Interviewed & written by Isao Tokuhashi & Tomomi Tada
Mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Karen Pereira Gomez
Indian cuisine instructor
(She’s been in Japan since 2009)
The 8th interviewee of “MET × Niki’s Kitchen” is Karen Pereira Gomez, an Indian woman from Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay). Her character is a passionate and lively one that lets her enjoy exploring new things in the world. And in her class, we can see she is keen on teaching real India, especially her community which is very diverse and something new as well.Why is she like that? The key might be found in the environment where she belongs to which is not so major in India or an interesting Indian slogan and its moral.
East Indian Community
You may wonder why I have a Spanish name like “Gomez” even though I’m Indian. That’s related to one of the features of the Christian community where I’m from.
We have Western names. “Gomez” is my husband’s surname, “Pereira” is my surname. When people became Christians after Western countries propagated Christianity in India, they took the Western name. My last name “Pereira” is Portuguese.
Also I’m from the “East Indian Community”. We are called like that although my hometown is Bombay, which is located in West India. It’s because my ancestors worked for the East India Company, which was established in the 17th century by the British Empire.
We are approximately one million together in the U.S, Canada and all over the world. Thinking of India’s population, actually we are a minority but still there are many.
There are some reasons why we’ve spread across the world. For instance, my mother tongue is English. We only speak English even at home. In India, all schools’ education is conducted in English, maybe except for a few government-controlled ones. Speaking English is not special usually, but speaking English at “home” is special.
They found it better to be in the U.S or Canada even though those are not their own countries. So many people have immigrated to those countries, and now we are approximately one million all over the world.
Cooking like traveling
When I heard about Niki’s kitchen, I thought “Wow! Sounds exciting!” World cuisines are showcased in one place, getting people to show them at home and having Japanese over. It’s a great idea. I’d love to be a part of it although I’ve never been a professional cook.
When I decide my recipe for my class, I go by regions. I have a theme in each class. One day I made dishes that are originated in Goa, a beach resort in India, such as fish fry, prawn curry etc. Once I cooked Bombay street food and it was whole new different side of Bombay. It’s not curry at all, it’s different from a typical Indian cuisine. Once I prepared thali, which is served on a big steel plate with many small bowls. That’s the Gujarati cuisine. And our own community – as I told you – “East Indian Community” has its own recipes. So once I did that too.
As for today’s class, I didn’t focus on a specific region. Today’s recipe was a summer menu. I let each dish into the menu from everywhere in India. The variety of the food in India is so much. It’s better to go by region by region. It’s like enjoying travelling.
Bombay is a melting pot of different people, cultures and food in a whole country. People come to Bombay from all over the country to work. It’s similar to Tokyo. So its food has been influenced by cuisines from all over India. We have Northern Indian restaurants and Southern Indian restaurants. All kinds of restaurants are available there. That’s the privilege of living in a big city.
Showing another side of India
The stereotype of Japan is sushi, shabu shabu or ramen. The stereotype of India is curry, or you might think that you have to eat lamb, you have to work in the IT industry. I noticed something in Japan. Most Indian restaurants serve naan, butter chicken and curry. Those are not the only real Indian dishes.
So I wanted to show more of the real Indian food, which is not common and people don’t know about. Each person, each part of India is different. So I would like people to see that.
The dishes in Indian cuisine, as I mentioned you the variety that we have is just so much. No other country has such a wide variety. In my class, students learn something new. They themselves like to try something new, taste something new. Today one of the students said, “I had poha (A West Indian rice dish with using FLATTENED seasonings) for the first time”. She didn’t think that was an Indian dish. So I’m glad! She got a chance to see that. Another said “That was a good surprise that we had no naan, no curry today. It was different from typical Indian food.” Yes, no naan, no curry. That is also the Indian food.
“Unity in Diversity”
We have a very good slogan, which is “Unity in Diversity”.
The government says “You may have your own community. You may have your own beliefs. But you should remember you are Indian.” That’s the meaning of “Unity in Diversity”.
As I told you, people from all over the country are very different. Languages are different, cultures, religions… everything is different. But still all are united as “Indians”. And people manage those differences perfectly well. We are used to differences and we try to preserve the uniqueness of each community.
I think all Indians grow up with diversity. At some point in time, people need to interact with each other. In the offices, there are many working people from Hindi community, Bengali community and many other communities. They need to interact with each other. We can say the same for schools. We are in the same school with students from different communities. We have Muslim children, Hindu children and Sikh children. It’s a big mix.
What is Niki’s Kitchen to you?
It’s an opportunity to meet Japanese and show the culture of my country or community. Our cuisine as well.
Niki’s kitchen is diverse like my country. It’s one of the reasons that I joined it. You have teachers who are from all over the world cooking their dishes, showing their countries’ food. That is a completely international thing. It’s one of its attractions.
Today we are global. The world is getting smaller and smaller. So now it’s more important for us to learn to respect people and cultures from other different countries.
And I wish Niki’s kitchen all the best.
Her page on Niki’s Kicthen (Japanese)：Click!