The Zest of the Banana Leaf

Sunday night I sat down for dinner with mom, Sam, and our significant others.
Dinner at Minerva:  Indian restaurant, Hyderbadi/Andhra style cuisine.

Our mission:  to find the best food, correction best Hyderbadi food in America.

Conversation as usual, especially the last few months, transitioned to my wedding plans.  Sam and I reminisced about all the Indian weddings we attended in India–about the large number of guests (500-1000), and the main ingredient:  food.  In India, yes you dance at weddings, yes you eat cake, and yes the you spend time with family.  The most important part of a wedding, however, is the food.  It’s not like here.  You don’t book a caterer and get tastings and have formal dinner.  A true wedding feast is cooked by local well-known community cooks whom no one really knows, but somehow everyone knows…  These chefs show up the morning of the wedding before the bride and grown have woken.  They show up not in white chef’s hats, but in a half-sleeved button down shirts and pants and sandals and saris.  It’s awesome!  Their kitchen ware is simple and brilliant!  Large steel pots with large flat lids.  These pots are 3-4 feet deep and no I’m not exaggerating!

By the time the wedding ceremony begins, the air is filled with the aroma of the perfect chicken curry and biriyani.  As a child, I remember looking into these pots (guests are served straight from these pots–no fancy serving area), mouth-watering over the infectious smell!  The chicken curry is red from the chilli powder and there’s a 1 inch layer of oil on top; the chicken is cooked for hours bone-in and skin-on.  The meat is crazy tender.  Then there’s the biriyani:  goat marinated and cooked for hours, then mixed with basmati rice and several spices.  No need for formal plates, banana leaves are our plates!  The leaves are cleaned and stacked.  The guests get them and the cooks serve us, not servers dressed in black and white.

Eating on a banana leaf is a spiritual experience and cannot be described.  The flavors for the actual food combined with the flavors from the banana leaf calmly mix into each bite.  All the voices around me fade as I mix together the rice and chicken curry for one bite and then scoop a bite of biriyani.  This is the experience that I want for my wedding guests.  It is impossible, I am told.

Today, I feel this way about a lot of my wedding decisions.  I have to compromise and compromise and compromise.  While I know that the caterers I have chosen are amazing, they do not compare to the food that I would have at a wedding in India.  While I love both my parents and have decided to have them both walk me down the aisle for their memory, my style is a private ceremony in which N and I come together as equals who have decided to make a commitment to each other.  This brings me to one question:  What is a wedding?

Wedding:

A celebration of two people making a commitment to love.  Simple.  Easy.
If this is so, why am I being talked into making sure every single family member, even those I barely know, is included in some way.  Isn’t it enough that I am sharing this day with them? That’s the thing though, my heritage tells me that “it takes a village to raise a child” which means that all these people who might have even touched me for a day have somehow contributed to my identity today.  So then, maybe a wedding is not just about the commitment of the two people, but also the acknowledgement of all of those who have contributed to their lives.

No I won’t have my dinner on a banana leaf the day of my wedding.  No all of my beliefs about women, men, and marriage won’t be clear to my guests nor will my beliefs be completely represented during the larger ceremony.  But. I will have my village there.  Everyone who has given me the gift to be exactly who I am.  My village serves me on a banana leaf with subtle, but powerful zest.

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4 thoughts on “The Zest of the Banana Leaf

  1. wonderful, sonia!

    also, you really made me want to eat food on a banana leaf. especially the “bone-in, skin-on” chicken in the chicken curry. mmmm.

  2. awesome! i love this. food, marriage, spirituality. ellen mentioned you were having the big wedding woes. i don’t know what to think about weddings, i guess i won’t know unless i actually get married someday, but it is an issue i ponder a lot. the big weddings with every single relative and a million minute decisions is not my style either. but, like what you were talking about with marriage being commitment and coming together as equals…i don’t hate the idea of celebrating it with family and friends. i just don’t want it to become a big circus where people start telling me what we have to do.

    also, i want to eat on a banana leaf, too!

    1. I am doing both: small private ceremony just N and I AND the big wedding 2 weeks later with everyone. This is best compromise I could come up with. It allows me to remember that I am getting the wedding of my dreams and then I get to go to the big party later. I can only do it one day at a time though! 🙂

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