Tuesday, February 22, 2011

What's It Like to Have a Cook?

In a word? Awesome.

The title of this post is invariably one of the first questions people from home ask about life in India (it's usually preceded or directly followed by some comment about how difficult it will be for me to adjust to life in the states when this thing is over).
Our cook, Yashoda
The services our cook provides are basically (we don't have a contract or anything, but this is the generally agreed upon workload):
  • One prepared meal per day, Monday through Saturday
  • One pot of coffee each morning with breakfast items set out, Monday through Saturday
  • Laundry (up to but not including putting items in closets) as demand dictates
I recognize laundry isn't technically a cooking service, but we cut a deal. In India, you'll find any number of different combinations of services with domestic help. The services listed above are provided for a reasonable enough monthly expense (which I'm not going to disclose here as there's a chance I'm way overpaying and don't want to look like a complete sap). Said another way, if you're a middle-class American and someone offered you these services for that same reasonable enough monthly expense, you wouldn't bat an eye and you'd sign on the dotted line. Every one of you.

Our schedule is, to say the least, screwy while here on assignment. Our general work hours are noon - 9pm so that we have at least some overlap time with our counterparts in the United States. That being said, there are rare days when we're home earlier, many days when we're home slightly later, some days when we're home significantly later, and fewer days when we get home at the same time. Yashoda, our fearless cook, then has the flexibility to cook at any point in the day and we simply heat up whatever she's made when we get home. And yes, I recognize eating that late at night isn't the healthiest of eating habits. I've come to terms with that.

The second most asked question (and probably the most asked question from people here) is, "What kind of food does she make?" This is a roundabout way for Indians to find out whether or not I'm eating Indian food at home.

She typically will make Indian twice a week or so and some sort of more Western dish the rest. Her vegetarian / non-veg split is probably something like 1/3 compared to 2/3. We didn't really give her any direction before she started and basically said, "just start cooking and we'll tell if you we don't like it." There are definitely things I haven't liked (pizza = excruciatingly bad) and things I like better than others; however, for the most part, she does a very nice job.

She makes her own tortillas (not really that different from Indian breads) so she frequently makes fajitas (we brought a nice little supply of seasoning packets). Other staples include baked macaroni and cheese, butter chicken (her version is really more of a butter chicken / Thai red curry hybrid; regardless, it's delicious), and pasta with homemade sauce. Last week she made bagels. Really good bagels. Last night she made gnocchi. It's tough to compare it to my favorite gnocchi (DiPiero's in Lake Zurich which is likely to never be topped) but I've been at restaurants and had much, much worse gnocchi than what she produced in my kitchen last night.

As a whole, Lindsay and I were extremely lucky to find Yashoda (she was a neighbor's nanny just looking to pick up a mid-day job while she had a break). She speaks excellent English, can read recipes, and can write. These may seem like basic skills that most of us take for granted, but based on some of the other horror stories I've heard and read about domestic help, I couldn't be more grateful. Bottom line, she takes excellent care of us. We're very lucky.

This kind of takes me back to the comment people often make when asking about the cook and the adjustment to "normal" life I'll be forced to make at some point. My reaction to that? I'll appreciate the added time to my days and worry about that when the time comes. I mean, it's still ten months away, plenty of time to worry about that whole adjustment thing.


  1. ahhhhhhhhh a cook. i doubt i'll be able to afford to hire somoeone to cook on my volunteer budget/allowance but i'm really gonna try and fit in getting my laundry done! depending on the cost thought...even that might be pushing it....

    we'll see!

  2. Well said! My advice..do not be concerned about the future without a cook..do just what you are doing! BE in the present! Years ago, we had "help" in Germany( talking 1957-58 here) and felt some shock & strange as no way would we have had such help in the US. It is the norm in India and you are helping someone out and you are experiencing more of life in India. Thx for the insight. Enjoy your adventure, your favorite foods await you & plan to gain some weight upon your return.

  3. hi my name is prasanna i tried milk payasam by because of over heat it became scorched and even after changing the vessel it smells the same in the payasam. do u have any idea to over come this with out wasting the payasam.

    please reply to this mail id : raguprasanna@gmail.com