2013/06/03 by Elena Jatia | Filed under Kitchen Notes.

Mom and I at a grocery store when we lived in Italy in the 90's

I never intended to fall in love with food, but I did.

Like a lot of you, cooking became a dire necessity, whether it was out of marital desperation or a moment of solitude with the last instant microwaveable meal you’d ever want to eat. Food was and is the gateway into my ethnic heritage. My mother, Corazon, is Filipino but also with a mixed heritage of Italian and German. I remember her cooking dishes that you wouldn’t find on anyone else’s dining table. (That’s a compliment, Mom!) Pasta alongside chicken adobo was a common family meal.

Then I got married. Crap what the heck am I going to cook? I was a baker at home. If Mom wanted pound cake or chocolate chip cookies for dessert, I was your girl. Cooking food, daily, was a completely different pot all together. Not only did I just get married, but I had converted to vegetarianism. Mom was a wonderful cook: she transformed meat-centric dishes into vegetarian ones like Kare-Kare, Palabok and Lumpia. Now with Sid, my husband, add Indian ingredients and dishes into the melting pot.

With so many condiments and varying vegetables and grains, my pantry was overflowing. Trips to the grocery store were daunting, because not all stores carried the ingredients I needed with such multi-ethnic cuisines. So, once or twice a week I was always at a different store with a different set of items to buy. It got confusing — little notes scribbled here and there, misplacing them and forgetting them.

Then, one day, I made a list.

The list grew from 15 basic pantry items to about 100. Not only were we cooking Filipino, Italian and Indian dishes at home, but our appetite for new dishes made it unavoidable to add Thai and Greek ingredients. Sitting at work, at a spare moment, I would check off things that I needed for tonight’s grocery run. I had an audience behind my back, wondering where did I find such a list. Before long, I was handing out copies to coworkers.

Usha making parathas

If you cook like me, with an open heart and mouth, The Ethnic Pantry is your home to celebrate food, culture and create new memories. Blogging from Chicago, I couldn’t think of a better playground for food.┬áHere is what’s to come (and please feel free to contribute as well):

  • grocery store tours
  • more lists (i.e. Italian, French, Latin, Spanish, etc.)
  • timesaving “worksheets” to guide you in the kitchen
  • ingredient highlights
  • finds at the store
  • kitchen tchotchkes (tools I’ve collected in my travels)
  • restaurant reviews, local (Chicago) and global
  • directory of ethnic grocery stores
  • pantry and recipe organization (of course)
  • multi-ethnic recipes

and so much more.

A special thank you to my mothers, Corazon and Usha (mother-in-law), for all their love, support and selflessness. And to my husband, for patting me on the back and smothering me with kisses each time I failed at making a chapati and waiting several years to tell me that my cooking was just “okay” those first years of marriage. I love you!

Elena Jatia

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