Recipes are the best kept secrets amongst East Indians. Every family has them and every other family wants them. Ask an EI for a recipe for, lets say, a Red Chicken Curry, and you will never ever be refused… you will never hear a ‘NO’. You will first have to listen to tales of yore… of how Fr. So-and-so commented on the dish in his Sunday sermon or how the Bishop said a special ‘Thanks” at the grace because he knew and how Anton (pronounced An-torn) always asked for a parcel to be sent to England. Many yawns later, if you are still awake, you will be asked to write down the recipe “in your own handwriting, so you will be able to read it later” – this is a crucial part of the process. You will also be sworn to secrecy and you will have to make copious promises of never disclosing the recipe to anyone…
Finally you have the recipe… your oldest friend is visiting you from the Gulf and you get the long-awaited for occasion to try out the magical recipe. You buy the tenderest meat, the freshest vegetables, the most expensive grade of spices, you use the most recently ‘kalaied’ tope (kalai is the process of tinning the insides of copper vessels) and you begin the process of recreating that magical gastronomic delight. Everything goes as planned, the masala was ground to the right consistency, the meat cooked perfectly, the vegetables maintained their glorious colour and the gods of EI cooking smiled upon you.
You take out your best china for the curry (the crazed lines inside will be hidden by the tantalizingly good food), the rice is at its fluffiest best, the salad is decorated with chopped coriander leaves and even the 12 annas lime pickle from Bandra Market looks awesome.
You give your guest the honor of serving himself first. You wait for that well deserved praise as he takes the first bite and…. well, it never comes! How can this be possible? In fact he has an aghast look on his face! Has all those years in the Gulf, killed his taste buds? or has just gone stark raving mad? You hurriedly sample some of it yourself and you realise that he was exaggerating… it actually tastes WORSE than he made it out to be! But how? what? who?
And then it hits you… No East Indian, no matter how drunk or how senile, will ever give you a recipe that is whole and complete. There will ALWAYS be some critical ingredients or methods left out and of course, YOU were the one who wrote down the recipe, did`nt you? with your own hands and in your own handwriting???