Desi cravings in Videshi land

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“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”- Lao Tzu

Who knows how old we first are, when the germ of an idea to study abroad gets planted. Through the blur of school, college and general growing up, the decision gets made. Alphabet soups like GRE, TOEFL, MS, MBA, USMLE, USCIS, I20, OPT, CPT, EAD, RA, TA  loom large and pretty much take over our life, all of a sudden. For some of us going to a foreign University, it is the first time on an airplane,   first international flight, or both. Clutching our armour-like winter coats, wearing our bulky winter boots to save room in our fastidiously packed, weighed and measured baggage, we embark upon journeys unknown. And upon arrival in our chosen foreign city, we rapidly discover our very own alphabetical tag, FOB (Fresh off the Boat), and the daunting learning curve that goes with it!

The first few weeks are heady;  exploring for real the campus we have only seen in photographs, bumping into familiar brown faces, hunting for cheap accommodation, and making a beeline to snag whatever funding we can get. We covet research or teaching assistantships, or, failing which, on-campus jobs ranging from manning the library check-out desk (prime location for checking out the undergrads who are checking out the books) — to scraping the bottom of the barrel — cleaning toilets at 5 AM or doing dishes in dining halls! But while we rush about securing the all-important $$$, a much more basic need constantly cries out to be served: staying alive, as our stomachs will stridently remind us every few hours.

The INR à USD/EUà INR conversion ticker tape also constantly plays in our heads in these early days; sparking to life at the bottom of every well-lit screen menu at fast-food joints. (Real restaurants will come much later, unless you’re loaded from the get-go.) And news flash, the burgers back home taste much better. Yes, they really do.So for many, this sad, sad discovery is incentive enough to unpack the utensils mothers have pressed on them, and air out the rice, dal, and masala packets! Dal- chawal, Amti-bhaat, rasam-rice are often the first items cooked in our new and bewildering kitchens with their flat electric grills and cavernous ovens, and consumed almost reverently with a dollop of ghee or pickle but only if someone has managed to get it past customs. Sadly, dal-chawal, amti-bhaat, rasam-rice often end up being the only items cooked in student kitchens!

 Admit it: It is the path of least resistance! You will succumb to unhealthy fast food, unless you are lucky enough to have a buddy, room-mate or girlfriend that knows their way around a kitchen. And before you know it, babies in strollers will be envious of your cheeks and tummies and butts! It’s a known fact that stress-eating makes many students gain at least 10 kg in the very first semester.Unless you are lucky enough to have back-to-back classes in buildings that are located at opposite ends of campus and have to rely on a bicycle or your own two feet to get there!

Positive things happen when we start living, working, and yes, cooking for ourselves. The very act of cooking can help push the daily stressors to the back of the mind and put us in a wonderfully upbeat frame of mind. Cooking for friends is the most heart-warming experience ever. Just knowing that we can rustle up a favourite comfort dish anytime is calming, and prevents us from entering the unhealthy cycle of reaching out for carb-rich, salt-laden, sugar-packed foods. And above all, the knowledge that we own the skills needed to survive and win hearts on our thousand-mile journey, is ultimately liberating.

What’s that? Do I hear you wishing there was a guidebook or cookbook to teach students how to eat well on a shoestring budget, without sacrificing that all-important GPA? The good news is that there is one now. ROOMIES/FOODIES ! By students, for students! Lakshmi Ashwin (Lux) and I have been there, FOB, alternately exuberant and homesick, swotting, struggling and adapting, but constantly learning and building upon our experiences. ROOMIES/FOODIES is our adventure of nourishing our bodies (and souls!) in parallel with working on our academic goals.I hope that our book will make your journey just as fulfilling.

by Meghna Joshi (Meg) 

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