Monday, November 21, 2005

Comfort food

Bread and cheese and jam and cream for breakfast, along with a bowl of turnips for me!! I’m not sick of them yet, although I can’t have huge quantities of them. I am a little worried because I’m not sure how I will eat a kilo of them on my own since AliBob is of no help here.

A good news update! The Khanum (Mrs. Elahi) took me to buy spices this afternoon. YAY! First we went to the University (my first time, even though Irfan Ali has been going for a few days now) and it’s beautiful! The view is, anyway. The campus is packed with trees and they’re working on cultivating gardens. From the 4th floor, where Dr. Elahi and Irfan Ali’s offices are, the view is amazing because of the stark contrast of the trees against the desert. In fact, there’s a craggy peaked hill right in the middle of the campus and the trees have been planted around it. I didn’t take any pictures today, but I will next time I go. I also didn’t visit Ali because we just wanted to get shopping. Dr. Elahi did come out of a meeting to greet me though, as did Mr. Ebrahimi, the administrator who took care of our apartment stuff and my “bridal” kitchenware stuff. I felt so honored.

It was also my first time venturing out to the Holy Shrine area. It’s amazing! I didn’t go to the shrine itself, but right around it is the “bazaar” with all kinds of stores and pilgrims from all over. I stick out a lot though because I seem to be the only woman not wearing chador. Even the foreigners wear chador.

There was a martyr’s courtyard (martyrs mostly from the Iran-Iraq war, but also many from the Shah’s time) with marble markers set flush against the ground, creating a whole marble floor. People walk on them as though it were just a regular floor. At first I tried to step on the cracks or the spaces between the markers out of respect for the dead buried underneath my feet, but it looked weird and was not sustainable for more than a few steps.

There were lots of people and this area truly looks like a crowded city center, unlike the quiet isolated suburbs where we live. There are huge vaulted barrel ceilings and bright lights displaying jewelry and pots and pans and shiny objects tourists will buy and knick-knacks and foods and snacks. Again, no pictures but I don’t feel comfortable yet and it was hard enough work trying to avoid getting run over (both by people and cars).

Most of the stalls did not have Indo-Pak spices but rather carried lots of Arab stuff (or one generic “curry spices” mix that they make themselves in layers and it looks like that sand art made of different colored layers of sand stuffed into glass bottles), but still I managed to find most of the basic spices I needed and even a few extras, though not all. It was from an Afghan vendor who spoke a little Urdu, enough to tell me the names of the spices in Urdu. I also bought (all dried) red lentils, garbanzos, kidney beans channa daal (which is split pea? it’s the legume that looks like half of a garbanzo), 2 big cans of tomato paste, and the Khanum recommended a good brand of pasta, so I picked up two packets of spaghetti.

The total was $10 and she made sure he gave me good prices, especially on the spices since she didn’t recognize and/or use most of them. I heard her arguing and telling him (I guessed from some of the words and tones and body language) that he’d better not screw me because I am a foreigner. He protested and swore he was a God-fearing man and wouldn’t do such a thing. He seemed nice, actually, and she seemed satisfied. She bought some nice wafers for us and insisted on carrying the heaviest groceries though I argued all the way back to the car. She is, incidentally, an excellent driver and maneuvers beautifully in the death trap they call traffic here.

Then, she also took me to where she buys her produce at excellent prices but deemed the vegetables not looking so fresh. We moved on to another store that sells mostly just herbs and that’s where I got my much-needed hot green chilies and cilantro. She also got me a handful of a bunch of other herbs that I vaguely recognized because she wanted me to try them.

We finally went to a meat store for me to buy chicken, and I realized then that they sell everything whole. I don’t know what to do with a whole chicken. I never cooked meat on my own because Irfan Ali’s a vegetarian, and in my mother’s house, I cook the meat that comes pre-cut and pre-cleaned. I asked for boneless chicken and he showed me a tiny frozen filet that was almost 4 dollars; too much even by American standards. She showed me fish, but again, it was whole (head, tail, scales and guts in tact) and I told her Irfan Ali doesn’t like fish and I don’t know how to prepare it looking like that.

Finally, embarrassed that we spent time in there but didn’t get anything, she bowed out very graciously and apologetically and I followed. She said she will show me how to prepare the chicken and the fish.

It was a productive day!! We came home later and even though I was so tired, I cooked the rest of the turnips into a salan with potatoes and browned onions (vegetable curry type thing), and I made good old khatti daal (a tart lentil curry that we’re hooked on, with lemon juice and tamarind). We used the rice that we’d had left over from our trips eating out. I’m not one to usually enjoy eating what I cook, but oh my God, tonight we were both in Paki food heaven… and I’m not even that great a cook! I think this is a good time for IrfanAliBob to appreciate all the brown food he had available in our house and all the things that my mom made that he sometimes didn’t even eat because he was dieting. At least now he knows he’s a food Paki. Actually, to be fair, for us, home food is good, but I’m a big fan of all the other Asian fare too. I crave Japanese and Chinese and Thai and Vietnamese on a near daily basis, even in the US.


Blogger huma said...

sara -- looks like you're getting the hang of things

2:17 AM  

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