Every time la petite soeur makes her trademark bhaiya-style Indian dishes, I swoon! Bhaiya means brother, used to address any male stranger. If you’ve ever hired a sutar, kadhiya, mistri (local lingo for carpenter, mason, supervisor; all bhaiyas), come lunch-time, you’ll know that delicious smell wafting from their dabbas.
A stainless steel, multi-tiered, stackable container only used for lunch – portable, easy to deliver, hence, the term dabba-walla.
A typical menu du jour in said dabba: dal, bhaat, bhaji = lentil, rice, vegetable. Extras: Mango pickle & papad.
Most labourers originate from the state of Bihar in Northeastern India (don’t ask me why). Also, each part of India has its own version of peasant fare using fresh, local produce. ‘Tis by the dabba-smell, one can tell! This kind of food is by far the most delicious – deceptively simple in appearance and ingredients but quite easy to mess up when recreating the recipes. So tempting instead to just ask those bhaiyas to let us taste your fare!
cook : one who can conjure up the same dish and taste day in and day out.
Anyhoo, la soeur has developed the touch or as she says, it’s a carry-forward skill from a previous lifetime as a canteen-cook (a military-style mess!) or that of an assitant to a Maharaj (super chef)? Only because she cooks by feel, taste with some inspiration from having observed (and pestered for tips), ages ago, another bhaiya-cook. No kind formal or formidable (my Mom’s) learning involved! As one of the official tasters, what can I say but lucky me!!! This one is melt-in-your mouth cauliflower (gobi) and potato (aloo) along with ginger, garlic, methi (fenugreek; both leaves and seeds), salt, powders of red chilli, coriander and cumin, garnished with fresh coriander (cilantro). The trick to perfection, she says, is adding the powdered spices at the end (around 10-12 minutes before the dish is done).
Ma soeur’s no Maharaj (or Maharani) but quite a dish, if I may say so myself – bon appetit et salut!