Some Like It Hot

By Bhairavi Thanki

Indian food is the best kind of food.

These aren’t my words but those of my mother. All my life, as I substituted salads for her cooking in an attempt to lose weight, she’d convince everyone at the table that I would never achieve my desired results until I started eating Indian food for every meal, every day. So, I rebelled, completely ditching my diet. I asked my dad, who was more open to a multicultural palette, if we could eat somewhere non-Indian.

I took my parents to eat some Thai, which has slightly similar flavours to Indian. My mum said she could make it at home. I took my parents to Chili’s to have some nachos. My mum said she could make it at home. I took my parents out for pasta at the best Italian restaurant in town. My mum said she could make it at home. I snapped. I challenged my mum to forego her regular schedule of cooking daal and rice to baking a batch of nachos. What happened next blew my mind.

The following evening, my mum offered up a piping hot baking tray of crisp tortilla chips topped with salsa, cheese, green peppers, black olives, grilled corn and...RAJMA. Yes, rajma! For those of you who don’t know, rajma is a north Indian curry made of red kidney beans, tomato pasta, onions and a heavenly mix of herbs and spice. These were, hands down, the best nachos I had ever had. My taste buds were changed forever.

My mum and her sister added rajma instead of refried beans to tacos, nachos and quesadillas. They added turmeric powder and mustard seeds to pasta sauce to create a dish they liked to call “curry penne.” They even added curry powder and potatoes to pizzas. Maybe this was so that we kids never lost our love for Indian food, or maybe it was a diabolical scheme to never let our taste buds get tainted by other cuisines.Whatever their plan was, it worked.

I realized that if a meal does not make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up from fear of being burned off, it just wasn’t good enough. I add garam masala to my ramen noodles and my pizza sauce is never spicy enough. When I lived in the Middle East, I got hooked onto furiously hot Indo-Chinese and Hakka food. Now, I can’t have Cantonese without wrinkling my nose. This isn't to say that I don't appreciate a well made plate of pasta, but if someone placed some rotini with curried eggplant and a side of tempura crusted paneer in front of me, I’d like it a lot better than margherita anything. My sister can't seem to stop making deep fried samosas filled with tofu. And neither of us can get enough of those gosh darn rajma nachos, which my mum kindly stashes in my freezer.

I can now see how, after years of taste-bud-modification to Indian food, my family feels that anything that isn't doused in mustard and ghee is completely tasteless. I think this Indian + All-Other-Cuisines hybrid is a great way for anyone to ease into full-fledged curry indulgence. My sister and I are prepping our stomachs for a big family reunion coming up in July in India. To my family, the most important sign of good health is the ability to eat a five course spicy meal while squabbling as family members pile everything onto my plate as if I am going to attack it like a champ. We are going to make our aunties and uncles oh so proud.

If you want a taste of the Thanki Sisters’ daily diet, here's my advice to you: the next time you make a sandwich, line it with green chutney and put some baked potatoes in there, throw it on a pan and grill it, dip it in some spicy ketchup, take a big bite and then tell my mum how good that was. She'll show you a whole culinary world you never knew existed.