Monday, June 02, 2008

Hot Mango Chutney

In Paris there's a passage like Bangladesh - cardboard boxes weighed down with manioc and bitter melon beneath graying light and lunch specials. It was here that I first found knobs of turmeric huddling between splashes of coriander and white-striped aubergine.

We all have our alternate-life fantasies, our wish lists where we romanticize the lives of those who have less than us. When I was young, it was the horhound candies of Laura Ingalls Wilder or the soda crackers of this series of books of a handful of Jewish children on the Lower East Side at the turn of the century.

As an American in Paris trying her best to cook up the food she adores from the Bay Area, my fantasy is that of an Indian mom taken out of her homeland and trying to survive in a foreign place - popping mustard seeds in oil to fry up shitakes from the local market. A mother with piles of dough softening on the counter each night when her husband comes home - sometimes 1/2 atta other times, when that's run out, all-purpose flour, sometimes speckled with black pepper and oil added to resemble the flaky parathas she cooked at home.

It maintains, this alter-ego, as I prepare a dal with potatoes for a Friday night picnic on the tip of Ile St-Louis - dishes filled with warm lentils, topped with homemade tamarind chutney, yogurt and the most expensive hot mango chutney I'd ever seen. I didn't find it in the passages that I imagine are necessarily rank with an authenticity that I know nothing about, but rather in the chic aisles of Le Grande Epicerie (Au Bon Marche) - each jar wrapped in a plastic bag, stacked carefully above packets of Thai curry pastes and sheets of forest-colored nori in the Asie aisle.

There I was one day, trying to use up end-of-the-month cheques de restaurant, wondering if the price is high because of the trip from India or the ingredients (and hoping it's for the latter). Alas, we mothers of the diaspora, as I imagine us, in our world known only to white American women from fiction, we find 'home' wherever we can get it, claiming what might be ours, or not, as we make up our lives each day.


Andrea said...

Most excellent opening line. Your entries always motivate me to cook broader, taste deeply.

Tina said...

have you been reading lahiri? ;)