by India Witkin

In early March — right as the world was coming to a standstill — India  spent 3 weeks in Mumbai and Goa. While there, she saw a nearby cultural center advertising cooking lessons in the sweet small town that was once colonized by the Portuguese — and immediately jumped at the opportunity. She was the only student.  

Below is an excerpt from her time with Sita, her newfound friend and teacher:

“I got on the back of Sita’s scooter and she took me to the local market filled with fresh vegetables, beans sprouted from the earth, and the most colorful flowers bought by soon to be brides. Then the cooking commenced, but first the cleaning, the chopping and the sacred act of making chai. She taught me all about the colorful spices and the fundamentality of ginger and onion, but overall she showed me how simple and healthy Indian food is. As we sat outside to devour our hard-earned lunch served on a beetle leaf, I took in a moment to appreciate what I was about to eat (without silverware of course, Indian’s eat with their right hand). There laid a pot of dal, eggplant sabzi, chicken tikka, bindi (slightly fried okra), rice and halwa (dessert made from semolina/quinoa).

She told me about her children and her love for cooking, then invited me to her own home next time I came to visit Goa for an even more private lesson. In those three hours I spent with Sita, something broke open within me; I finally felt Indian. It had taken my whole life to realize what the power of food could do, it allows you to connect with parts of yourself you didn’t know were there, flavor memories that might have existed generations ago that boil up with the smell of cumin seeds and cardamom. As I left India – just two days before they suspended all international travel, I felt indebted to Sita for an experience of a lifetime and a moment I’d never forget.”

Since returning to the United States, India has continued to make dal with her Indian mother during quarantine and though her mother  still thinks her dal recipe is better than Sita’s, India beg to differ. Below is a Dal recipe that India swears by. “Eating dal is not only a reminder of my cultural roots, but it has the power to fill us with warmth and health, aiding us especially when our bodies are feeling weak and in need of extra love.”

India Witkin is a New York native, born to an Indian mother and a Dutch/Italian father. Her parents had a mutual love for the country so they decided to name her, India.

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