'Stand-In Moms' Warm Hearts, Fill Stomachs For a modest fee, an enterprising woman will cook a week's worth of food for Indian immigrants in the U.S. -- sometimes based on a faraway mother's own recipes.
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'Stand-In Moms' Warm Hearts, Fill Stomachs

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'Stand-In Moms' Warm Hearts, Fill Stomachs

'Stand-In Moms' Warm Hearts, Fill Stomachs

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So Europeans are heading east to India, and some Indians are heading west to the United States. And when Indians come to the U.S. to seek their fortunes, commentator Sandip Roy says it takes a little work to feel at home.

SANDIP ROY: The day before I left from America to go to graduate school, my mother handed me a small notebook of handwritten recipes - plain rice, fried egg, dhal, chicken curry, and in an obvious nod to my new American life, something called cowboy eggs. I barely knew how to turn on the gas. I wasn't alone. Thousands of single Indian men landing in places like Silicon Valley in the 90s woke up to an American nightmare.

Mom wasn't here to cook. And then sometimes, the Silicon Valley Grapevine would provide a lead more precious than a tip about the next IPO. Have you heard there's this guy who can supply home-cooked food?

Mr. ASHOK JETHANANDANI (Indian Engineer): And it was funny because he'd come by at lunchtime in a shady looking car, and then sell all these packages in the back of his trunk. And all of the other employees would be wondering what kind of drug deal is going on there.

ROY: That's Ashok, an engineer with a photographic chips company in the valley. I ran into him at DD, a small Indian grocery store cum restaurant.

Ms. DUPSHA DISAY(ph): This is garbanzo beans, that is peas and cheese. And this is buttermilk curry.

ROY: DD, that's Dupsha Disay, and her husband Zuki Tsu(ph) started out like that mystery man who sold Indian meals from his car. In the mid-90s, you could buy simple home-cooked lunches right out of their kitchen at home.

Mr. ZUKI TSU: It used to be at about 60 to 70 buyers coming in everyday. The traffic became so high that we were worried that health department would stop us.

ROY: But the boys kept lining up. They even brought scraps of recipes scribbled during midnight calls to India.

Ms. DISAY: Mother was crying back home. My baby is not getting my Indian food there. Then mother, father call us. Okay, you are taking care for our children. Thank you very much.

ROY: And now hungry techies who don't have time to run out to DD's can get their gratification even more instantly. You can go online to sulekha.com. It's the craigslist for the Indian community. I need a cook in low Los Altos. Simple home food. Here's another, homemade fresh vegetarian food available near Sunnyvale temple. And there is where my friend Pabo(ph) found some product.

(Soundbite of doorbell)

ROY: It's eight o'clock on a sunny Saturday morning at Pabo's home in a tiny suburb of Silicon Valley.

Unidentified Woman #2: Hi.


ROY: (Unintelligible) bustles into the kitchen. She pulled out spice jars from the cabinet. Soon she's chopping green beans, grating garlic, and sizzling curry leaves.

(Soundbite of sautéing)

Unidentified Woman: I'm making Green-bean thoran. This is a typical South Indian dish, and these are the main ingredients. These are coconut.

ROY: I remember the bleak days when Pabo first arrived in California. For an Indian vegetarian on a student budget, the menu at the local Carls Jr. was quite limited.

PABO: We would ask them to just make the burger without the patties. So it's basically a sandwich with the lettuce and some mayo and mustard on it.

ROY: Now, (unintelligible) keeps Pabo stocked with home cooked meals until her next weekly visit. As for me, I was lucky. I had my mother's cookbook. After a week of doctoring frozen TV dinners with mango pickles, I took a deep breath and dove in. Fifteen years later, this old book is coming apart at the seams -oil stained, the ink has faded. Egg curry, tomato soft and potato - here it is. I think I'm finally ready to tackle my mother's cowboy eggs.

(Soundbite of kitchen utensils clanking)

ROY: Garlic, a little onion, tomato, salt, a poached egg. Poached egg? She doesn't explain how to poach an egg. Ma?

INSKEEP: That's commentator Sandip Roy, part of our team coverage of the Indian Diaspora. Who else has that? He's with New American Media and host of Upfront on member station KALW in San Francisco.

This is NPR News.

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