I Hid my Lunchboxes of Indian Food as a Kid. I’m in a very Different Place Now.

When I was in first grade, my mom would pack me Idli for lunch. I loved them…at first. One day, when I opened my lunchbox, I heard a loud “EWWWW”. My classmate, sitting across the table, was staring at my milagai podi (a dipping sauce made of chili powder mixed with oil), her face contorted in disgust. “What IS that?” she scowled?

Idli(south Indian rice cakes) with Milagai podi (chili powder)
One day, when I opened my lunchbox, I heard a loud “EWWWW”. My classmate, sitting across the table, was staring at my milagai podi (a dipping sauce made of chilli powder mixed with oil), her face contorted in disgust.

That was the first time I learned that innocence isn’t always beautiful. I developed my first coping mechanism — hiding my food in school.

In third grade, I had mastered this art. I would shield my food from sight by tactfully positioning my lunch bag in front of it. I cut my food with my fork, and ate it with small quaint bites. After all, using my fingers would be barbaric! (*that was sarcasm*) And yes, I often left half of my lunch uneaten.

That was the first time I learned that innocence isn’t always beautiful. I developed my first coping mechanism — hiding my food in school.

In fifth grade, whole lunchboxes would come home, untouched. My mom began to get angry, so I developed a second coping mechanism. I learned to lie. I would hurriedly eat my food as soon as I got home from school, so that my mom wouldn’t have to know. Maybe my best friend figured this out, because she would have two fruit roll ups each day — one to give to me during lunch. Sometimes, I would linger around the trash can after school ended, eyes flitting from side to side, waiting for everyone to leave so that I could empty my food into the trash.

I cut my food with my fork, and ate it with small quaint bites. After all, using my fingers would be barbaric!

In ninth grade, things got easier. I developed a third coping mechanism. I got lunch money. I would buy bagels and cream cheese at school. Lunchboxes and wrinkled noses were a thing of my past.

In college, I developed my fourth coping mechanism. I discovered how to cook soups and mix salads. I subscribed to health and fitness youtubers. Besides, Indian food was too hard to make anyways.

Over these last few years, I’ve lost my craving for Indian food. When my parents ask if I want rasam(somewhat like a thin tomato soup) and rice, I say no. Instead, I mix my own salad of cucumbers, tomatoes, black beans, and feta cheese. Yet, every time I bite into my salad, relishing the lemon-cumin dressing, I can’t let go of a nagging feeling. Sure, maybe I don’t like Idli, but what if my kids do? Isn’t it my duty to pass on my parents’ cooking? It’s so much more than just food — it’s our culture, our family history, and even how we show love. But at the same time, I just don’t like Idli anymore. I don’t know how to change my taste back, or if I even want to.

It’s so much more than just food — it’s our culture, our family history, and even how we show love. But at the same time, I just don’t like Idli anymore. I don’t know how to change my taste back, or if I even want to.

Today, something was different. I was sitting on a flight, and for the first time in forever — I pulled out a pre-packed lunchbox of Indian food. Inside was channa and potatoes, and some chapati wrapped in aluminum foil. I cracked open the lid, and the smell of turmeric and perungayam fought it’s way into the air.

I cracked open the lid, and the smell of turmeric and perungayam fought it’s way into the air.

I shut the lid tight, sneaking a peek at the guy sitting next to me, wondering if he had noticed. But in a moment of hungry determination, I didn’t care. I threw the lid open and plopped the lunchbox on my tiny gray airplane tray. I dipped the chapati in the channa and potatoes — not caring that I was using my fingers. A tiny bit of channa dripped onto my jeans and I smiled — basking in my discomfort.

A tiny bit of channa dripped onto my jeans and I smiled — basking in my discomfort.

I’m not saying that this will become a regular occurrence for me, or that anything is wrong with liking soups and salads, or that my taste has suddenly returned to south Indian food. This was only one moment of one day of my present 22 year old self. But, today I learned that sometimes — it’s fun to dig into what makes you uncomfortable. You might learn something about your childhood triggers, and perhaps even free yourself of them. Sometimes. Besides, it’s just so much fun not to care ;)