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Kerosene Curry

It's finally here!!!

After 3 years of work which included assistance from numerous people who donated their time to taste test recipes, offer editing expertise and the time-consuming work of designing the book, (huge thanks to Nicole Sims (Coley Sims Creative) who donated hours and hours and hours...) Kerosene Curry has arrived. The book's journey began in the slum community of Saki Naka, Mumbai nearly three years ago. My mother (Cindy Ryan) spent a very hot and cramped couple of months inside tin shacks huddled over kerosene burners in the lane ways of the community madly trying to decipher the hindi/marathi language using hand gestures as she penned the women's recipes. The women, who come from all parts of India to attempt a better life in Mumbai, were humbled, excited and proud to show off their traditional styles of cooking passed down through generations. Leaving Mumbai with a small book filled with wrinkled pages of notes and hundreds of photographs she arrived back home. Three years later, which included multiple trips straddling India and Canada, the crumpled note book has morphed into a beautifully designed book with the women's stories, recipes and photos of the community they call home. This book has been the ultimate labour of love and we are so excited to bring their recipes to life for all of you.

The women of Girls Can Be (also from the Saki Naka community) spent hours sewing reversible aprons made from 100% cotton sheeting to be sold as a compliment to the cookbook or alone. The colourful, bold patterned sheeting is used in slum homes as bedding and can be seen drying in the sun on bamboo poles, hung on wire lines on the backs of tin huts, and used as curtains in ragged doorways offering colour and pattern to bleak surroundings.

DWP's new partnership with Lost + Found Cafe in Vancouver has given DWP a new home base here in Canada where you can purchase your very own copy of Kerosene Curry! All proceeds from the sale of the book go to the Dirty Wall Project.

Kerosene Curry Cookbook: $29

Reversible Apron: $20

Combination Kerosene Curry cookbook + reversible apron $45 (shipping/handling $5 per book/per apron (within Canada)/ $9 (USA)/ International rates differ depending on country.

To purchase a copy of the book please email: or call Lost +Found Cafe 604-559-7444 (Vancouver)

Below is the story of how this book came about...

June 2010, Mumbai, India

My eyes water. It may be from the heap of onions, freshly sliced, sitting on a plate nearby, or it may be from the smoke of burning garbage, or the sweat dripping from my forehead into my eyes, or it may be the kerosene burner, throwing invisible fumes into the small, windowless room.

I wear a scarf to wipe my eyes and my forehead. I wipe my hands on my pants, so that the pen doesn't slip out of my fingers, and the paper I am writing on stays dry. It is humid, hot and stifling in the tiny dwellings in the slum. I have been invited into their homes to watch and learn how to make amazing, simple, Indian food.

Once the women wake the children, put away the sleeping mat, sweep out their tiny homes, and clear the puddles and garbage away from their doors, we walk to the shops. There is some excitement in deciding what to cook. We shop together at the markets, but I pay for everything. This allows the women to cook recipes they wouldn't be able to afford, and to make enough to feed their families for a few days, with ingredients left over. I am excited about their menus each day, eager to make sense of the complex flavours, and learn the methods for making delicious curries, chapati, and sweet treats.

The Saki Naka slum community is home to women from all over India. The food they cook reflects their heritage in the spices they use, the methods they use, and the type of food they covet. Goats were slaughtered in front of me, chickens necks were sliced and their feathers were expertly and quickly removed, fish were grabbed by the gills from a bucket of murky water, slapped on a large, grimy stump, heads were removed, and the scales were scraped with a dull knife. All this bloody carnage was plopped in plastic bags, tied tight, and dropped into the women's shopping bags, but not before the flies had had their feast on the raw meat. Vegetable vendors line the uneven streets with piles of expertly arranged produce to seduce the crowds of shoppers. We buy bitter gourd, tiny eggplant, lots of onion, bags of garlic, and bunches of cilantro. The tomatoes are plump and juicy and thrown into another plastic bag with some green chilis. I am the subject of much conversation. I can tell by the hundreds of eyes who are staring at the only westerner in these parts. The stares melt into grins and a nod of the head and sometimes a lilting "hello".

The cooking and the prepping takes place on the floor. Indian women handle food with delicate gestures, slow chopping, and gentle stirring. The food is not attacked, it is seduced into simmering broths of heady, spicy aromas. Debris from slicing, grating and pounding is scraped by hand off the floor, and put into a container to be disposed of later. Knives are basic. All the prepped ingredients are put into little containers to be used as necessary in the preparation of a meal. Dishes are washed and rinsed under a tap in the corner of the room where they also bathe. They take care to wash all meats and vegetables before using, and expertly guide children, with their muddly feet, around the sliced and diced ingredients laying in dishes on the floor. Children are offered tastes in tiny, metal dishes and relish the flavours. Torn pages from newspapers drink the leftover oil from deep fried morsels. Nothing is wasted in the slum. Everything is repurposed.

I watch from my cross-legged position in a corner of the room and write furiously in my notebook, making notes about approximate quantities (they don't measure), cooking times, and trying to decipher what they are telling me. They speak Marathi. Sign language is necessary. I am startled when all the homes have an electric grinder to make the masala paste and grind spices. This is their most coveted cooking tool and the their only appliance. As the food bubbles in hammered aluminum pots with plates for lids, the women wipe away the mess on the floor and bring out a wide stainless steel tray with 3" sides. Flour is sifted in to the tray, water is added bit by bit and their strong, bony hands deftly knead the flour and water mixture into a smooth, elastic dough. Balls of dough are pinched off the large piece, rolled into balls, dipped in flour, flattened into small disks, rolled out, folded, floured, rolled, flipped and finally laid to rest on a pan, pre-heated on the kerosene burner. There is more flipping, and pressing of the dough to make cloud like puffs of air within the layers of dough. Of all the food I have watched the women prepare, the chapati is revered and each woman treats the dough slightly differently, some oil the dough while cooking, some splash it with water. It is eaten everyday and it is necessary for a cook to master the process.

When the food is cooked and ready to eat, all the cooking pots are moved under the tap to be washed later and a fabric or a woven plastic mat is laid out on the floor for seating. Water is poured, perhaps a mango drink is offered. Kane and Ashley are called from their work and the three of us eat, cross-legged on the floor, all eyes watching us. The hospitality is gracious and sincere. Guests eat first, the family eats later, despite our protestations. Neighbours come by to see how we like the food, children lurk in doorways, and we pepper Ashley with questions about the food, the women and their families, their situations and where they came from. The stories are as varied as the women, and though they all have different financial situations from dire poverty to ownership of a slum home, they live in a community of people bound by a caste system with few opportunities to swim against the tide of poverty.

It has been an enriching experience. I will take with me their lessons on generosity, neighbours helping neighbours, giving when there is nothing to give, and the sincere attitude these women had when trying to teach the foreigner in their midst how to cook on one burner, without measuring, crouched in living spaces not much bigger than a western bathroom.

Though they have yet to dress me in a saree, but have intentions to, I have learned how to say "enough, no more", in Marathi. "Bus, bus!!" I moan, as they try to feed me another plateful of food.

The Dirty Wall Project will be producing a cookbook of these recipes, with the women's stories, and photographs of their families, themselves, and their homes. The cookbook will be for sale, with 100% of the proceeds used to make many lives more comfortable in india.

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