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Sunday, October 18, 2009

She Works Hard for the Samosas

My mother's samosas got me through college.

How? You may ask. How does an Indian pastry (not to be confused with the delightful "Samoas" - the Girl Scout cookies in the purple boxes full of coconut goodness) get one through four years at the University of Virginia? What does this wholesome spicy staple of Indian cuisine (also not to be confused with Mimosas - though they probably would taste freakishly good together) have to do with my college education?

I'm getting to that. Hold that thought.

As first generation immigrants, my parents went through great pains to ensure that they made a home for their familiy in this country, put food on our table every night and also sent money back to their family in India. Achieving this was a challenge and not one that I ever take lightly having seen my parents sacrifice over the years. Our home was not one of abundant "things" - I remember all the toys I had, every gift I received - mainly because I had been to India many times and realized how lucky I was. But it was also because our family could not live in "excess."

But there were a few areas that were the very face of excess in my house, and they usually originated or had some relation to my parents kitchen.

Enter the Samosas.

My parents started an Indian grocery store in the early '80's. "Spices of India" was one of the first Indian grocery stores in the tri-state area, before the boom of what is now considered Little India in Edison, NJ. Running the store was a full family affair and consumed much of our lives growing up - my mother ran the store throughout the week and my father commuted back from his job in the city each night to help close the store. My sister, my brother and I worked on the weekends and it was a full family affair to keep the business running.

At some point, my mother started selling her own homemade samosas at the store. The response was immediate. Word got out about my mother's samosas and people would come in droves to buy them. We were selling out because we couldn't keep up with the demand. Pretty soon - the orders for special events started coming in.

Customers couldn't get enough. "Can you make 100 samosas? 200? 300? . . . "

Well, if you're my mother, you can.

Making these samosas often required wakeups at 5 AM in the morning, after preparing the potato and pea masala that gets stuffed into pastry late into the previous night. My mother would often get help from other family members willing to sacrifice - my sister, Munni Didi (older sister) or my aunt, Vibha Mausi (mother's sister) would often be laboring alongside my mother with her behlna (rolling pin) as she rolled out the dough for every individual pastry.

Over the years, I know that it all took a toll on my family and my parents. Not just the samosas - but all of it. As the waves of Indian stores hit Edison and larger Indian "Superstores" popped up in our area, my parents saw business decrease - but they fought the good fight and kept things running as long as they could. Throughout it all - one of the constants was the high demand for the samosas.

My parents have never been on a cruise. They have never really been on a vacation, the way most of us think of vacation. They never bought much for themselves - but they have worked a great deal over their life and by god, did my mother make a lot of samosas. Knowing the blood, sweat and tears that went into making sure food WAS on the table for us gave money a whole different meaning.

When I would go to the store and see a pretty dress on the rack, I wouldn't see dollars. The only currency I could see was my mother's samosa.

Dress from The Limited - $29.50 (converted to @ 60 samosas)
Senior Class Trip - $100 (converted to @ 200 samosas)
New Shoes from Macy's - $30 (converted to @ 60 samosas)

Don't get me wrong. I have lost sight of that work and sacrifice a few times growing up during more unreasonable "angsty" teen momments - wanting more, demanding more "things." But usually, wanting something came at a cost - knowing literally how many hours of my mothers work it would take to satisfy my whim. And no matter how much I wanted things - they were never worth it.

Today, our friends and co-workers in Virginia can't get enough of my mom's samosas. When she comes to visit - she always offers to make a batch of 50 - 60 samosas and spend 4-5 hours of the precious time she is here making sure she leaves behind something that she knows will make our friends happy. I always feel guilty about it - how can I ask her to make one more samosa? Shouldn't she just retire her behlna already?

But it's my mother and if you know my mother, you know that she shows her love through her food and, ultimately, who am I to deny my mother her freedom of expression? (Especially when it tastes like THAT?!)

So thanks, Ma. For so much more than just your culinary masterpieces. For everything.

Now will someone please pass the chutney?


Glennon said...

i love this, what a tribute. beautiful.

gigibidot said...

My what a touching story. I just about started to tear up towards the end. Thanks to the chutney - I snapped right out of that mood. Mmmmm, home made Samosas with a compliment of Chutney - sounds so scrumptious. Cheers to your parents and especially to your mother. Mothers are so awesome. Kudos Kiran for a marvelously done commemorative blog.

Kiran Kairab Ferrandino said...

Thanks guys. I will have to make sure you get a taste at some point :-)


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