho there. Forgive me planet for this huge carbon footprint I am leaving on your face. That’s how bad we were.
Talking of pho, this has to be my most missed food. Can you beat a bowl of hot broth with different cuts of meat and meatballs, noodles, onions, sprouts, a splash of lemon juice and few leaves of basil? I bet you can’t. Many a Saturday afternoon in the Aditi-Udayan household has been uplifted by this humble bowl of broth that I have still not found here.
The second most missed food here is Mexican food. Can you blame me, I lived in California? From the Mexican dhaba down the road from our first apartment in Mountain View, where they served home-style food with a killer radish salad to Fiesta Del Mar, where one of the waiters speaks Hindi and asks his Indian customers if we want “Maida ki roti or Makkai ki roti?” for “Flour tortillas or corn tortillas?” I have never had a bad Mexican meal. Even Chipotle is comfort food at his best. People think Indians love Mexican food because it is spicy like Indian food. Its true that Mexican cuisine uses many similar spices like cumin and chilies. But that’s not the whole story. I love the way they use their chilies. They have about a hundred different kind of chilies, some dried and some fresh, half of which are not even spicy, but each has its own flavor and smell and adds something different to the whole dish. Last year I had started experimenting with Mexican food at home and even made two kinds of enchiladas at home – a chicken enchilada with a tomato based “red” sauce and a paneer and bean enchilada with a tomatillo and pumpkin seed based “green” sauce. On another occasion, I made my Indianised version of a mole poblano, with Indian chilies, nuts and chocolate. It was alright, but was no match to the original which features poblanos.
Mumbai was missing a Mexican restaurant and I am thrilled by the recent addition of Sanchos to its culinary landscape. Even though I have not tried it out yet (hey it’s far away for us suburbanites!) I am glad to know there is an option. What I did try out was a small Mexican fast food joint near our place called Dolphy’s who I suspect are using Indian chilies instead of Mexican because the food was just spicy and not flavorful. So #epicfail. I guess I will have to drag myself into town to have Mexican food next time around.
(To be continued.)