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My Mother & Making Curry

Joelle Hann writes about her family roots in curry, pomegranate martinis, and the etymology of “asafoetida”–an apparently stinky ingredient that the French call “Devil’s Shit”, and which holds the secret to vegetarian Indian cooking.curried cauliflower with peas

My mother was born in New Delhi, India, on midsummer night’s eve—-June 24—-1940. World War II was raging in the Western world, and India was not far from declaring its independence from Britain. Her parents worked for the Lord and Lady Viceroy to India, and had been living in India for some time, her mother as the seamstress, and her father, a Rolls Royce engineer, as the chauffeur.

Although they were servants, my grandparents had servants themselves. My mother had an ayah, or nannie, to tend to her, and no doubt the ayah took my mother along on visits to the Viceroy’s kitchen when she went looking for snacks, gossip, and companionship. It was in the steamy subcontinental kitchen that my mother acquired her love for the pungent aromas of Indian cooking, and, as an adult with a family of her own, she frequently recreated the meals she remembered so fondly from childhood. (My mother and my grandparents were eventually evacuated from India by the British Army in 1946).
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