When I asked my host sister what she wanted to do after school she hardly had to think a bit before responding, “Let’s make chocolate chip cookies.”
I was so excited when she said that. Fresh-baked cookies are not easy to find in India. My sister had never made cookies before, and although I’m no expert, I’ve made cookies enough times to know the basics. I immediately began figuring out what we would need to make cookies. The first problem I ran into is that Indian food doesn’t require an oven. That means we only have a portable stove top connected to a gas canister for cooking. And a microwave. This could have been a major setback, but leave it to Pinterest to save the day and give us an oven free recipe. Cookie Crisis averted.
I found a one-minute microwave cookie in a mug recipe with only a few ingredients that should be easy to find in a pantry. All we needed were flour, brown sugar, white sugar, eggs, vanilla, salt, butter, and chocolate chips. Easy enough, right?
We already had most of the ingredients, so we just made a quick stop at the local grocery store to pick up the last few. This is the part where I discovered that some ingredients that are common in the United States are rarely used in India.
First on our list was brown sugar. We scanned the store and found two small packages, labelled “light brown sugar.” The recipe specifically called for dark brown, but really, what’s the difference? I grabbed a package. Next we needed vanilla. We searched the entire store twice and didn’t see any. The shopkeeper pointed us towards a wall of bottles. Hidden among the barbecue sauces and vegetable oils we found an enormous bottle of vanilla. My sister asked, “When are we ever going to use that much vanilla?” According to the recipe we only needed three drops. I set the bottle down. Exceptions would have to be made. The last thing we needed was a bag of chocolate chips. Apparently this store didn’t carry chocolate chips. We would have to make do with Hershey kisses.
We started baking as soon as we got home. I had noticed that my mom never used a recipe when she cooked, but I didn’t realize that we didn’t even own measuring cups. I was not expecting it when my mom pulled out a literal cup, tablespoon and teaspoon for us to use. I was also not expecting to be handed a mortar and pestle to crush the Hershey kisses into smaller pieces. This was really weird for me, but what else could I do but grab the utensils and start baking. I’ve learned being here that home chefs have lived with their beloved recipes for so long, they hardly have use for such precision. It’s just known to them.
The cookies didn’t take long to make. As I sat and ate my delicious cookie I couldn’t help but think that this experience was an odd, but very accurate summary of my own culture shock. The confusion caused by unfamiliarity occurs on both large and small scales. I have found so many aspects of India that are strange to me. It is easy to allow the differences to cause discomfort or frustration, but it is more rewarding to see the humour and excitement of trying new things. I have found that as I try to fully embrace an Indian lifestyle it is becoming easier to love the culture. It is becoming easier to try new things and understand how incredible the new sights, sounds and smells are. At times it is hard to have a positive outlook, but I know that one can either cry over a few missing drops of vanilla, or enjoy a delicious cookie made in an Indian kitchen.