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Marrying An Italian Man Helped Me Embrace My Indian Roots

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My fridge is filled with cheese.

I didn’t come to this realization on my own. It was brought to my attention when my friend, who happened to be perusing my fridge for leftovers one night remarked, “Man, you guys are cheesy!” It took me a moment to realize that she was referring to the quantity of cheese in my fridge and not any particular smell emanating from it.

A quick glance behind me proved that my friend was indeed correct. My fridge drawer was stuffed with all different kinds of cheeses. My fridge was cheesy. Correction, our fridge was cheesy. “Our” refers to my husband, the cheese lover in our relationship. Cheddar, mozzarella, provolone, asiago, parmigiano-reggiano; he doesn’t discriminate, he loves them all.

If you haven’t figured out by now, my husband is of Italian descent, while I am of East Indian descent. He has brown hair and olive skin, while I am cappuccino in color all year round. When we married and moved in together nine years ago, I didn’t realize then that our different cultural backgrounds would start to manifest in our relationship.

It began rather subtly, first in our fridge drawer, and later when planning our garden that first summer. My husband, an avid gardener, had already determined what to plant in our garden. We would plant zucchini, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, parsley, and basil.

What my husband failed to tell me, though, was that he had planted not just one type of tomato plant, but at least seven different kinds. This meant that come August, our garden looked as though it only contained tomato plants, which prompted the same friend to remark, “Man, you guys have a lot of tomatoes!” This time I had a ready response: “I married an Italian – what do you expect?”

This response became a recurring theme in our marriage, and I was able to regurgitate it whenever an observation was made in our house. The reason we had an abundant supply of homemade wine, homemade tomato sauce, prosciutto, and pasta in our pantry? Because I married an Italian – what do you expect?

The truth was, though, I was glad for all these Italian tendencies. For one thing, I love red wine. I think I love it more since marrying my husband. Having a supply of homemade wine on hand turned out to be much cheaper than buying a bottle from the store, not to mention more natural.

As for having a massive tomato garden and tons of tomato sauce? That came in handy for… no, not pasta sauce (although that’s a given), but rather curry dishes, which suddenly I had a newfound interest in making.

The irony is, seeing my husband embrace his cultural cuisine so proudly prompted me to do the same. I started to embrace my Indian culture, which for years I had shunned in an effort to be more “Canadian” and fit in with my peers.

Back in elementary school, being Indian wasn’t considered exotic, at least not to an Indian kid. It just meant that your clothes and backpack tended to carry the smell of pungent spices whenever you walked down the school hallway. I was embarrassed that kids could smell me before they even saw me and I remember keeping my coat and backpack in my closed bedroom, as far as possible from the kitchen where my mother would cook those fragrant Indian dishes. Although I loved Indian food, I didn’t like smelling like it.

But those days are long gone. Now, I actively search out those very same aromatic spices I once avoided. I’ve cleared out a cabinet in our 1980’s dilapidated kitchen and made room for an “Indian” spice cabinet. From it, the aromas of spices such as cloves, cardamom, cumin, coriander, turmeric and fenugreek fill your nostrils as you walk by. The aroma is especially strong since the hinges on one of the cabinet doors broke, leaving half of our spice cabinet exposed.

My growing collection of spices also means that I do a lot more Indian cooking now. Rice has gained prominence in our kitchen, as once only pasta did. In between mouthfuls of rice and curry, my husband one day said to me, “We eat a lot more curry now.” He didn’t seem to mind.

In fact, no one seemed to mind. Everyone loved the smelled of Indian food cooking in our house. The colorful chicken curry bubbling on the stove, the fresh chapathis frying in the pan, the creamy raita to pacify the palette, it all looked and smelled so exotic to our non-Indian guests. My Italian in-laws in particular would ask, “Can you make a chicken curry when we come over?” (Of course, if my mother was coming over too, they wanted her chicken curry, not mine. She’s a far better cook than I am and probably ever will be, and I’ve made peace with that.) Our house, my clothes, and my hair all resonate with smells of my culture, and I am no longer ashamed.

Some people feel that you lose your culture when you marry outside of it, but for me, the opposite has been true. Marrying Italian has helped me see my Indian roots through less biased lenses. It has helped me appreciate and embrace my Indian roots, even if just for the delicious cuisine right now. In fact, I’ve already decided that next summer, we should plant chillies, dhania (coriander) and shepu (dill). Then both the Italian and Indian part of us will be properly represented in our garden.

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