VOICES FROM THE GRASSROOTS SERIES: FOOD OF OUR ELDERS
New World, Same Food: Mom's Dudh Sewai
by Raza Islam | published June 18 2021
Raza Islam is a student at the City University of New York.
Being the first one of the family to move to America is as daunting as it is exciting. It wasn't easy trying to adjust to an entirely new lifestyle. I was merely a child amidst all of this and I can't say I remember this transition. I for sure can remember it all being difficult. I can't begin to imagine how it must've been for my parents who arrived here with only their dreams keeping them afloat.
My mom is always telling me that, forgetting all else, one of the most difficult things she's had to do in America was to try and keep our Bengali culture alive by passing it onto my brother and me.
Moving to a predominantly Bengali neighborhood has helped us engage with our culture as it now surrounds us, but I'd argue that the thing that's made me feel the most connected to my heritage would be the food. My parents can't exactly recreate every single dish they've had in Bangladesh due to hard-to-find ingredients and lack of time, but the ones that they do make, they put their heart and soul into them.
Every dish that my parents make always comes with a story. Even the simplest meals spark lively conversations. Throughout the years my parents have always told me stories from their time in Bangladesh. To me it seemed like every little thing, from the Algebra textbook I own to the milk in the fridge would remind them of Bangladesh. However, the conversations that are created because of our cultural dishes have to be my favorite. I get to learn about the villages they grew up in, about my grandparents, and so much more. I'll admit, initially when I was younger, it annoyed me hearing the same stories over and over again but I soon came to realize that they were telling my brother and me these stories so we can recognize opportunities they have given us. Stories they are reminded of because of tonight's fish curry or daal are their way of making up for the loss of culture in exchange for America's opportunities.
With that being said, I'd like to share on of my favorite dishes that my mom makes, Dudh Sewai. This is a dessert very similiar to another Bengali and South Asian dessert called Shemai. Shemai uses roasted noodels but Sewai uses rice pitha. Dudh Sewai has always been a stable dessert for us during Eid and although the rice cakes always take us so long to make by hand, my mom swears it's worth it to see our happy faces and hear compliments from guests. Seeing Dudh Sewai always reminds me of the holidays and the fun times we have as a family. Every single time we make it, my mom never fails to remind us that she can only hand make the entire dish because she watched her mom do it. Recipes don't exist in my family.
It's not easy to raise two kids in a new place, away from most immediate family so I'm immensely thankful that my mom was able to make the most of it and was able to keep us feeling connected to Bangladesh with her food. I hope to be able to learn more from her so I can also pass on these traditions and rich culture to my future family. Mayone one day I'll also get the hang of just eyeballing measurements of spices.