Best Unsung Chef
She channels the flavors of home 

Saras Rao, Curry Corner

Sometimes cooks do more than feed the hungry. Especially in the United States, the land of immigrants, a cook can evoke with her flour-dusted hands the flavors and memories of home for people who come from halfway across the planet. Saras Rao is one of these cooks. Out of a cluttered, closet-sized kitchen in a strip mall, she stirs up Fijian-Indian curries for takeout. Customers call her up a day or two ahead and Rao makes their orders -- goat curries, fried fish, sautéed vegetables, and fresh bread, for example -- and serves the excess to folks who stop by unannounced. Like most of the Fijian Indians in the Bay Area, Rao came to the States when a series of military coups led by native Fijians made life hell for the other half of the population, ethnic Indians who'd been brought to Fiji by the British 150 years before. With even doses of charm, gossip, and amazing food, Rao manages to be a touchpoint for a tiny, dispersed community.

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