Excerpt from “Splinters”

This is how their family made curry, and how they taught it to each other.

First, put ghee in the bottom of a properly seasoned clay pot over a wood fire. To season the clay pot, burn coconut and chilies inside the pot. Day by day after that, curry by curry, the pot will darken and the flavors that come out of it get better and better, if the cook knows what they’re doing. Clay pot cooking is slower, more old-fashioned. But it tastes better.

And so, first melt the ghee. Then add the thalipu, the seasoning spices: whole cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, cloves with the round “ball” part at the top removed (otherwise the flavor is too strong), and sometimes star anise. Star anise was one of the things people argued about. Some said it was Malay, and not really Indian at all. But after three generations in Malaysia, no one in the family, even the older generation who hadn’t confused themselves and their cooking by the further step of rushing about to western countries and living there, was completely sure what was truly Indian and what was Malaysian-Indian. They only knew what was theirs: their proper way. Curry smells were always coming out of their pots, heady, sweet and warm aromas of thalipu spices simmering in hot oil or clarified butter wherever a family member was.

From Splinters, a novel