I met Eshwini Ram through her husband, Rese, the taxi cab driver who drove me back to the marina after I had been baking with Sisi all day. The first time I met Eshwini, I showed her the bread and cinnamon rolls I had just baked, she liked them very much. I told her that I wanted to learn how to make roti. She said to come by Lee's Bakery - where she worked 7 days a week. Eshwini was in charge of making the bread dough, the cake batter and the cookie batter each morning when she arrived for work at 5 AM. After she mixed up the dough, 6 Fijian men baked it. She worked the front counter until 5PM. She was the only person who knew how to make up the bread dough (the Chinese owners didn't know). She made $160 Fijian for 65 hours / week - a very good paycheck in Savusavu.
I also gave Eshwini and Rese a slice of the pumpkin pie I made with Sisi on my second ride in his taxi. I invited Eshwini and her husband over to the boat for dinner. She brought dahl (made with yellow split peas) and curried chicken. I made split pea soup (green split peas) with ham and fresh bread. We had an American version of dahl and an Indian one. The split pea soup I made can be found on the package of green split peas. Eshwini's dahl and curried chicken recipes are:
Put into a pressure cooker:
1 cup yellow split peas, rinsed
6 cups water
1 tablespoon tumeric (Haldi powder)
Bring to pressure and cook 10 minutes, let pressure lower on it's own. Do not over cook.
While the peas are cooking:
Put 2-3 tablespoons of ghee in a large soup pan, heat to very hot
1 teaspoon cumin seeds (Gheera) - let them simmer, split, for 30 seconds to 1 minute then reduce heat to medium
1 onion, diced
1 small carrot, diced (optional) - cook these until soft - remove pan from heat.
When the pressure cooker has released all it's steam, open it up and empty the mixture into the large soup pan (with the onions), stir, add salt to taste and serve into small bowls.
Eshwini showed me how to make roti.
Eshwini's husband - Rese
She had been making it every day since she was a teenager, so she worked very fast. I love to mess around with flour and rolling pins. We all tried to make a couple as she baked them on the large frying pan. They were a challenge to roll out into a cirlcle. So Tamsyn decided to make the balls and while Griffyn worked the rolling pin. Rese admitted that even he had trouble making them perfectly round like Eshwini did. Griffyn's looked the most circular of the three of us. When they bake they puff up just like lefsa does (a Norwegian flat bread made with potatoes and flour). And they look just like a Mexican tortilla. Owen's favorite flat bread is the chapati which he enjoyed in Uganda. We used make crepes back home, (which are the French version enriched with butter of course). I wonder if all cultures have a flat bread?
Use white flour, lots, in a large bowl. Add boiling water until it makes a dough, knead the dough for a bit, then make balls (1 1/2 inches in diameter). Roll the balls out very thin into circles. Bake on a very hot pan - which may be very lightly oiled, until they brown (they will puff up like lefsa), flip over and cook other side. Cook them one at a time. Despite it's simplicity, it is delicious. A word of caution about the pan you use. We used our large coated frying pan (with a very thick bottom) and because the pan had to heat up with nothing in it, the coating began to loosen a bit. Back home I'll try a well seasoned cast iron frying pan, lightly oiled (a high heat oil). I watched a woman at a fair making roti, she swiped the pan with an oiled cloth before cooking each roti.
After that evening on the boat, we became good friends, I would stop by the bakery ever time I went into town. During her lunch break, we would go to her favorite Indian cafe and have tea and pudding (cake made from coconut milk cooked with sugar until it is brown (like molasses with sweetened condensed milk) then mixed with flour, egg, leavening and baked in tin cans.) Eshwini called a number of Indian sweets 'pudding' all of which would have another name in western baking or cooking. I never did get the recipe for the tin can sweet bread, but I think it could be found. Eshwini coached me on Indian cooking as I tried new things.
Then one day it was time to visit her at home and meet her three kids. On a Saturday afternoon in late September around 5:30PM (she left work at 3PM), Owen, Tamsyn, Griffyn and I walked the mile to her house, up and down a steep dirt road as the light faded. We were met by Rese with flashlights who was on his way to visit his father at the hospital. He was bringing dinner to his father. Eshwini's mother-in-law was staying at their house while her husband was in the hospital. She didn't speak English at all, but we managed to learn a little bit about her as Eshwinin translated. I had brought a loaf of fresh bread, a carrot and cabbage salad, Fiji Gold (beer) and a chocolate cake (with eggs, butter and milk). It was great to see another Fijian home and like the others we had visited, bright colors dominated.
Eshwini married Rese when she was 16 and he was 26. They built their house themselves on a piece of bottom land, leased for $30/month from the Savusavu town council. [Indigenous Fijians own all the land - Indo-Fijians, whites and all others lease land from Fijians. Fijians knew about what had happened to the lands of the aborigines of Australia (it was all taken by the whites) and as a result their land laws were written to keep the land in the hands of the Indigenous people. When a Fijian couple marries, the chief gives them a plot of land, then they build a house on it. The land is then kept in the family indefinitely.] Before Eshwini began working at the bakery (9 months ago) she raised (and sold) ducks in her yard to help support the household income. Rese has been driving a taxi for 20 years, but a recent law regulating taxi cab fees has made it difficult for him to make ends meet and school fees had quadrupled in the last year - so Eshwini went to work.
Dinner was very good, curried chicken (my favorite), roti, rice, dahl, bread, salad, cucumbers and for dessert, chocolate cake, Indian black tea with ginger and biscuits. I was eager to watch Eshwini make curried chicken, she cooks quickly, throwing things into a pan, never measuring. I felt I needed to see it for myself to really know how to do it like she did. She made the best curry I'd ever tasted.
1- 2 lbs. chicken, chopped in pieces (Indians simply chop up a chicken, bones and all)
OIl for frying (high heat oil)
1 onion, diced
1 potato, diced
1 carrot, diced
2 to 3 heads of garlic, peeled and thoroughly crushed
Heat the oil, add everything except one third of the garlic, toss, then add:
lots of Graham Masala - about 3 heaping tablespoons
ground Coriander - about 1 tablespoon
until the color is right and it smells amazing. Don't be cautious with the graham masala. Keep stirring and cooking on high for a bit until the onions begin to wilt, then reduce the heat to medium, cover and let simmer until the liquid in the pan has been absorbed. Serve.
I loved being in her home, her kitchen. I wanted to know where she kept everything, what ingredients she had, how she stored things. She showed me the china and ornate glass bowls she received for her wedding all displayed along a series of shelves in her small dining room. Like me, Eshwini loved cooking and kitchen things, she had a number of appliances, even a washing machine for laundry. I got the sense that Eshwini and her culture (Indo-Fijian) looked more westward in their aspirations than Fijians. Eshwini layed out a large spread on the floor of the living room. We all helped bring pots, dishes, and plates to the living room. Then we all sat down on the floor in a large circle around the food and ate. We ate mostly with our fingers, the curried chicken dripped and we licked our fingers and sucked on bones savoring every spicy morsel. Yum! Fresh roti is such a treat too. You can put anything in it, or dip it and it's great. While we ate, we shared our histories, stories of Africa, sailing adventures. As we became more satiated and relaxed the kids lounged in laps sleepily or moved to the couch to stare at the TV. Then it was time to clear the dishes and Eshwini washed while I dried the dishes.
Eshwini was tired, so we didn't stay too long after desert and tea, but we agreed to come back tomorrow (Sunday) afternoon to visit more. On Sunday Tamsyn, Griffyn and I went back to visit while Owen stayed on the boat to replace the lights on the mast. After we had our afternoon tea and biscuits, Eshwini showed me her saris. She must have had a hundred. I had given her a dress I loved but rarely wore when she came to dinner on the boat, that Sunday she offered me a sari. I had a hard time choosing, but finally picked a color I liked and then the fashion show began. Eshwini wanted pictures of us dressed in saris and there were a number of sari's her daughter's no longer wanted (they gave Tamsyn 3).
Sunday afternoon tea.
As a bride would...
We left in the late afternoon. Eshwini and I continued to meet for tea until the day we departed Savusavu. We talked about our lives, children, parenting, husbands (men are from Mars and women from Venus). We became quite close friends, exchanged addresses. I gave her a disk of all the digital photos I took while we were together. (I gave one to Sisi as well). I will miss her dearly.