Welcome to the first entry in my Remembering India series, where I share recipes, meals and adventures from my 2008 studies abroad. Today I reveal why I became What’s in Season with Des.
In the summer of 2008, my college professor designed a one-time study abroad program in Mumbai, India. The program’s mission was to work with Mobile Creches and D. Y. Patil College of Architecture to come up with design ideas for learning and daycare centers on active construction sites.
I was 21 at the time and had just finished my 3rd year in architecture school. It was a rough year for me—partially because I’d realized how much I disliked architecture school, and partially because I was trudging through each day with a broken heart. My only coping mechanisms were staying up all night in the studio and eating my feelings—both of which turned against me. I was tired and lonely, and had gained about 25 pounds.
Feeling like I had nothing to lose (besides all of that bacon-cheeseburger weight), I applied to the program. I didn’t even have the money to pay for it, but I’d figure that out later. If I could just get in, I’d at least have the hope of being part of something meaningful and potentially life-changing.
The story of a white lady’s self-discovery in a foreign country is hardly a new one.
But there’s a reason I’m telling it anyway, and it has a lot to do with food.
Ever since I was little, food has been as critical to communication as it is to sustenance or survival. In my family, a simple bowl of pasta and fresh tomato sauce could express love—the height of summer—or the start to a big meal. It could even set the scene for my great aunt and uncle to yell at each other at the Sunday Dinner table.
On my trip to India (where I knew absolutely nothing about the cuisine), food was equally important in telling a story. Dinner at a friend’s house meant that I was welcome, and that a special meal would be coming my way. A scalding masala chai meant a 15-minute break. An ice-cold beer meant that it was the end of a long day, and a mango lassi meant that I was getting my ass kicked by hot green chilis.
Even on the days that I felt alone, I never ate alone.
Instead, I sat with friends as my fingers and tastebuds got thrown into the sweet, spicy and sour extremes of one of the most thoughtful and purposeful cuisines I have ever gotten to know. To discover that herbs, spices and fats were as valued for their medicinal properties as their flavor was pretty eye-opening—though in full disclosure, not enough to preclude me from ordering Dominoes, McDonald’s and the occasional brownie sundae with my friends.
When I came home from my trip, I felt a big loss. I’d developed such a closeness to my friends (some of whom I haven’t seen since), that I didn’t know what to do with myself. I spent my first two weeks streaming episodes of the OC from a Korean website, while I internalized the relationship struggles of Seth, Summer, Ryan and Marissa. After two months of sharing meals with friends, I was right back to eating alone, making poor choices every step of the way. My heart was still broken, after all.
It wasn’t long before someone who saw what I was doing to myself, pulled me aside and said:
You need to get back in shape.
And they were right.
In August of 2008 (about a month after I got back), I began eating seasonally. I dedicated the majority of my meals to vegetables, eggs, yogurt and spices—ingredients I gained a new appreciation for on my trip. Between that and running, I was 15 pounds lighter by October.
That year I spent a lot of weekends visiting my sister, my stepbrother and our friends. They would jokingly ask, “What’s in Season with Des?” to find out what I’d been eating that week. I always shared my knowledge, and I assured them that if I ever started writing about it, I’d know what my blog title would be.
So here we are, eight years later. I’ve got a lot of recipes to share with you from my trip to India—some traditional, some a little less so. Each one is tied to a specific routine, time or place on my journey, which I’ll share with you along the way.
Enjoy, my friends,
Related Stories & Recipes
Remembering India: My First 24 Hours
Remembering India: Pramila’s Paneer Bhurji
Remembering India: Chicken Biryani
Remembering India: Sights, Sounds & Railway Food
Remembering India: Ghee + Thane
$1 Grilled Cheese Party