Eating out used to be a delicacy. I once longed for the rare weekends when my family would go out to a restaurant like Olive Garden or even a fast food chain like Taco Bell. I shake my head when I remember how I once gagged at the food my mom spent hours preparing for us. Home-cooked Gujarati meals — the same meals I rejected years ago by sticking out my tongue — is now a blessing I’m rarely afforded, but it’s one that I humbly accept when I get the chance. The presence of spice and a distinct savory scent dominates my taste buds and nostrils where the bland pizza and salads of the dining halls don’t even stir me.
Yet Gujarati food is more than just something that feels good to eat. It’s through these foods, these spices and these smells that I remain connected to who I am and where I come from. For as much as my language skills may deteriorate, my religious beliefs may lose conviction, and my family members may become distant, what binds all of this together is an appreciation for the cuisine. I speak Gujarati with precision while asking my grandma about the dhokla she cooked. My parents tell me the importance of giving prasad as an offering to the Hindu deities. My cousins and I can always bond at the dinner table as we eat rice and daal.
As my conception of being Gujarati continues to fall apart, food is the constant that keeps me grounded in my culture and my upbringing. When I warm up food from my mom in the microwave, the smell reminds me of the time and care she puts into feeding her two sons. When I open up the fridge to grab a container, I see my dad carefully filling those containers and handing them to me. When I take a bite, I flashback to my grandma feeding it to me as a toddler who couldn’t even hold a spoon.
Indian food is more than just sustenance: It is a cultural element that sustains my connection with my family and my identity. No matter how well I abide to the standards of being Gujarati or an Indian-American, I remain confident that our food will be like a trail of breadcrumbs. Should I choose to follow it, I will find contentment with my future cultural engagement while being able to look back and remember where I came from.