Cooking in Mumbai – Talk about Fresh Food!


Now that I have started cooking on a much regular basis, after week 3 in Mumbai, I have discovered a few things about how to develop one’s cooking style to not only accommodate the quality of vegetables, but to manage cooking in the heat/humidity as well. So folks, listen up! Here are some tips on surviving the kitchen in Mumbai:

1. Unlike the fresh veggies in the US which lasted on end, sometimes even for a couple of weeks, in real good condition, the veggies in Mumbai do not stay as fresh past day 4 of being in the chiller. You may think that this is a criticism of the vegetable quality in Mumbai and that my list of nay says goes on and on. But hold that thought! I am actually pleased with the idea that the veggies tend to go limp in a few days because it implies that they are FRESH in the true sense of the word: limited pesticides, grown and farmed by hard working laborers, hand picked on a daily basis, and so on. At least, that’s my theory, and I so enjoy cooking with such vegetables because I am certain that I am indeed eating fresh food. Lesson: Make sure to buy only enough veggies at a time or you may run the risk of seeing them get bad.

2. If you miss the iceberg lettuce, and radicchio, and red colored lettuce and all those delicious, wholesome, salad leaves that you were used to in the US, do not despair! I was able to find a good variety of these leaves in the main bazaar in my neighborhood.  I was very pleased with my selection and last week, I came home with a crisp iceberg lettuce head. It was fresh, sumptuous, and refreshing. However, may I also warn you that such delicacies are not cheap and I paid about Rs.45 for two small heads. This would probably be the amount a poor family would spend on 2 kinds of vegetables that would feed a family of four.

3. In terms of cooking in a kitchen that is not air conditioned and that is relatively small and warm, I have come to learn and strategize ways in which to better my cooking experience. One of the things I do is turn on the AC in the adjacent room for about 30 minutes. I am seated in the (shut) room and take in the arctic chill that seeps through every pore of my body. What a thrill! Now that I am cool and refreshed, I  switch the AC off, turn on the fan, and leave the bedroom door open. This allows for some of the chill air to pass by the kitchen, and if I am lucky, it even enters in the kitchen, and gives me the much needed reprieve while me and my dishes are simmer. Of course, there are some days where even this tactic fails and I find that cooking one dish at a time can be helpful.

4. I also discovered that the cooking gas in Mumbai is “tez” – a colloquial Hindi word that implies “sharp” or “fierce”. I say tez because what used to take 10 minutes to heat up in San Francisco, takes 5 minutes in Mumbai. It is amazing how much quicker cooking is when you have a flame that is so tez even when turned on the slow mode. So, beware, and always keep your eye on the stove because cumin seeds can go from light brown to black in a heartbeat and turmeric powder can smell like burnt toast in a matter of seconds!

Happy cooking!

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