19 June 2006

"Too sweet ...."

... was the final verdict, after about 25 people watched me make coconut burfi and later eat it.

This is again part of the all the activities I ended up being roped into. SS-san from the International forum asked if I would like to attend a small talk at the nearby hamlet (town, they call it here) Atsumi. And yes, could I demonstrate the preparation of some traditional Indian 'candy'?

Candy? Now I was at a complete loss. What typical Indian candy could I make? So I spent about 2-3 weeks in intense research at local supermarkets. Why? Oh yes, I forgot to mention that Satsuki (SI-san), the session organiser, requested that I use ingredients available locally. So there I was desperately mailing mommy and anyone else I could think of asking for very simple sweet recipes, and then hunting in the supermarkets for availability of ingredients. Before I hit the stores there was a lot on internet and dictionary research trying to find the correct English or Japanese name for these things.

Simple and tasty delicacies were ruled out. To make kesari, I needed rave, something unheard of here. I couldn't even find condensed milk for some simple sweets. Finally mom's friend Radha aunty gave her a simple recipe for a coconut burfi, with minimum fuss, that I could make with dry or processed coconut powder. Thank God for that! So after giving SI-san a list of things that would be needed, I settled on this.

On D-day, I was told that I would be given a lift there by one Mrs Okabe, and was given instuctions where to meet her. So I go to the rendezvous and meet her there for the almost hour long drive to Atsumi.

Then we hit the first hitch. Mrs Okabe was Korean, and spoke fluent Japanese. I certainly don't know a single word of Korean, and my Japanese to date isn't something to write home about. So I reached into my bag and pulled out my notepad, pen and dictionary. So whenever Mrs Okabe said anything, I'd jot down what I assumed were the key words to the conversation, look it up in the dictionary, mentally phrase out my response, look up the right words in the dictionary, conjugate verbs correctly, adjust tenses and reply back. We actually managed to have a decently meaningful conversation this way!

The drive to Atsumi was lovely. We drove through the mountains, and the last twenty minutes, we had the mountains on one side, and the sea on the other side of the road. It was a cloudy day, and visibility was a quite poor once we reached the seaside. Since Mrs Okabe had to concentrate on her driving, I put away the dictionary and sat back to enjoy the view.

Atsumi itself is famous for its hotsprings and rose gardens. The town is built into a small valley along the Atsumi river. The houses at the edges of town look like they've been built into the very hills.

We got to Atsumi, and I finally met SI-san, who was so far only a voice on the phone. I was then told that I would have to speak a few words about 'bringing up children in India'. Duh? I told her that I would love to do it, but it wasn't going to be easy using an abridged dictionary. But fortunately, my Japanese teacher AB-san was there, and she was a part of the group who would be learning to make the candies from me. So I quickly wrote down something and she translated it into Japanese.

It was a very small group. There were only 4 of us per group. There were 6 groups in all, with representatives from India, Philippines, Brazil, USA, New Zealand and Korea. I knew AB-san from the classes. The other two ladies were quite curious about everything starting from my clothes, to bindi, to mangalsutra. One totally precocious little kid crossed over from another group to mine because he said he had many questions for me.

So we adjourned to the kitchens to start making our respective dishes. While the concoction was cooking, the little kid (and the ladies too) were full of questions. They were appalled that I hadn't eaten any local fish. And were shocked to realize that I didn't eat fish, period. So instead of a cultural exchange it turned out to be an explanation of vegetarianism. I had to explain just what a vegetarian ate if not fish and meat. To them a diet free of any sort of meat was incomprehensible. I have been told that the ladies and gentlemen in the group now want a full demo of a vegetarian meal.

The little kid was a firecracker. He asked me to speak to him in 'Indian'.. so I let rip in a nice combination of Tamil, Hindi and Kannada. His questions were endless. Finally there was the most priceless one of all.. do all Indians know the kind of yoga where you stand on your head? .... Huh?? where did that come from?? So I asked him: Do all Japanese people know how to fight like the samurai with a katana? Are all Japanese expert in martial arts?

By this time, all the kids were around my table, because word had spread that I was handing out candy... I still have no clue what was so funny about my question, but the entire bunch of kids broke into squeals of laughter, and went on and on and on. I asked AB what I'd said wrong. She too was a bit puzzled, but one of the other mothers in the group said not to think too much about what makes those kids laugh.

And then, there was the 'eating'... We all got to sample what the other groups had made.

Finally when I was leaving, everyone stopped to say how much they liked the candy, but did I add too much sugar by mistake? It was delicious.... but... it was too sweet.

Yes, Indian sweets can be rather overwhelmingly sweet.

And yes, my new friends have asked themselves over to lunch some weekend to taste meat-free food...

At the rate people seem to want to try Indian vegetarian food, Arun says maybe I should open a restaurant.


Dents said...


bethany said...

got you from blogger help.can you help me. whats going on with my sidebar.It was all fine with the blog the pictures were ok then i added a couple of links to the sidebar and it pushed it right to the bottom. I went into templates and selected a new template to try and fix it but all that did was erase the links and my sidebar is still at the bottom. Is there a command in the template i can change to make the blog post side of my page smaller and put the side bar at the to. please help.