Wednesday, March 3, 2010

From Food to Friendship

Our daughter, Zoë, recently ate her first solid food. She consumed her rice cereal with such gusto that Adeet and I are convinced she’s ready for culinary school. We snapped photos, shot video, and applauded after she opened her mouth for more after each spoonful. Of course, we were excited that she’s achieved another milestone, but I was especially happy to think that soon she’ll participate in the communal experience of eating. I cherish the bond she and I have established through nursing, but I look forward to the joy she’ll experience when she shares food with others. For me, eating is a social activity. When I recall my favorite meals, I remember not only the food, but also the people who made it or who ate with me.

One recent meal in particular stands out. Earlier this winter, our friend Zaman, who cooks at one of Sammy's award-winning gyro carts
, invited us for dinner at his home. We had expected that the food would be delicious, but we were impressed with just how much of it he had made: two kinds of rice, eggplant, salad, chicken, lamb, goat, and ilish, a popular Bangladeshi fish. The kitchen in his studio apartment is smaller than the gyro cart, and yet he had managed to create a feast.

When Zaman set the dishes on a blanket on the floor, they nearly ran the length of the room. We ate with our hands, which only heightened the pleasure of eating such good food—we could smell, taste, and feel the spices. He watched us carefully and kept track of what we had, or had not, eaten. “You haven’t tried the chicken!” he admonished me. No, but I’d had more than one piece of fish, two servings of each kind of rice, and several helpings of eggplant. But I tried it and was happy that he’d chided me. I don’t eat chicken often, but this was so flavorful and tender that I would happily make a habit of it.

Zaman held Zoë on his lap and wanted to give her a taste of his dinner. She was too young for solid food at that point, but I could understand his desire to share the meal with her. We had all come together that evening because of food—his food—and he wanted her to fully take part in the experience. And he was likely missing his young daughter, who is still in Bangladesh.

In a few weeks, Zaman will take the U.S. citizenship exam. When he gets his green card, he’ll apply to bring his family here. I can imagine the happiness they’ll feel when they eat together again, and I picture Zaman sitting with his daughter and sharing food from his plate.

We had enjoyed a delicious meal with Zaman, but we’d also learned about his home in Bangladesh, his early experiences in the States, and his take on street-cart politics. And in turn, he was curious to know more about us. I hope that sometime soon our daughters will eat together. Zoë will undoubtedly delight in the new tastes, from coriander and cumin to garlic and ginger. And even more importantly, she’ll savor the company of the person eating with her.

photos by Adeet and Kate Deshmukh


neeta said...

how beautifully written ! I love your perspective on eating as a social activity and how food can actually get people closer. Also, I feel like I know Zaman already and can almost taste the dinner you guys ate ! I love reading your blog !

sandhya said...

love this. thanks for sharing.

fran Pelzman Liscio said...

Hi there Kate, guess what--it's your absentee friend Fran Lliscio! so sorry that Joel and I have been out of the loop for so long. so much going on. But we think about you all the time, and I love your blog. And Zoe is so beautiful! Oh my gosh, look how big she is, and what a little sweetie.

Sangeeta Jain said...

It is very nicely written and really enjoyed reading the article. It is always fun to know about other culture. I wish Zaman and congratulate him in advance for becoming a US Citizen and more importantly he will be united with his family.