For Naina, our latest “Cook on Campus”, the idea of cooking without condiments is inconceivable. No wonder coriander, mustard and turmeric are essential elements of her Indian aubergine curry.
“Food without seasoning, without spices, simply doesn’t taste good,” says Naina (27), and adds another handful of coriander and mustard seeds to the chopped onions waiting in a large bowl. In her apartment in Bogenhausen, she is at work on her menu for this episode of “Cooks on Campus”. The spiced onions are part of her main dish – an aubergine curry – which will be accompanied by a potato-tomato chutney with garam masala and an Indian yogurt dip.
Naina grew up in the city of Pune in the state of Maharashtra. The fact that she now lives in Germany is primarily attributable to her determination to learn a second foreign language (in addition to English). She started to learn German at the Goethe Institute in Pune, and then decided to study German at university level. Naturally enough, she then felt the need to try out her new acquisition in Germany. At this point, Naina’s grasp of German was already very good – but when she first arrived in Bavaria she realized that it still wasn’t good enough: “During the first few weeks here, I understood practically nothing that was said to me,” she says. “But that was because I had chosen to do a practical in Hof, where most people don’t speak Standard German.”
But Naina soon recovered from the shock: “Meanwhile, I find it fascinating that even a small country like Germany is home to so much variety.” – And this is one reason why she also decided to study Intercultural Communication at LMU. “I enjoy dealing with cultural differences – primarily those between Germany and India, of course,” she explains. And cooking is certainly one of the areas in which such differences are very striking. In India, she says, preparing a meal is usually very time-consuming, so that the guests must often pitch in too. In Germany, on the other hand, getting a meal ready doesn’t take so long, she finds, “and one’s guests are not normally expected to help.”
Germans generally tend to assume that Indian food is always strongly flavored, pungent and spicy. But Naina’s menu proves that this is not the case. “Indeed,” she says, “in the region around Pune, there are virtually no spicy local recipes,” and chili powder is the only spice which she uses, and that only in small doses. “Indian cuisine, like the country itself, is characterized by great diversity,” she points out.
Her menu ends, not with what we would call a dessert, but with a cup of real Indian chai. “Even in my own family, everybody makes chai in a slightly different way,” Naina remarks, as she readies a brew containing cardamom, cloves, a little milk and lots of strong black Indian tea. “The most important thing is the right sort of tea,” she says. “Most of the fermented teas one gets in Germany are simply not strong enough.” In India, she says, people drink chai above all when it rains, and the first rainy day of the season in India is always something special. “Unlike most Germans, everyone in India welcomes rain – and for that a cup of chai is a must.”
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