Saturday, January 31, 2009

Immigrant narratives

Since I've arrived in London, I've had the good fortune to set up home with my cousin, A. and her husband, Bi. They're warm, gracious people with the dry humour of proper Brits and it's made the transition feel more like a visit with friends rather than a harsh disjuncture from my old life. Of course I still miss B., but they know him and adore him, so it's easy to include him in the stories I tell or the questions they ask.

Tonight we had a bit of a family reunion, where we had dinner with my other cousin (A.'s sister, R.) and her husband, D. and our cousin from India, S. We're an eclectic group for sure--A., Bi., and R. are all doctors, while D. is a teacher/aspiring PhD in anti-racism studies, and S. has just moved here on a 2 year program in the 'hospitality industry,' which is likely to lead to a job in banquet waitering. We ate at a place called Lahore in Whitechapel, known to some as the best "Indian" food (though it's Pakistani, matter of fact) in London, where we had generous helpings of lamb, paneer, and chicken tikka, lamb and chicken rogan gosht, channa masala, and chicken and bindi curry. I still haven't quite processed how odd it is to be completely surrounded by South Asians wherever I go in this city, where brown folk of all sorts of different ilk come together in an establishment like this for food that reminds them of home--however they may define it.

In particular, it struck me that S. and I are both nomads, while living such different lives in the same city. He's living down in southwest London (Hounslow), which is known to be a primarily Hindu, low-income area, going to catering school at Hammersmith, living with 4 other young men in a 2 bedroom flat, and applying for part-time jobs at McDonalds or Subway in the spare time he's not in class from 9am-10pm. I'm currently living in southeast London (Tower Hamlets), which is known to be primarily Muslim, pursuing independent (read: b*llshit) interviews, about to move into my own flat in Angel, and planning evening excursions after my days of interviews and time at the British library end around 6 or 7pm. We're contemporary nomads in our own ways, but our 'immigration' stories have completely been set by the lives we led in our sending countries. And that's only something I wish conservatives would one day open their bloody eyes and learn--that the opportunities presented to a person before they uproot themselves from their home critically shape the lives they'll lead in their new destinations.

In any case, I'm about to leave the comforts of family company to start my own, independent life here. Fortunately, I'll have my old friend, W., staying over, on his way to get a visa in London Monday morning, so I won't be all alone immediately. W. actually helped me christen my apartment in Ithaca as well--back in 2005, he took an epic bus trip from nyc to toronto, stopping in our little town for no other reason than to spend time with a friend; for that, he'll always be on my list of good souls. Good friends pay visits, no matter where you live.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

London, baby.

So... I live in London now. The past month was a whirlwind of family visits, holiday festivities and work-crunchtime on an academic editing project that tested the very limits of my sanity. In the midst of all of this, my poor blog and its faithful followers fell by the curb. But now I've finally crossed the Atlantic and no longer by the 'kerb' shall they lie.

I'll admit that I don't yet have much in order over here. I still need a flat, some interview contacts, and a working questionnaire, for example. And so it seems silly to be updating my blog while all of these big items hang in the balance, but you can only search that awfully tedious so often and wait for only so many people to call you back before you go stark mad. On top of it, I miss B. unbearably and think its bittersweet irony to finally be in a fantastic city--my favorite and his homeland, in fact--without him. Ah, well... so is the tired story of graduate student nomadism.

I'm going to be much better about posting here from now on, if only to keep those interested updated on my latest exploits. There will be stories about food, because that's how I travel and experience cities; and there will be politics, because that's what I'm supposed to be following over here. As a tribute to my new locale, here's a recipe that I tried out last week before leaving Obama-land. For some inexplicable reason, the Brits love this dish more than most Indians, pairing it with some lager and (most likely) a tall glass of cold water.


2 dried red chilies
1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 teaspoon cardamom seeds
1 (3-inch) stick of cinnamon
1 teaspoon black mustard seed
1 teaspoon fenugreek seed
1/4 cup white vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons brown sugar
2/3 cup vegetable oil
2 medium onions, sliced
2 to 3 tablespoons water
1-inch cube fresh ginger, peeled and finely minced
1 small whole head of garlic, peeled and separated
2 to 3 tablespoons water
2 1/2 pounds pork, trimmed and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon turmeric

1) Using a spice or coffee mill to grind red chilies, cumin seeds, peppercorns, cardamom seeds, cinnamon stick, black mustard seeds and fenugreek seeds. In a small bowl combine the ground spices with the vinegar, salt, and brown sugar; then set aside.
2) In a large, deep frying pan (with lid for use later), heat the oil over medium heat; add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions turn golden brown and crisp. Remove and drain on paper towels. Set aside the frying pan with the remaining oil.
3) Using an electric blender or food processor, puree the fried onions with 2 to 3 tablespoons water.
4) Combine the onion puree with reserved spice mixture. This mixture is the Vindaloo paste.
5) Again, using the blender or processor, blend the ginger and garlic with 2 to 3 tablespoons water into a smooth paste.
6) Heat the oil in reserved frying pan over medium-high heat. Cook the cubed pork in small batches to ensure they brown nicely, placing cooked pork to a bowl until all pork is browned nicely.
7) Next, add the ginger-garlic paste to the frying pan and reduce the heat to medium. Cook and stir paste for a few seconds, then stir in the ground coriander and turmeric, again cooking for just few seconds. Quickly stir in the browned pork cubes and accumulated juices, the vindaloo paste and the 1 cup water. Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 1 hour or until pork is fork-tender, stirring occasionally.

Makes 10 servings.