Hello, Adobe Tech Support—Would You Like the Recipe for Chicken Tikka Masala?
I knew it was coming. I have a Mac BookPro with a partitioned hard drive allowing me to run both Windows and Mac. Recently, the Mac side stopped booting up, and for the last 2 weeks, I have experienced one Bluescreen crash after another. It was simply a matter of time until “old faithful,” wasn’t.
Wednesday, I encountered “the melt-down”—a total system failure. Thursday, I got a new computer which was extremely easy because ‘Tween Tech Guy, my son, knows practically everything there is to know about computers. He grabbed my hand and dragged me through Best Buy, straight to the two laptop models that were the best fit for my lifestyle and budget. He even agreed to get my computer up and running again if I would buy him a new wireless mouse. It was a deal I couldn’t turn down and a much better option than calling the Geek Squad.
Thursday night, my son configured my new system, started my Carbonite retrieval and downloaded all the software he could with discs we had in our collection. Friday, I began the long arduous process of calling software manufacturers to recover serial numbers and re-install the remaining missing programs. The only thing standing between me and a fully functional computer was a showdown with tech support.
I meditated, braced myself for the impending torture and faced the inevitable. I was tossed like a hot potato from one department to another. By noon, my ears were ringing with staccato echoes of broken English. My frustration escalated with each broken phone or internet connection. Mid-day, I received a breath of fresh air when Shanini, an Indian woman, picked up the phone and said “Hello, Mum”.
When working with tech support, there are a lot of long, uncomfortable silences while software is downloading or installing. Men say nothing during these pauses. Shanini politely “broke the ice” by asking me how the weather was in Anaheim. I answered robotically, and then saw an opportunity.
You see, I love Indian food–especially Chicken Tikka Masala. If you asked me what food I would want everyday if I could only eat one food, I would say, “Chicken Tikka Masala”. If you ever wondered what food I would bath and wash my hair in, it would be Chicken Tikka Masala.
For the past year, I have been obsessed with finding and perfecting the recipe. I’ve attempted to reverse engineer the Masala’s of my favorite Indian Restaurants. I’ve downloaded and modified recipes, from the internet. Each time, there is something missing–something just a little bit “off” but never the less, entirely wrong. Deep in my soul I knew I needed to go to the source. I’ve considered a pilgrimage to New Delhi to uncover the secret techniques that are passed down from one generation of women to another in Indian kitchens.
Could this “coincidental” connection save me a trip? I took a chance and blurted out that burning question, “what’s the secret for making good Chicken Tikka Masala? She was intrigued and replied, “My mother makes the best Chicken Tikka masala in the world”. I knew it! Shanini was holding “the secret” and I was about to get it. I had uncovered the Holy Grail of Masala-ness!
Forget the download. My recovery of Photoshop could wait. I grabbed pencil and paper and focused my full attention on deciphering what she was saying through her broken English.
She spoke quickly, and my untrained ear struggled to keep pace.
“Mix tamarind, onion and tomato in a pan…ghee…hot…into paste…add chili powder…ginger garlic paste…add curd…(could that be yogurt?)…chicken in pieces…marinate one hour and grill. I was only getting bits and pieces, but it was no less exciting than discovering the Rosetta stone. I knew if I even got down a few of the key elements, I could figure it out the rest through trial and error.
“The download is complete mum. Now I need you to go back to your program files and see if it opens.”
No, I thought. We can’t be done. I interrupted her mid-sentence. “Shanini, I need to know the secret with the sauce. Tell me about the sauce”, I said.
“The gravy, mum? You can use the marinade of the Chicken. Put the tomatoes and onions in the pan and make a paste. Add ginger paste, Garam Masala… When the paste is good, add the chicken and some water and cook. Now please go to your start menu, mum…”
“Wait, Shanini, that can’t be it. There is always cream. Tell me about the cream.” I was practically screaming at her by now. “Oh yes, the cream,” she said. “Just add the cream at the end until it is the way you like it.”
“Do you use cilantro?” I asked. She laughed. “No, mum. Garnish with cucumber and tomato if you wish. Cilantro is not necessary.” (The Indians are so practical).
“What about the lemon? The ingredient lists I have seen always have lemon,” I exclaimed.
“ Yes, add lemon if you like, but only at the end. We have a secret about the lemon, she said. (Another secret… I could hardly contain myself). “If you add the lemon while you are cooking the meat, it will not be good. Only at the end, Mum.”
“With the cream?” I asked. “Yes, right before the cream,” she patiently replied.
Bonds made over food are nearly unbreakable. In my mind, Shanini and I will remain friends forever. In fact, when I perfect the recipe enough to share with you, it will be affectionately named Shanini’s Tikka Masala. When I open my restaurant, I will feature Shanini’s Tikka Masala on the menu. My son and daughter will know how to make it. My grandchildren will pass on to their children. That’s my fantasy at least.
I wonder if Shanini has a blog. I ponder over whether she will be posting about the “food obsessed American woman” she met on a standard tech support call, in hot pursuit of the perfect Chicken Tikka Masala. I question if she felt a little more complete today after our call.
It wasn’t all one sided. I can tell you this…Shanini has dreams. She wants to visit Washington D.C to see our capital, the ultimate symbol of freedom and liberty. She wants to visit 5th avenue in New York and Wall Street, the ultimate symbol of capitalism. More than anything, she wants to live in the United States near her brother, a university professor at Cal State Berkeley.
Shanini knows more about American history and symbolism than many Americans do. If she heads to our borders, I will welcome her with open arms. Who knows…one day, I may run into her on the streets of Berkeley (or Barkley) as she calls it.
All I know is that today, Shanini, at Adobe Tech Support, brought a little fabulous into my life and helped me overcome a total system failure. You can bet I’ll be working on my Chicken Tikka Masala this weekend. Thanks Shanini!
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