By Fiorella Donayre
Five minutes into the class, Juhi Manwani’s kitchen fills with an intense and delicious aroma of cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, garlic, cumin and coriander as she cooks and explains with detail how to prepare peas pilau (spicy rice with peas), paneer (cottage cheese), saag murg (chicken spinach curry) and homemade yogurt. The small group of foreign students follows closely, sipping sweet lassi and enthusiastically inquiring about the best places to find ingredients and spices. They also help, kneading aloo tikkis (savory potato croquettes) that they will later deep fry and serve with a tasty coriander chutney; they flip mung pancakes in a pan. The class wraps up with a tasting of the food they’ve learned how to make.
Juhi began cooking in 1995, after she moved to Buenos Aires and missed the food of her homeland. She started teaching Indian cooking classes in 1999 and founded a catering service the following year.
When Juhi first arrived in Buenos Aires, she relied on her instincts to prepare food, reading cookbooks and using family recipes that her sister mailed her from India. Although she found this process challenging at first, she started to enjoy cooking very soon.
Born in the Philippines to Indian parents, Juhi moved to Punah, near Mumbai in the state of Maharashtra, when she was 12 years old. The food from her childhood had a lot of traditional Indian ingredients available in Manila, but also incorporated a lot of local seafood. Among her favorite childhood dishes were a seafood soup with vegetables popular in Manila, and an improvised dahl that her family made with lentils and tomatoes at home.
When she first moved to India, she found herself missing seafood; but she also discovered the deep intensity of Indian spices and the different ways of combining them, depending on the region, religion, culture and local produce.
This feeling of being a newcomer and adjusting to a new environment is something that Juhi has dealt with since she was a child. Once in Buenos Aires, she had to improvise in the kitchen again, using local produce to cook traditional Indian dishes. She encourages her students to do the same.
Juhi teaches introductory and advanced Indian cuisine for small groups. She also caters private parties and sells frozen dishes that are ready to heat and eat. Catering and prepared food orders require two-week’s advanced notice and a 50 percent deposit. You may pick up the food or have it delivered for an additional fee.
*Fiorella Donayre is a Peruvian lawyer who moved to Buenos Aires in 2004. She completed the professional chef’s program at Mausi Sebess in 2006 and has worked as a pasante at the Caesar Park Hotel’s Agraz restaurante in recoleta and at El Senorio de Sulco in Lima.