Better Than Garam Masala









It was a simple statement that jerked my mind backwards; As if the Lufthansa jet that landed on Logan international just took a reverse flight back to Mumbai international…

In my mind opened a book of memories that I had shut tightly once I landed in the USA……………….

It was the Asia’s class and one of my friend while explaining a dish, in which he infused some spices said,” This is something like the garam masala, but just better.”

…..I could almost hear the sizzle of the butter heating the hot griddle of the ‘Sardar’ pav bhaajiwala (Bread and spice infused vegetables – roadside food in india)

I could see the faces smile in deep satisfaction of those whose mouths just got overfull with the one shot swallowing of the pani puri…as the chilled tamarind water washed down their throats and the hot chickpea stuffing hit the tongue just as the puri (canape) crunched between their teeth.

I saw the rush of hands of the numerous people to grab a quick hot wada pav (potato bondas wrapped in bread), Samosas and dhoklas (steamed chick pea cake) dipped in tamarind chutney right outside the Dadar surti mart.

The college crowd was parking their bikes outside Bademiyan for a Kathi roll (kebabs wrapped in naan – version of the Gyro) and a sip of coffee..and the common man was waiting in line for a glass of chilled drink ranging from 10 different flavors of lassi to juices to sodas just before his train arrived.

From the rush of the common routine and the smell of the sweat to the cool air of air conditioning, my mind reeled to the cars of my family and others being parked outside Indigo or Leopolds to taste the chefs creations of Indian cuisine or may be satisfy the palate with some continental fare. Ladies dressed in designer sarees that outdid any cocktail dresses laughed as they trotted to Morimotto’s Wasabi in Taj for a bite of the Sushi. From Lucky’s biryani to Delhi Durbar’s Kebabs…from Indigo’s Tandoor smoked salmon with Spring salsa to the western outlets of KFC and MC Donalds the train in my mind travelled various stations in India where the cuisine changes as the train stops at every station.

And it is funny how in life, epiphanies come at strange times… standing there, in my class in USA, far away from my country I realised what Indian Cuisine meant…

I could see the guidelines of Nouvelle cuisines being establshed long before France did…could see the Acharis (traditional name for Chef) serving the house of royals even before the “Chef of the Kings” did in France.The picture of the Wazwans being supervised by them for the kings even before Careme introduced his Pieces Montees and grand buffets fluttered in my mind. A cuisine that has knowingly and unknowingly influenced a major part of the world. A cuisine that even Harold McGee salutes for ‘creating infinite tastings of milk that no other country in the galaxy can make’. A country of maximum diversity of tastes…a unique blend…

A kitchen where Escoffier did not come to design the heirarchy and yet it is followed in every traditional household, with the eldest person being the executive Chef.

…I was brought back to the present with the sound of classmates going out for dinner…

My mouth was watering….

And with the imaginative smells of the freshly ground masalas..of the freshly cooked home food..of memories that would never stop unless I shut the book tightly…with thoughts that some “Indian Escoffier” would revolutionise Indian cuisine and bring it to forefront…..

..I smiled, as I trotted behind my friends…and grabbed a plate of burger and fries.


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