Indian cooking may seem overwhelming, what with all the spices that seem to consume a dish. But if you find yourself a little bored of standard restaurant fare, I would highly recommend you take a cooking class. Not only do you get to see all of the behind-the-scenes preparation, but getting your hands dirty is the best way to truly understand a cuisine.
We found ourselves in Udaipur, walking up and down the windy streets that get most tourists lost. As we were walking back to our hotel, we saw a sign for cooking lessons and were immediately intrigued. My boyfriend went inside to check times and prices, and I found myself outside wondering if I would be able to prepare Indian dishes for anyone once I got back home.
The next morning, we signed up at an unassuming apartment with a sign that read, “SHASHI COOKING CLASSES.” We returned at 5:30 p.m. for the five-hour (!) class and were instantly greeted in the living room by Shashi, an Udaipur local dressed in a sari. Shashi is of the highest (Brahmin) caste. After her husband was murdered, she was unable to leave her home for a year, or ever remarry. During her year of mourning, she realized she was financially stuck. In secret, she would send her sons to hotels to pick up dirty laundry, and guests of those hotels would occasionally drop by for her cooking. Eventually, someone came up with the idea for her to teach a cooking class. In a short amount of time, she taught herself English, and travelers who have cooked with Shashi have translated her recipes into their respective languages.
In the middle of her introduction, three Israeli travelers came and joined us, bringing our cooking group to a total of five. Lucky for Shashi, my boyfriend speaks Hebrew, and was able to translate the not-so-easy cooking jargon for everyone. Our lesson began with pakora (fried potato, onion, or paneer), accompanied by two chutneys — coriander and mango. The mango chutney was sweet and brown, and had a taste that was a welcome break from curries’. We then moved on to eggplant masala (curry), vegetable pullao (a rice dish), naan with garlic paneer and tomatoes, and chapati (peasant bread).
To say the least, cooking has added a new appreciation for Indian cuisine — even if every restaurant tends to serve the same food. You hear stories about women that, by religious law, aren’t able to progress into modern society because of non-Western traditions. Although Shashi can never remarry, she is now financially independent, and carried a warm smile knowing that things are better for her now. The night ended with a festive meal, which we prepared, so large that we weren’t able to even finish half.
On our way out, Shashi wrapped a friendship bracelet around my arm. I don’t plan to take it off anytime soon. If you happen to find yourself in Udaipur with a few hours to spare, I wouldn’t think twice about taking her class.
Information about Shashi’s cooking classes is on her website: http://shashicookingclasses.blogspot.com