Our local meat market

Cooking in the Kitchen: Feb. 25th
Another Glorious Sunday! Summer is rapidly approaching and temperatures are now in the low 30’s (Centigrade). This means that we spent today cleaning the fishpond, and walking in the very early morning. The best sight was that of a young black-skinned Shivaite ascetic, with paint all over his body. He wore only the skimpiest of briefs. His excitement at seeing Sue, and all her whiteness was clearly apparent (he was a young Saddhu after all). I think the best part of his asceticism was the medallion coins of Shiva that he had somehow managed to stitch to his nipples.
Today we have been working like crazy to prepare dinner for my "auntie" and "uncle". Sue objected to my inviting them on a Sunday, when Mercy, our cook, was absent. As a consequence of my inconsideration, today I became the official kitchen slave, and I was reminded that we live in a house without things like dishwashers, four-burner stoves, and microwave ovens.
Our kitchen has several "features" adapted to Indian life. We have LPG (liquid propane gas) cylinders outside our house for cooking on the stove. Having the cylinder outside the house is an unusual nod to safety in India. A rubber hose connects the gas cylinder to our 2-burner stove. This hose comes with instructions to "check at least once a month for rat-bites". You can get gas from the state monopoly, but this requires a gas cylinder "ration-card" which can take two years to obtain. Being rich Americans we got our cylinder within 15 minutes (Awesome!) of giving the required fee deposit of 3 months average Indian salary. Last week, I gave Jude a similar advance for his family of eight, so that he could replace the "garrison for the stow, sir" . I finally understood, after some struggle, that due to elections coming up, kerosene permits and ration cards were getting harder to obtain, and that his family needed a replacement for the kerosene so that they can actually cook their food. A loan from boss was the best solution.
Of course when you cook for auntie and uncle you can’t just give them cold chapatis. So our next acquisition after our indoor stove was a toaster oven. Real ovens don’t exist here (you can import them for a horrendous fee, but where are you going to get the electrical power - and gas must be conserved for the stove). Then, of course, you need a refrigerator. We have a small 18" by 40" native "Godrej" brand. It was advertised as having a "perma-liner seal to prevent unwanted entry". After our experience with the cockroach farm in Pratap’s house we knew what this meant.
Water is never predictable. We have city water that works 2 hours a day on Sunday. We also have our own well, and a cistern that fills when water is available from the well. Sometimes the water supply is stopped by other gremlins. Some weeks ago, Mercy heard a squeak while washing dishes. Seconds later a bandicoot (a cat-sized rat) popped his head out of the drain into the sink. I didn’t know we had a built-in garbage disposal! One of our friends' built-ins didn’t do so well. They watched a sink slowly clog up over a period of two weeks. The culprit was a dead bandicoot in the water supply.
No doubt then, that the workhorse of our kitchen is our Eureka-Forbes water purifier. This is a product made by Eureka (of vacuum-cleaner fame), and costs 3 months average Indian salary. Through a variety of pipes, filters, and electronic gizmos, it "purifies" our water (when the power is available). Purification isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity - our water treatment plant consists of this and boiling. The purifier gets rid of all detritus and protozoa, such as the dreaded elephantisis amoeba that causes abnormal growth of various embarrassing body parts. We then take the purifier output and boil it. This gives us safe drinking water.
When the purifier gets going, and we don’t realize what’s happening, water spills onto the counter and then starts to fill up on the floor. Our landlord, used to this occurrence, built in a " overflow floor drain that takes all water from the floor to the outside. There is constant gang-warfare to the nocturnal rights to this drain hole. Usually, bandicoots excepted, the geckos control access. They wait patiently for the unsuspecting cockroach which unsuccessfully tries to get through. I am surprised that geckos are not an item of worship here. We certainly adore them.
Normally, Sue gives Mercy recipes for dinner. Mercy’s English is good enough to read our recipe books. So Sue and Mercy communicate via the cookbook; Sue says I want page 76, page 95, etc. Once I found Mercy substituting allspice for garam masala (like curry powder). Her substitutions are more natural when doing Mexican food, which she is learning from Mexican cookbooks. Last week, when Lakhshmi suggested a Tamil specialty, Mercy replied that madam only likes recipe foods.
Tonight after a day’s cooking, I’ve realized just what Mercy, our cook, goes through in a daily attempt to make a meal out of what we have. We trust her with the inside of our bodies, and as you can see, here that means a lot.