The Aroma of Culture

It is not uncommon for me to decide to make a fancy dinner. This time, my parents said, “Why don’t you make Indian food?” Everything I had been planning was about to be replaced with something I had no experience with. Though I didn’t know it at the time, this was the first step in making the meal that would forever change my perspective and bring me closer to my culture.

On that Saturday morning, my hand shook like a phone on vibrate as I grabbed the pan. I placed it on the burner and poured just enough oil into it, craving perfection. With my face scrunched up and eyebrows raised, I turned toward my mom. Before the okra hit the oil, she told me to add a laundry list of spices: “Now drop in the spices and quickly add the bhinda (okra).” She said this so calmly as if dropping spices that could potentially spatter and jump in a pan hotter than a burning building, coated with oil, was not something to be afraid of. What if’s were circulating my brain like passengers on a merry-go-round as I added the spices to the oil, my heart and head filled with fear. Chili powder, turmeric, mustard seed, cumin, ground coriander–seemingly random spices that somehow came together to create a beautiful story. The mix of the spices and the oil created an aroma that was indescribable. In the air, the combination made sense. Enervated, I finished the dish.

That’s when I realized: People in India do this all the time. Without fear. Food is truly an art form. Everyone paints with their own colors, everyone tells stories with their own voices. And everyone cooks with their own spices and techniques.  Tasting all of these spices on my tongue and seeing the smiles on my parents’ faces filled me with more pride than I’ve ever had. I took a step back and admired the dish that showed me who I was and where I was from.