Our new housekeeper cum nanny is very nice, mashallah. She isn’t as well organized as A., the old housekeeper. But she is good with my girls, alhamdulillah. She is from Bangalore. Her family is native Urdu speaking from Karnataka (yes, there are native Urdu speakers in the South), but they have this kind of very different dialect so neither my husband and I can always understand what she is saying. I have spent more time with her, so I actually have to translate what she says for my husband sometimes.
Also, our old housekeeper A. and I were very bonded on food and cooking. We liked to eat a lot of the same things, and we shared recipes and talked about food a lot. A. had worked for a lot of different families. She was one of those people who always knew everything. She would surprise and impress me with the range of cuisines and dishes she knew. She knew West African foods, Korean foods, Japanese foods, Latin American foods as she worked for embassy families in New Delhi. She was one of those “culture vulture” people who liked learning about different people and especially their food, so she picked it all up. She also had worked for a Indians of various backgrounds, especially Punjabis. Based on her observations of my cooking, she said Punjabi (Sikh) food was like Pakistani food, lots of garam masala, and we use everything openly, open-heartedly, without miserlyness (translating what she would say from Hindi). We use lots of oil. That was how she assessed our food. She really liked it though. We would eat things and lick our fingers and moan, “oooh, this is so good.” She loved what I cooked and I loved what she cooked. We also both loved Chinese food. She was very open to trying new things. She would experiment in the kitchen when I was at work while she would baby-sit. She made all kinds of interesting things. Things that she invented herself, like sweet potatoes seasoned and made into the shape of cupcakes, and all sorts of other things. She was a real foodie. She would cook whenever she was bored, pick up recipes from friends and neighbors, and watch food shows with me.
The new housekeeper isn’t into food. She is one of those people who says things like “Oops, I forgot to eat.” How can anyone forget to eat? I have some friends like that, too. They can skip a meal and not care. I get low blood sugar and start to have a melt down if I eat late. I just don’t get it. She doesn’t have a sweet-tooth at all, either.
She also hates our food. She thinks it is flavorless. She cooks her own foods for herself. She offered a taste to me a couple of times, but her level of spice is very very hot. Like I might use a heaping tsp of red chile powder and 3 dried or fresh chiles in a dish. She will use 2 tablespoons of chile powder, plus 8 whole chiles. She also uses loads and loads of curry leaves and mustard seeds. I only use those in a few dishes. I do have a curry leaf plant, but my mustard seed supply probably lasts me a whole year. She also makes everything in the pressure cooker. Everything.
I ordered Chinese food once since she has been with us. She hated it. “What is this stuff? Dinner or dessert? This is sweet!” she complained. Also, our old housekeeper and I had fallen in love with the Gujarati cooking of our neighbors and started making some of their dishes. They always sent us snacks and samples of what they made if they made a special dish or made something they knew one of us liked. But the new housekeeper hates the Gujarati food. “Sweet, spicy, and sour all at the same time!” she complained with a grimace.
She usually makes veggies or daals for herself and eats whatever meat dish I cook with achaar or fresh green chilies on the side to up the heat. I also try to bring her vegetables that I assume she likes, like drum stick and stuff. When she first arrived, the old housekeeper and I asked her what her place’s famous dishes were. Idli, dosa, vada. We asked her, “Do you cook sambhar?” We both like sambhar, and actually A. had worked in Chennai for a year and the sambhar recipe both of us use is the one she picked up from a friend there (that friend was also a Bangalorean, not originally from Chennai). “Oh no, sambhar is made by Hindus, Kannada speakers. That isn’t our dish. Muslims make dalcha.” (I actually know some Muslims from Hyderabad and Madras who make sambhar quite regularly, including our neighbors, so I knew this wasn’t true, but may be the case for people in her community). She didn’t know haleem or nehari by name, but once when I made haleem she said “Oh, we call this khichda. This is baby food for us.” My delicious haleem was reduced to baby food! Well, I guess it does look kind of like baby food, but anywayz…
Since I am so into food, I have a hard time relating to people who aren’t that into eating and all. That is perfectly fine by me if she cooks for herself and all, and even if she thinks that the food I make is flavorless and gross. As long as she is comfortable and happy. I like her, she has a pleasant personality, is good with children, and tries hard to do a good job. So that’s what counts.