On Being 'Desi'

What does "Desi" mean? It is a term that is instantly recognized as 'belonging to India' by other Desis. Chutney sandwiches for an after school treat or a snack for all.


'Desi' is a term used to group together persons belonging to India. In Hindi, 'Des' stands for 'home country' so Desi would be "a person belonging to the home country." By calling ourselves Desi, and by responding to this term, we affirm our connection with India. Thousands of first generation Desi's in this country are now citizens of the United States. Yet by affiliating ourselves with other Desi's, we continue in our minds to live in a country we left a long time ago. 

It is very amusing to look at ourselves with the mind of an outside observer. We are a group of very formal, serious, but funny, and traditional, but somewhat modern, people. We are staunchly family-oriented. Tiger Mom, step aside, the Desi Mom is here. The other day I got a call from a desi mom of a third-grader. She was worried about her son's college admissions since she was reading the San Jose Mercury article about UC admissions being smaller for Californians than for residents from other states! 

Another place where our Desi-ness (if you might call it that) comes out, is in our food and feeding habits. Desi mom's can't stop feeding their children. "My child hardly eats anything," is the usual lament with other moms standing around the school gate at the end of the school day. A veritable feast awaits the child as he or she enters the home after school. I can't complain, I had the same in my own childhood and strove hard (albeit in a faltering style) to emulate my mother's standards for my own children. An after-school snack is no mean culinary feat. I remember summer afternoons (schools in India end their summer break in June and through June, July and August schools are in session) when I would return home to tall glasses of fresh fruit juice and a snack. Here is one such snack, redolent of past summers: 

Green Mint Chutney and Cheese Sandwiches

Makes 4 - Serves 2

8 slices of bread of your choice
4 slices of cheese

For the Mint Chutney:
A bunch of fresh mint leaves
1/2 cup freshly grated coconut
1 green chilly
1/2 tsp minced garlic (optional)
A pinch of dry ginger powder or 1/2" piece of fresh ginger
Salt to taste

Grind all ingredients together with very little water to a smooth paste.

To assemble and toast the sandwiches: Spread a generous amount of the mint chutney on one side of the bread slice. Top with a slice of cheese and toast in a sandwich maker until done. You can also toast in a pan on the stovetop with a pat of butter until both sides are golden brown and the cheese has melted. (Recipe and photograph from www.cookingandme.com)

Add some cool watermelon cubes or juice to this and it would be a very Desi after school meal. An adult would have masala chai instead of or along with this meal at that time. And somehow, sipping this very satisfying drink, for a moment in time, all would be well. 

Till the next time,


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