During the first winter term of my grad school life, I had eggs, toast and Tim Horton’s French Vanilla coffee for all my meals. All the frozen meals I had received from very kind sources had run out. It’s an understatement to say that I was bad at cooking because I couldn’t cook absolutely anything. Every single time I wanted to make an egg over easy; I flipped it too soon, broke the yolk and made a scrambled egg instead. I couldn’t tell the difference between cumin and coriander. I had absolutely no idea what “koshano” meant. Or what it meant when the recipe said “when the oil separates from the curry”. What happens to the oil? Where will it go? Will it evaporate? Float? What does that even mean? I basically cooked chicken till it burnt, set the fire alarm on, and my roommates who lived on the first floor screamed, “Sonia, your food is burning, AGAIN!”
On one of those nights, I was struggling with a final paper and my friend Sam called me to see how it was coming along. She had already submitted her paper and asked me to come over so that I could run my ideas by her. I have vivid memories of that night. It was a very cold winter night, there was a blizzard, it was -25 degrees and it was around 9 pm. When I reached her apartment at the grad residence, the whole place was filled with the aroma of sweet tea. Iranian tea is much lightly brewed compared to South Asian “cha/chai” and it’s enjoyed black with sugar or sweetener. I don’t like Iranian tea, but I still drank some. When she offered me something to eat, I lied. I said I was full, but she insisted that I try some soup. That it would warm me up after the walk from the bus stop to her place. I tried a spoonful and then quietly finished two bowls of it. I hadn’t eaten anything other than toast and coffee that entire day.
That soup was the most delicious soup I have ever had in my life and yet I can’t describe it in great detail. All I remember was that it was a cream based soup and it had corn in it. For the last several years Sam has hosted elaborate Persian dinners for us. She made soups, gheymeh, sabzi polo, morasa polo, ghormeh sabzi , lamb shanks and plenty of other dishes. She offered table full of delicacies but nothing matched up to that soup. She tried to make that particular soup multiple times, but it was never as good. And I don’t think I will ever have a soup that’s as good as the soup Sam made that winter night. Because, it was a bowl of warmth from an almost stranger, from someone I had met just weeks ago. I was hungry, lonely, scared and anxious. I was contemplating dropping out of grad school. When Sam offered me that warm bowl of soup and for hours heard my ideas regarding the essay; I felt I finally made a friend. I felt that I could get through my struggles. I could trust her. And trust doesn’t come easily to me. For years Sam has been there when I needed a friend the most. The basis of our relationship is ease and comfort. Till date I call her preferred tea “flavored hot water” and she calls my tea “burnt tea with milk”. These days, Sam wears a Saree with such poise and effortlessness that it can make any brown girl jealous. She even owns sarees now and I have a never ending supply of premium quality Iranian saffron. When we talk, I often switch from English to Bangla without even realizing it. She doesn’t even point it out anymore. And she still tries and fails to make that soup.
*koshano= the process of sautéing meat with spices and onion in oil