Grilled Cheese

P came back from Nepal on Saturday (hurray!), and brought lots of wedding related goodies, which I’ll blog about at another time. However instead I thought I’d take a few minutes to talk about grilled cheese sandwiches.

An American friend of ours is having a dinner gathering tonight, and on the menu is grilled cheese. P said, “Do people really eat grilled cheese… for dinner?”

Cheese is not very high on the Asian list of tasty foods (South or East, unless you count all the milk-cheese related products consumed in Mongolia, but those cheeses are decidedly a whole different category). Although I think P has grown an appreciation for (Western style) cheese over time having been exposed to lots of varities of cheese through me and my family (hard cheese, soft cheese, moldy cheese, smelly cheese– give me a cheese platter as an hors d’oeuvre any day!), he is still not big into cheese sauces, mac and cheese, or cheese as a main course. Hence grilled cheese sandwiches (to him) just sound a bit unfilling and perhaps unappetizing.

I haven’t had a grilled cheese in ages, so I’m pretty excited. I guess that is one of the perks of living with someone from a different culture– since you eat a lot of different kinds of foods something a local would consider relatively mundane and boring all of a sudden becomes exciting and different.

It reminds me of the semester I spent in India. I was living with a group of American students, but since we stayed in homestay families, guest houses (when traveling), and ashrams (on one particularly colorful field trip), we generally ate a lot of Indian food. But after weeks of daal, curry, roti, and rice, many of our American palates began craving American foods. One food that really helped with nostalgia was what our Indian cooks were calling “cheese toast.”

It started while we were taking Hindi language classes in Mussorie, Uttaranchal. We would spend the morning walking up the steep (crazy steep!) hill station roads to our language class, spend the entire morning working on language acquisition  skills, and then head back down the hill to the guest house for lunch. It was the end of the rainy season, and it was often pouring and damp, and heavy rain frequently knocked out the electricity. “Cheese toast” (and  soup) day was enough of a pick-me-up to send us careening down the slippery hill after class fighting to be the first person in line for the grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches.

After a while we found that “cheese toast” was often found on various menus as we traveled across India, particularly in touristy cafes (not that we ate in those cafes all the time– but every now and then). Other Westernized dishes didn’t come out tasting as good– pasta in red sauce, mac and cheese, pizza, but “cheese toast” really hit the spot when the stomach needed a small reminder of home.

I can’t remember the last time I had a grilled cheese sandwich. I hardly ever ate them in the US before I went to India and used it as my “I need a taste from home” meal. But I’m pretty excited to have one tonight.

MMMM… my mouth is watering just thinking about it!

12 responses to “Grilled Cheese

  1. haha…i remember the time as a kid visiting India and of course, as kids, sometimes a bit difficult to understand that not all comfort foods are available – my cousins tried to tell me about this ‘amazing’ food at a new restaurant in the bazaar -eggrolls! imagine my surprise after getting super excited about it, when it literally was a rolled up bit of scrambled egg with Amul (non)cheese in a roti.
    sigh! Definitely OD’d on chicken burgers, hot dogs and grilled cheese once back home!
    alternatively when family from india came to visit – they were shocked that we would eat cold cereal or even bacon/eggs/toast as a typical breakfast. And would even eat *gasp* leftovers! the horror!

  2. yummy , watering my mouth thanks for the realistic touching article

  3. I love grilled cheese, my husband on the other hand can’t believe I eat it! When we were in India for six months I made grilled cheese for myself for lunch three to four times a week. I swear, it was the only thing that made it possible to eat Indian food every day for six months (especially since I ate very little Indian food before we went!) Plus I found that grilled cheese sandwiches were so much better when you add chutney. It’s amazing how much comfort foods vary from person to person. Can’t wait to hear about more wedding details :-)

  4. I just moved to India about four months ago and I don’t really miss western foods. There’s a Macdonald’s every 10 minutes (for my junk cravings) and pretty much every kind of restaurant imaginable. I’ve been to so many amazing restaurants here (everything from German to Portuguese to Indian-Chinese to Indonesian/Malaysian, you name it) that I seriously think the food just tastes better here. What I do miss is my mom’s cooking–her home made pizzas and chickpea salads.

  5. What about paneer? That is a widely made and consumed cheese at least in northern South Asia.

    I studied Hindi/Urdu in Mussoorie, too. There was a place in Sisters Bazaar that sold home made Western style cheese, although I remember that their sign said “cheose” or something. What an amazing place, Mussoorie. Coincidentally, my mother in law also studied in Mussoorie as a child.

    I think in big cities and especially these days, there is a lot more Western style melting cheese available, like Amul and Parag Indian brands, plus expensive and imported Lurpak and Three Cow. But I remember a few years ago watching an Indian cooking show on homemade pizza in which the hostess told viewers that they could make their pizza with a white sauce/bechamel sauce as a cheese sub if they couldn’t get Western style cheese in their part of India.

    I haven’t had grilled cheese in a while either, but your post has certainly made me crave it. Bread seared in the pan with butter, with a melted sharp cheddar. Mmmmh.

    • americanepali

      I know it’s cheating, but I don’t really lump paneer in with other cheeses. It certainly is a cheese, but it is kind of its own thing– and doesn’t seem to fall into the same “what, we are having cheese for dinner?” category with P ;) Same with churpi (the hard as rock Nepali yak cheese), although we wouldn’t have that for dinner either.

      Were you at the Landour Language School? Mussoorie was beautiful, especially after the crazy hotness of Delhi in August. It was a nice, quieter introduction to India.

  6. Mussoorie I lvoe the place have been there once , its a great chance to learn URDU HINDI from lucky Fatima Agree that Cheese and Paneer are different I dont like Paneer Smell but Cheesse I love its HARD YAK like or Swiss TIGEr chesse

  7. Actually, certain Arabic/Mediterranean cheeses, and also Mexican queso fresco are made the same way as paneer but they are salted—all are considered cheeses. I’d say paneer is a true cottage cheese, unlike the gelatinous lumpy stuff we get in our little white plastic containers in the dairy section of grocery stores in the US.

    Yes, I was at Landour.

  8. This made me smile. I was just telling my family how grilled cheese was an important part of our courting process. At the time, A was supervising students in a student-run deli/grill, so I would come in (even if I had packed a lunch) to get a sandwich and flirt. He sweet-talked me into a cheddar cheese with grilled tomato…mmm mmm mmmmmm! The man still makes me amazing grilled cheese, especially at his mom’s house with a gas stove…it’s what he makes me when I’m having an Indian overload and need something safe and familiar. :)

  9. During my longest stay (ten months) in Nepal cheese was one of those things I did miss a lot, even though I am a giant daal bhaat fan and eat it practically every day still. The Nepali ‘cheese’ just does not cut it (no pun intended). I made my mom bring me a block of sharp cheddar when she came to visit (illicitly as I don’t think customs allows this). On a trip to India for a conference I searched for Pizza Hut on the internet and had a glorious cheese personal pan delivered to the hotel on my one night layover in Delhi. Now I don’t crave cheese as much, but when I do I’m fortunate that my Nepali fiance is an oddball who loves cheese – sandwiches, pizza, etc…

    Definitely try googling Francois Driard, Nepal, and cheese – he’s a French farmer making all sorts of french cheeses in Nepal. There’s a Nepali-language Youtube video about him, too, search for French Cow Boy in Nepal.

  10. americanepali

    I heard about Francois Driard… I’ll have to look him up and have some of his cheese next time! :)

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