Love on my plate

Sushmita Jha
Saturday, 5 January 2019

Every memory is precious, but when it’s associated with food, it is even more so. People share with Sushmita Jha, how the food they consumed in winters made them bond with their dear ones

I woke up to a fragrance that day and reached the kitchen following it. I saw my mother sauteing besan (gram flour) in a pan and knew what was coming my way that day.  

Savouring Besan Laddoos is a winter ritual in my family. My grandma started it. I still remember how, every year, she would make us all sit out in the sun on a mat and then she herself would sit with a big vessel of steaming, cooked besan. She would roll out laddoos and give us one by one. Eating those hot laddoos on cold days is a memory which warms my heart even today. Unfortunately, grandma is no more, but the ritual is still alive. Winters are incomplete for me without those laddoos. 

Just like me, many people must be having good memories associated with certain foods. Actually, it’s not so much about food but about the small yet special incidents associated with it, that make the memories special. 

And like us, many families must be cooking the same dishes they savoured in the past yet again, just to be in touch with those memories. 
We talk to some people who jog their memories about their favourite food of this cold season...

Anuradha Bajaj currently lives and works in Pune. This former software engineer originally from Rajasthan, is now an entrepreneur in Pune who makes and sells chocolates from home. Bajaj’s favourite winter dish is Bajra Khichda which is made of Bajra (pearl millets), Moong dal, sugar, ghee, salt and water. It’s a one pot nutritious dish eaten during this season in Rajasthan and Haryana. Bajaj being a Marwari, makes sure to have it every year during this season. “I eat many dishes in winter but Bajra Khichada is my favourite of all. Whenever I eat it, I remember my parents because we used to enjoy the dish together. It was always prepared by my mother. My first reaction to it was similar to a child reacting to junk food today — ‘Yum’. Back then, we didn’t have junk food. These dishes were very special to us and used to make us happy. I really miss that time when my parents and I would be together, enjoying the dish. Since now I am away from them, I make this Khichda at home and cherish it with my spouse and kids,” says Bajaj.

Saba Poonawala, well known makeup artist in Pune, recalls her ancestral winter dish called Chicken Nihari. Poonawala, who belongs to the Kutchi Memon community, says the recipe of Chicken Nihari is like a legacy in her family. “My grandmother was an excellent cook and this quality was imbibed in my mother and me as well. The Chicken Nihari made at home is a recipe that has been passed down by my great-grandmother to my grandmother, then to my mom and now me. It’s a preparation meant only for winter. This dish is cooked overnight and that makes it so full of flavours and the chicken so tender. We generally have it for breakfast. I was introduced to this dish as a child when we would go over to grandma’s house for a sleepover. She would love having us and would really take an effort to make sure the food she cooked was finger licking good. Winter mornings over the weekends were spent at her house where we woke up to Nani ke haath ki Shakkar (sugar) Roti and Chicken Nihari. The same is now followed by mom and me — we spoil ourselves during the months of December and January making this dish and then ensuring a Sunday feast,” expresses Poonawala.

Zeeshan Tariq, who is half Kashmiri and half South Indian setteled in Chennai, has tasted the best of both the ends of our country. A carpet collector, appraiser and historian by profession, this 29-year-old lists Mutton Rogan Josh and Pepper Rasam as his favourite winter dishes. “I first tried Mutton Rogan Josh, which is a famous Kashmiri delicacy, at my uncle’s wedding in Srinagar. I was tasked with making sure the Wazza or the masterchef, got everything that he required for preparing the wedding meal. The Wazza let me taste the 14-course meal and I instantly fell in love with the Rogan Josh. Ever since, the dish is a part of my winter roster. Rogan Josh has the most tender mutton cooked in a thin gravy. Every time I visit Srinagar, I make sure to bring some back home or then I make sure my dad brings it back for me with every visit of his,” expresses Tariq. 

Pepper Rasam was introduced to Tariq by his mother who is from Chennai on a day he was under the weather. “I was down with the flu, had body ache and chest congestion. My mother made Pepper Rasam and told me that according to a Tamilian legend, this magical combination of tomato and pepper cures any ailment. Now Rasam mixed with hot rice is my favourite during winters with some Chicken 65 on the side. There are a few dishes that tantalise my taste buds, and this one is right on the top,” says Tariq.

Amrit Israni, a 30-year-old HR professional says hot Momo Soup comes to his rescue on chilling winter nights. “I am extremely fond of soups, especially Momo Soup which is served at Cafe Peters in Pune. On cold winter nights, I used to stop by at this cafe and have this soup on my way back home after a hard day at work. It used to instantly rejuvenate my soul. It is lip-smacking and also healthy since it can be easily digested. I first tasted it at a brunch where I didn’t want to eat anything heavy but wanted the tummy to be full. I was skeptical to try it first, but as soon as I dug into the first spoon and sipped it, I fell for it. Every sip and bite of vegetables and momos in the soup was blissful. I have been having this dish for a few years now,” recalls Israni.  

For 24-year-old Rupsika Singnarpi, winter season is all about homemade food, celebrations with family, gifts and so on. Originally from North East, Singnarpi is settled in Pune and pursuing her higher education. “Winter makes me homesick. I miss my family and especially the food. Winters is all about family get together and sitting by the bonfire, and savouring coconut laddoos made by mom,” the girl says.

Her mom makes sure to send the delicious laddoos to her from home. “Although I am away from home for quite some time now, my mother makes sure that I don’t miss out on the laddoos. She sends me her love through the laddoos which are perfectly sealed, signed  and delivered with enormous amount of love and best wishes. So, every time I open it and pop one laddoo in my mouth, it straightaway takes me back home,” explains Singnarpi.

If you are staying in a new place away from home and don’t have anyone sending food though, all you can do when you are craving the food you grew up eating is, put on the chef’s cap and revisit some old recipes because that would make you feel at home in an unknown city and also refresh your memories. Tariq went through the same situations and hence learnt to comfort himself with his mom’s magical Pepper Rasam. “When I stayed alone in Bengaluru, I learnt how to prepare these dishes as Bengaluru has a harsher winter than Chennai. Whenever I missed home or felt unwell, especially during winters, I used to make myself some Pepper Rasam. The Rasam is truly magical and relieves you of all the pain and agony. I plan on teaching these recipes to as many people as possible. In fact, I have already thought about a few names,” Tariq says.

Though times have changed, Bajaj still makes sure that she and her entire family consumes Bajra Khichda during the season. “I prepare it in every winter season in fond memories of my parents. Since it’s very important to consume the right nutrients, I make it a point to take care of that,” explains Bajaj. Instead of serving the Khichda plain, she adds some chopped fruits like apple, banana and pomegranate to make it more healthy and her kids enjoy it a lot, she says.

Chef Jodha Maharaj, the Corporate Maharaj at Rajdhani restaurant Pune, has fond memories of eating Undhiyu cooked by his maternal grandmother every time he visited her in Gujarat. “There are many dishes that are eaten during the winters and are made using the seasonal produce. One of them is the Undhiyu. Undhiyu is usually a community dish since it takes many hands to process the raw materials and make the dish. Undhiyu was always made by my maternal grandmother when we would visit our native place in Kathiawad, Gujarat. I was probably in Std 5 when I got to taste this exotic dish for the first time. Like every other kid, I used to abstain from green. But to my surprise, I liked this dish and love it even now due to the contrast of flavours it offers,” the chef recalls.

When asked if he has been experimenting or presenting the age-old dish in a new way, the chef gives a big no. “No one should ever add any twist to a classic dish. The moment we tweak a dish, it loses its essence and originality,” he says.

The chef is trying to bring in dishes like Lasoon Ka Kheer, Kalmi Saag (a green vegetable found in the wetlands), The Benami Kheer (recipe of this dish is still unknown) etc, which have been long forgotten mainly because of the lengthy process involved in their making.  
Sunil Chandani, owner of Good News Dhaba and The Hidden Place, Pune, recalls the delicious food which he tried during his college days. “There are lots of dishes I love to eat in the winters although I love mutton/lamb dishes paired with piping hot rotis/naan. One of my favourite meat dishes of all time is Nalli Nihari. It is a stew consisting of slow-cooked meat, mainly shank meat of beef or lamb and chicken, along with bone marrow. When I was doing hotel management years ago, I had tasted it. It was made by a professor and I still love it as much as I did then. The key to this dish is also sourcing good quality mutton/lamb shanks,” expresses Chandani. 

Talking about the special menu that he has created for the season, he said, “I tasted some dishes like Mutton Beliram, Mutton Kalia and Murgh Musallam when I was doing my internships in 5-star hotels. Today on our new winter menu, we have all these dishes presented differently and tweaked to look more like modern restaurant dishes. Today, presentation is very important too but I strongly believe in respecting age-old recipes and thus we try not to play around with the taste profile too much and keeping the integrity of these dishes,” Chandani says.

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