Friday, May 28, 2010

Multicultural food?

Food is a big issue for A. Although he is very flexible to adapting anywhere, food is a THE drawback that keeps me from writing that he completely adapts anywhere.

While living in the US, live was relatively easy... Lot's of Indian restaurants, fast food, grocery stores, etc. About 90% of the time we ate out we'd go to one of the already mapped out Indian places. The other 5% were Middle Eastern and the other 5% were Subway/Quizno's. Not much variation but since I like Indian food a lot, I was also fine with it. Did I miss trying something else? Sure, sometime homesickness and adventure seeking popped it, but usually the hassle of finding something veg on the menu and having A. eat about a third of the usual while mentioning that the food could have more of this or that is not worth it.

But then, I do like to cook. So I usually cook A.'s desi food and sometimes something different for me. Salads, pasta with tomato sauce, bread with cheese and tomatoes are all comfort foods for me, and variations there off keep me happy. Having friends over? Wanting to cook something different? Sure, no problem, as long as there is a coconut rice aside. So this is how we've survived...

A funny side story... A. and I moved in together after 6 months of dating (the latter 3 of which I spent doing research in Brazil). While in Brazil, A. asked if I wanted to move in. Considering that I had moved out of my apartment and left my boxes at his before traveling, that was an easy option, but I did not want to jump too fast. Eventually I got back and the unpacking process started... One condition on A.'s side: no corpses (aka meat) in the house. I was fine with that. Years later A. told me that he actually thought that we would never work out living together (even though we were good friends even before we started dating) and that he wanted to prove that in a fast way. So he expected us to move in, fight, kill each other, realize this would not work and move out/on without wasting much time to figure this out. "Why date for some years and then move in together and only then realize that there is no way you can live in the same apartment?" was his theory. Well, theory was proved wrong and we've been living together for almost 3 years. :o)

And then came trips abroad... Mexico was relatively easy (veg options and spicy food - adding that A. eats chicken every now and then) but Brazil was a whole different story. First of all, Brazilians and spices do not get along. I mean, we do use onions, garlic, cumin, cilantro, parsley, rosemary, thyme, etc but anyone familiar with Indian cooking will know these are nothing compared to a potent masala or podi. And also the amount of spices used is much smaller, to give you an idea, spices are sold in 30g packages here (and are quite expensive compared to the US). Second, Brazilians have a VERY low tolerance for chillies. Meaning that no food comes with chillies in it, but you might be able to get a mild (by desi standards) chilly sauce on the side. Third: Brazilians are BIG carnivores. This can mean seafood, chicken or beef, but you have to have one of those in your plate to consider it a meal. Yes, there are some vegetarian restaurants in larger towns and cities, but usually even there you run into "meat imitations" as A. calls them. This would be cooking that tries to make veg taste and look like meat (e.g. soy meatloaf) rather than giving the veggies their own show. Result: Brazilian food has no taste according to A.

So now we live in Brazil. First measure was to stack up on Indian spices and dal. 15lbs in the luggage was just that. And after a somewhat failed attempt at going local, we figured out that cooking/eating at home is the best option. It helps that I live right next to work and have an hour off for lunch, which allows me to prepare some rice with aloo curry or the like quite easily.

And then the story comes round circle... Yesterday I was making lunch and A. called saying he was late. Since I had cooked a lot, I suggested he invite his Portuguese classmates over for lunch. Considering the bean salad and carrot rice I made were spicy, I put together a last minute pasta with pesto in time for their arrival. And was I glad for this! Although not even I thought the carrot rice was spicy, the Brazilian teacher and the European classmates were sweating and drinking water like crazy... It was quite funny to watch! Guess they would have a hard time in India!


  1. Is A. still having trouble with simple foods in Paris? If there's any place that can charm him with simple but delicious food, it'd be France with it's cheeses and breads.

  2. Oh yes... You should see how fast the few Indian students got organized to order Indian food off campus, despite the cheeses and breads available in the cafeteria! (The rest of the food in the cafeteria really sucks though... even I agree).

  3. Hi samba, i'm Tamil like A and can totally empathise with him on vegetarian food :) here in Argentina, they use next to no spices in their food and it's hard to adjust! Even when we visited Paris we enjoyed the cheese and bread for a bit but craved a good spicy sambar after a bit :) enjoying your blog by the way, and yours too Gori!

  4. Hi Anjana,
    Thanks for your comment!
    Argentina is definitely tough for a vegetarian! I'd say probably even a bit harder than Brazil... How do you manage? I didn't find it hard to cook Indian food in Brazil, the main missing ingredients were the different dhals. Do you cook?

  5. Well we loaded up on spices from home and manage with the few dals we get here. It's not impossible but definitely not as much variety as in India or the rest of the world! People here take their beef very seriously :)

  6. Hi Anjana,
    How long have you been in Argentina and how do you like it? I haven't met many other Indians living in Latin American and would love to hear more!

  7. Hey there. I've been here for three months now. My husband and I were living in Chennai, India, and he got transferred to Buenos Aires on work. It was really considered quite exotic by our friends and family that we've moved here! So far it's been an interesting experience. There has been some culture shock since we don't speak Spanish and don't know many people here. Have you ever been to Argentina?

  8. Hi Anjana,
    Yes, I've been to Argentina a couple of times. It is a beautiful country. Never been to Buenos Aires though. Send me an email at and then we can write some more.

  9. How long did it take for you to get acquainted to and then cook India food? Going by this post, you definitely seem to be 'cooking inclined'. My wife has tried her hand in a few Indian dishes; though I'm the primary Indian chef at our home.

  10. Hi Krishanu,
    A.'s first gift to me was a cookbook... so let's say I got to cooking desi food quite early on. I do like cooking, so having a whole new cuisine to master was an entertainment (although it is specially hard to cook something you yourself have never tasted before). A. never cooks... he's the judge ("hum... too much coriander this time").

  11. Ola, I recently came across your blog and have been reading bits and pieces of you with a lot of interest. I am S. Indian (considerably detribalized though ) and Namorada e Paulista. I did notice the absence of spices in Brazilian cuisine when I went to Brazil to meet her folks for the first time. What I found weird was even the infrequent use of Italian herbs, in a part of the world with so many ethnic Italians ! I am slowly getting her used to lemon pepper and even got her started on a very Indianised Arroz com Feijao, with coriander and red chili powder ... we've come a long way ..

    Keep up the blogging !