Out of the frying pan. Shashi’s Cooking Classes, Udaipur, India
Meet Shashi. At around 40 years old (give or take a few) she’s had a hell of a life already, yet just a few minutes of conversation will tell you that she’s only getting started.
Born in rural Rajasthan, Shashi grew up like most girls in her area, training for marriage. Under her mother’s watchful eye, she started cooking at 13 so she was well-prepared when, in her early twenties, she married a man she had never spoken to, a man whose photo she hadn’t even seen. It was an arranged marriage like most Hindu unions. Had they met before the day it wouldn’t have been much good to them – he spoke only Hindu while Shashi didn’t have a word. She gave him two children before he died when she was only 31 years of age.
Shashi’s husband left her with two small sons and the status of widow. As a Brahman (the highest of the castes) she is not allowed to remarry. Ever. For a year she was forbidden from leaving her home at all, a rule that can’t make it any easier to support two children. She struggled to make ends meet and eventually started taking on houseguests in her Udaipur home.
Three years ago, Shashi was coaxed into opening a cooking class for tourists by a guest who appreciated her value as a chef. She didn’t speak a word of English and, during her first session with an Australian couple, her hands shook so badly that she broke enough crockery to consume the day’s earnings. One day, after class, one of her students told her he was from Lonely Planet and he was going to cover her in his guidebook. “I didn’t know what ‘Lonely Planet’ meant,” she says “but now I do. It means very, very busy.”
Today Shashi’s English is fantastic, her hand steady, her wit razor-sharp and her cookery class was easily the best part of our trip so far. In what was supposed to be a four hour class, she spent five and a half hours moulding us into her own little army of cooks. We learned how to beat spices properly (because you should never buy in a store what you can make fresh at home). We learned how to knead, roll and cook dough for chapati, naan and paratha (similar but never to be confused). We learned how to make a mean masala sauce and how to turn said masala sauce into half a dozen very different curries. Shashi even taught us how to make our own paneer and local cheeses from scratch, using only milk, lemon juice and yoghurt.
More than that though, she entertained us and answered every question we had about her culture, her marriage and her food. In a word, she was the perfect hostess.
At 700 rupiah for four to five hours, we couldn’t recommend Shashi’s class highly enough, for enthusiastic cooks and reluctant novices alike (we span the scale). For only €10 you get four hours with a master chef, teacher, storyteller, comedian and one of the warmest women we’ve ever had the peasure to meet – not to mention a slap up meal. Try to book at least 12 hours ahead though, she’s a popular lady.
There are more pictures from our cooking class in Udaipur in the gallery