When your mother shows up, the gastronomic aspect of your life invariably takes a better turn.
Food is important, which is why I seldom outsource buying raw materials, especially vegetables and fish. For the same reason, I am typically reluctant to hire Maharashtrian cooks.
Do not get me wrong. Maharashtrian cooks are honest triers who put in every bit of their culinary skills. They try very hard, incredibly hard, but there is only so much you can do if your armoury consists of, and ends at, onions, garlic, tomatoes, and curry leaves, with coconut for variation.
You cannot blame them. They simply attempt to win a war with pea-shooters. Perhaps it is some sort of guerrilla warfare that we are too mainstream to figure out. Perhaps they can be good in an unfathomable sort of way.
The one that works at my apartment is professional but restricted in a very Maharashtrian sort of way. She toils hard without much success, but expecting quality out of her would be akin to expecting me to sing.
The matriarch of the family had tried to mentor her. She got the cook to prepare fish the proper (Bengali, in other words; machher jhol) way. The cook grumbled at not being allowed to use curry leaves but came to terms with that.
Tomatoes, of course, were another thing altogether. I have known people who seem to think I do not rate tomatoes very highly. That is an understatement. I detest, hate, loathe those squishy red orbs from hell, and even that – or any other synonymous verb, for that matter – is an understatement.
Over years I have mellowed down enough to accept tomatoes in dishes (though never in excess). The raw ones continue to remain inedible abominations.
But we are digressing. She was obviously unhappy about not being able to add tomatoes to machher jhol. She had tried to convince us, but we had stood firm: there was to be no compromise on machher jhol.
So by the time she had showed up yesterday, there was not a single atom of tomato (or even ketchup) in the household. There was not a slice of lemon, not the tiniest morsel of tamarind, not even vinegar. The yoghurt was tucked away safely. There was no contraption she could use to turn machher jhol sour.
But she won.
My mother had forgotten the raw mangoes, kept aside for superior culinary ventures. She had never expected chunks of them to show up next to fish… kajori, especially...