So I have been doing these cooking classes about once per week. The instructor is great. She has won awards here and abroad. She does the class in her kitchen, showing 3-4 dishes from start to finish. Then we eat what she makes. Baby A. comes along and enjoys. The instructor does regional Indian, Thai, Chinese, Mexican, Italian, as well as some other cuisines. The Italian and Mexican are very far from authentic (both seem to involve a lot of ketchup, and the recipe for a basic salsa and a basic red pasta sauce are nearly identical), but the end result is tasty. It is definately more adapted for locally available ingredients and an Indian palate, though—even though her students are international as well as Indian. I will stick to the recipes I already have for my Mexican, Tex-Mex, and Italian stuff. I am no expert, but being from Texas I pretty much grew up with various regional Mexican foods and Tex-Mex widely available from restaurants, food stands, and at friends’ homes. Most of my home-use Mexican recipes just come from Rick Bayless and Diane Kennedy books, though. I actually don’t know much about authentic Italian food, but I just make basic Sicilian influenced Italian American dishes like some types of lasagnas, spaghetti and meatballs, pesto sauce, and so forth. I would like to learn more if I ever have the opportunity. With my instructor, Thai is a different story. She learned Thai from a Thai teacher, and I can vouch for the recipes because I have also taken several Thai cooking classes and read a lot on it, as Thai is one of my favorite cuisines.
I really shouldn’t be such a purist when it comes to authenticity and food, because in the end, it only matters that the food tastes good. But I feel if you are going to say you are cooking from a certain cuisine, it honors that dish or that cuisine to try to stick to the spirit of the dish. Plus, people have a set of parameters for what variations you can make within the limits of authenticity and these techniques have developed over hundreds of years…so wouldn’t the people who cook that way know what they are doing? If that makes any sense. Like, you are not suddenly gonna just make it better. It’s best to stick with tried and tested methods sometimes.
One thing I had really wanted to learn from the instructor were some new Indian dishes. Thus far I have learned a few awesome new dishes. One is this Sindhi pakora dish where you take various room temperature vegetable (or plain) pakoras and cover them in sweet chutney, a bit of yoghurt, a dash of green chutney, some chaat masala, and sev, and cilantro. It is a type of chaat we covered in chaat making class. It was just soooo dang good. What a great way to use leftover pakoras, too. There is this Central Asian woman in my class who has been seriously dating an Indian guy for quite a long time. All of the Indian women were very intrigued by this, asking where he is from and which community he belongs to in order to figure out which one of their men has gone atray! LOL! But most of the other women interested in learning Indian food are Indian women (the other foreigners say that Indian food is too spicy for them…I really think they should give it a try!). So it has just been that Central Asian woman and me as the foreigners in the Indian classes. But attending with the Indian women has been interesting for me, too because they talk a lot about the cuisines of their state or community, so I kind of get to learn more about like say, Sindhi Hindu cuisine, or Tamil Iyer cuisine from them. Don’t ask me what I do with that knowledge floating around in my brain, but I just like to know about food.
Those Indian women ask me more about Pakistani cuisine than about American food. So far they have asked me things that I don’t really know how to answer. Like one woman asked me if it was true that Pakistanis typically powder their own spices and never use mixes (she says a Pakistani woman told her that). I told her it was kind of like in India…a lot of families still powder their own spices, but masala mixes are also widely used. In my in-law’s house, they use both. Another lady asked me about a delicious dish she had tasted. She said it was a small poori filled with daal, did I know what it was? I thought maybe a type of kachori, but she said it wasn’t that. She didn’t know where in Pakistan the woman who fed it to her was from. (Do you recognize this dish?) It is funny to me because as a foreigner I always think of India and Pakistan together and see all of the things the two places have in common. But none of the women realized that Pakistani people and Pakistani foods are just as regional as Indian food even though some of their families are originally from areas that became Pakistan after partition, or that Southern Pakistani foods overlap a lot with what North Indians eat. Dubai is a place where communities that might not otherwise mix get a chance to meet up, so that aspect of sharing is fun.
We haven’t started learning Chinese yet. I can’t wait for that. I have a suspicion that it is going to be desi Chinese because of the listed repertoire, but that is fine, too. I do know how to cook some Cantonese type dishes as well as some American Chinese, so why not learn Indian Chinese? Just more knowledge, more things that I will know how to cook under my belt. My husband isn’t one of those people who only likes desi Chinese food, but I know if I make stuff like that he will especially enjoy it because it will remind him of what is available back home.
Anyway, I am rambling on and on…but you see…tomorrow we are having a one-dish (potluck) coffee morning and we are all supposed to bring a dish. How do you bring a dish to someone’s house if you know she cooks so fabulously because you have eaten from her handcooked food many times and it is always perfect? She has one so many awards and her food is so great! What can I cook that would be nice? My other classmate was ruminating about this with me, too. Another worry of mine is that half of our classmates (we attend in small rotating groups and meet new people every few times) are vegetarians. I want to bring something vegetarian so that they can enjoy. Most of my typical go-to dishes are meat based. What to bring, what to bring? I thought I should represent my culture and bring something American. I just don’t know. The party is tomorrow afternoon. Parties always make me so nervous. I guess I’ll let you know. I have to go to the store later. In Dubai you can’t plan without going to the store first because it isn’t guaranteed that you will find every ingredient you need due to sporadic availability and inconsistent quality of many items. I know, I should just relax and bring whatever…just plan to have fun. Right? I am such a worry wart.
*While I was typing, yet another classmate called me to ruminate about what to bring! It really is such a hard decision and we are all shaking in our boots about bringing something for the star chef to try!!!