No place like home

That post of substance I promised you?  It’s coming this weekend.  It’ll all make sense then.

In the meantime, a quick story:

I spent last weekend in Cleveland, visiting Joe’s family and seeing his hometown for the first time.  Somehow, we’ve let all these years go by without ever making a trip to Ohio, despite the fact that I’ve spent time with his family on numerous other occasions.

As long as I’ve known Joe, he has talked about his mother’s cooking.  Not in that “she’s the best cook in the world” way, but rather individual remembrances of dishes and treats of hers that he liked growing up.  Her fried rice.  The pesto she would make in the summer.  Homemade pizza bagels she’d make for him after school.

He grew up eating mostly Indian food for dinner, and try as I might, no Indian food I’ve ever cooked has satisfied him.  As a culinary student, I once brought home some Indian food we’d cooked with the school’s lone Indian chef.  I had thought the food to be spectacular.  Joe hated it.

“It has no flavor.  It’s not like my mom’s cooking,” he had told me, pushing his food around the plate.

I’ve tried cooking all types of curries, with spices freshly ground and carefully toasted, but to no avail.  No cooking is ever like your mom’s cooking, it’s true.

This weekend, I was able to see what all the fuss was about.  Saturday night, his mother prepared a huge Indian feast, with handmade chapati and puri, fried fresh right before we ate.  There was a dal, a dry potato curry (SO good with the hot puri), a chickpea curry, patra (from a package and heated up by Joe’s dad — surprisingly delicious!), and mango soup spiced with ground ginger.  I did my part by making a simple salad of cucumbers, tomatoes, scallions, cilantro and lemon juice (Please, no lectures on seasonality.  It was a special occasion!).

His mother’s food was undoubtedly some of the best Indian food I’ve had.  Amazingly enough, she mentioned to us that she had toned down the spices in all of the dishes a bit, so as not to overwhelm myself and Joe’s brother-in-law, who also is not Indian.  I can hardly wait to try the food again, when it’s amped up.

And her Indian fried rice?  Comfort in a bowl.  She made it for us Sunday afternoon.  Now I understand why that dish, more than any other during our time together, has been Joe’s number one request.

Isn’t it funny how everyone has dishes from their childhood they’ll never forget?

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