UDAIPUR, India // Every place we have traveled has offered cooking classes but we've been saving ourselves for India, as it is our favorite type of food. We signed up for Shashi's cooking class after reading 5 star reviews on Trip Advisor and being recommended by Lonely Planet, but what we got out of it was so much more than just food.
Shashi is of the highest Brahmin caste in Hinduism which has strict rules and primarily specialize as priests, teachers, and protectors of sacred learnings. She was married but when her husband died 15 years ago she was left with 2 young boys, 5 and 7, and no way of supporting them. Brahmin tradition states she can never remarry; she had to morn for 45 days in the corner of her home not eating with anyone or speaking to anyone, and she was not allowed outside her front door for one year. This is actually a serious epidemic in India. There are many widows who have no way of supporting themselves and are forced to beg. Shashi's parents and in-laws had all passed and she was unable to find work for her high caste. The boys would sneak out and bring laundry from the local hotels to be washed. Washing clothes is considered below her caste and is forbidden, but she had to make money to support the family. She eventually starting helping in the early morning hours to prep food at a hotel, and that's when they eventually came up with the cooking class idea.
Five years ago she spoke no English and taught herself. She did her first cooking class for two Australians in her home and she was so nervous her whole body was shaking. She dropped the hot chai on herself, but the Australians reassured her and they went home and typed up her recipes in English and sent her a digital copy. Then, she had a French couple who spoke no English and they took it home and translated it to French. Germans did the same, and a Dutchman helped her build her website. One day two secret Lonely Planet authors took her class and discovered her, and now she speaks a little bit over 5 languages and is taking out a loan to build a larger kitchen to hold her classes in. It's a beautiful entrepreneurial story, especially for a woman in India to overcome and conquer from such a dark place of mourning. She is direct and hands on, but she lets a joke slide with a straight face then waggles her head and winks at you which lets you know it's all play to her. She loves the kitchen and her recipes, and that is why they taste so good. We learned 12 pages of recipes and it took us 5 hours, but we learned many tricks - like if you peel the skin off the onion then soak them in water for 10 minutes you won't cry when you cut them. Her son helps in the kitchen and is now 29 years old. Her other son is married and she is a proud mother and businesswoman.
We're having a big Indian food cooking party when we get back to the US and everyone is invited!