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A Mother And Daughter Wrote A Cookbook To Show How Food Traditions Change


Where are you really from? It's a question immigrants of color and their kids get a lot, and the answer is often complex. It may not simply be about a place on a map. It can be about family upbringing, career aspirations, even food. The NPR series Where We Come From brings us conversations from immigrant communities of color answering this very question. Here's NPR's Anjuli Sastry.

ANJULI SASTRY, BYLINE: New York Times food writer Priya Krishna learned a lot from her mom Ritu when it came to making Indian food, so much that they decided to write the cookbook "Indian-ish" together in 2019. The recipes are mostly for Indian food, each with their own unique twist. But Priya still had some lingering questions.


PRIYA KRISHNA: I wanted to talk to my mom directly about what those first moments were like when she arrived in America. I mean, these are moments that I will never be able to understand being born here.

SASTRY: It turns out a lot of those first moments in the U.S. for Ritu were about food. And sometimes you end up changing up what you cook based on what you experience in a new place. Here are Priya and her mom Ritu cooking and talking about what food traditions mean for their Where We Come From story.


P KRISHNA: So how did your cooking really start to evolve and change and sort of become what it is now?

RITU KRISHNA: Watching TV was the way I was teaching myself...


R KRISHNA: ...How things were in this country. And so I discovered Julia Child.


JULIA CHILD: Hello. This is Julia Child. Welcome.

R KRISHNA: Then I discovered Ming Tsai.


MING TSAI: You know, one of the things that really draws me to Asian cuisines is heat.

R KRISHNA: Martin Yan.

P KRISHNA: Martin Yan, "Yan Can Cook" Chinese food.


MARTIN YAN: I have designed a complete Chinese vegetarian meal.

R KRISHNA: It was a huge learning experience. Julia Child was probably the most influential in that I learned some very basic French cooking techniques just watching her - you know, how she deglazed the pan, how - you know, making pastry...


CHILD: Put a little bit of flour on.

R KRISHNA: ...You know, laminating.


CHILD: Remember to use the heel of your hands, not the palms.

R KRISHNA: I distinctly remember watching a Julia Child program and cooking this - it was called corn timbale, I think. It has eggs in it and fresh corn. So I was very proud of what I had come up with. And I think Dauji (ph) was visiting.

P KRISHNA: This is my dad's brother.

R KRISHNA: Yeah. And I had oversalted it, and he just spit it out.



R KRISHNA: It was most demoralizing. It was my first experiment.


R KRISHNA: All right. Can I start?

P KRISHNA: Yeah, but let's just talk here what we're going to put in the dal first. Oh, you're making it in the Instant Pot. Cool.

R KRISHNA: Yeah. I mean, that's the only thing I do now.

P KRISHNA: Very modern.


P KRISHNA: All right. So this is kali masoor dal. It's sort of...


P KRISHNA: It's a brown interior, and when you crack it open, it's orange.

R KRISHNA: So you want to measure one cup.

P KRISHNA: Wow. You measure now, huh (ph)?


R KRISHNA: Whenever I could, I would just make fresh vegetables - you know, squash and beans and peas - as well as kitchari, a version of, you know, rice and beans.


R KRISHNA: I realized that what I had absorbed watching, you know, my grandmother or my mother cooking or my aunts - it was enough that I had a basic...


R KRISHNA: ...Innate sense in me that I could cook. And then when we moved to Dallas in the early '90s, it was a major change because we were coming to a state where there were already a good...


R KRISHNA: ...Critical mass of...


R KRISHNA: ...Indians who were already here. And there were Indian grocery stores much more easily to be found.

P KRISHNA: I remember midday driving with Dad to Dodge (ph), and he would often, like, park me and Meera in that, like, chaat place...

R KRISHNA: Right. Yeah.

P KRISHNA: ...In the back.

R KRISHNA: The back. Yeah.

P KRISHNA: And he'd get me a bhel puri and Meera an aloo tikki, and we would happily eat that while he grocery shopped.


P KRISHNA: It was honestly an amazing idea that, you know, while you grocery shop, you just have your kids eating food in the back. And then you go retrieve them when you're done shopping.

As a kid, without realizing it, I was remarkably good at compartmentalizing my Indian identity and my American identity and at sort of code switching when I was at home versus at school. So of course, when I was an Indian in an Indian grocery store, I was an Indian kid who loved aloo tikki and bhel puri and aloo paratha and all of these things. But, like, as soon as I landed at school or was at my friend's house, I was very good at sort of presenting in a way that I felt would be acceptable to that audience that I was with.


P KRISHNA: All right.

R KRISHNA: Carefully measured salt, and that's it.

P KRISHNA: So what are you doing this for? How long?

R KRISHNA: I'm going to cook it for 16 minutes.

P KRISHNA: Sixteen minutes on high pressure.


P KRISHNA: All right. So we're just going to let this do its thing. I feel like for me, dal and, like, lentils in general are just, like, so elemental to my diet and to what I eat. You know, I guess in the same way that people are surprised that, like, I don't really eat hamburgers or, like, chicken tenders, it's surprising to me when people are like, oh, dal, like, lentils?


P KRISHNA: That's not really a regular part of my diet.

R KRISHNA: Yeah. And I think people don't realize how versatile they are. You can turn them into salads, soups, stews, you know? You can do so many things with it.

P KRISHNA: You can turn them - yeah.

R KRISHNA: I probably should have, while you guys were growing up, not made the Indian style of dal every day. I should have done a few variations of it.

P KRISHNA: Totally.

R KRISHNA: Maybe that would have helped. But...

P KRISHNA: I remember one time you made dal, and you put it in tortillas. And you sort of - it was like a dal burrito...


P KRISHNA: ...Once for me. That was really good.

R KRISHNA: Right. So instead of putting beans, you put dal in there. Yeah.


P KRISHNA: This is...

R KRISHNA: That's it.

P KRISHNA: All right.

R KRISHNA: It's ready.

P KRISHNA: So let's serve some. I'll put this back on this thing.

R KRISHNA: It has nice, chewy bite to it. The smokiness of the cumin seed is coming through.

P KRISHNA: Just the way that the lentils - they have lost their shape but still retain some of that shape. So you're getting that, like, texture, that butteriness. Like, the liquid itself has sort of thickened up really nicely. My dal is great, but it will never taste as good as my mom's. And I'll never know why because she literally added all the same ingredients that I do. But there's some kind of strange alchemy that happens when your mom makes dal, and it tastes 10 times better than your own dal.


SHAPIRO: Catch more of Priya and Ritu Krishna's conversation, including a video of them cooking dal together, at The Where We Come From series was created and produced by Anjuli Sastry.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Corrected: July 6, 2021 at 11:00 PM CDT
A previous version of this text said it was Priya Krishna who had moved to the U.S. when it was her mother, Ritu Krishna, who had moved.
Anjuli Sastry (she/her) is a producer on It's Been a Minute with Sam Sanders and a 2021 Nieman Journalism Foundation Visiting Fellow. During her Nieman fellowship in spring 2021, Sastry created, hosted and produced the audio and video series Where We Come From. The series tells the stories of immigrant communities of color through a personal and historical lens.