– Do you have almond flour?
– Wheat flour?
– No, almond. It’s like ground almonds.
– Take whole almonds.
– No, I need almond flour! It is also called almond meal.
– Take oatmeal.
– Ok, forget it.
That’s a typical conversation when you are trying to find just a little-bit-beyond-ordinary ingredient in Kolkata.
Another example. I decide to make Japanese rolls so I need to get avocado. There’s none at the supermarket and I head to the local market where they have imported produce – there’s a tiny chance that I will find the fruit. The only problem is, the vendors there do not speak good English.
– Do you have avocado?
– No, a-vo-ca-do.
– Akhrot? (“walnut” in Hindi)
– NO! AVOCADO!
– Aloo? (“potato” in Hindi)
Yes, it was hard: for me – for a person who easily gets obsessed with cooking a new dish, and for my husband who had to tolerate all my whims: when I needed a not so readily available ingredient for my new kitchen experiment (“Yes! I desperately need a jar of a good pesto!”;”No, I can’t do without fresh dill – the dish will look incomplete!”), he drove me around while I was looking for it at local markets, big commercial supermarkets, posh stores with organic food and in small shops where they were selling smuggled goods. My dear hubby never refused to go through this painful “searching” experience with me and once he even agreed to take me to another part of the city to get xanthan gum (“Tell me, at least, what’s that?” – he asked. “Some sort of a gelling agent. I don’t know how it looks like but I know how to use it in the kitchen”). Yes, I was crazy; and he had to deal with this craziness, with a patience of an angel.
He also had to tolerate a Nazi part of me (which used to become especially active when we had guest at home and I was cooking a storm in the kitchen). He was the best sous-chef one can imagine: very helpful to do all the mis-en-place and very eager to fulfill all the tasks I entrusted him with.
I should say that our colleges once also had to face “an iron chef” in me: as we were throwing a farewell party, I initially refused to get any help (“Let me have fun in the kitchen alone!”) and half an hour before the beginning of the party I had to admit that I was running out of time, so I called an alert and asked all the woman to come to the kitchen and help me slice the bread and make antipasti platters. Even one guy, who accidentally appeared to the kitchen in search of his wife, was forced to finish the canapés with smoked salmon!
In general, it was a great culinary experience – the one that changed my life. Kolkata helped me to find a passion in life (the word “hobby”, I guess, is not that strong to describe my attitude towards food). I will always remember all the dining spots I visited here, all the markets and shops where I used to buy produce, all the people I met during my two and a half years stay. I will carry these memories on, together with the inspiration I drew from this place!