Twenty three stories about nothing but food — Chillies and Porridge is an anthology that every gastronome must have
I believe that nothing is more
seductive than food stories, and yes I
might be biased, but in my part of the world
fragrances, textures, and tastes pretty much
define countries, culture, and its people. Siyahi’s latest book, Chillies and Porridge, touches a spot that most gastronomes will not disagree with – our hearts, and our stomachs. Somehow at the end of the anthology, one might end up feeling rather hungry! Bachi Karkaria’s Bongs, Bawas and Bigotry talks about the gastronomic similarities between the Parsis and Bengalis; Nilanjana S Roy’s Unseen Food revolves around food that’s found at the periphery of every city, and yet not considered mainstream enough, and while Srinath Perur’s The Things I Will Put In My Mouth explores his experiments with non-vegetarian food, and its social and cultural relevance, Tara Deshpande Tennebaum’s article — India: The New Junk Food Frontier — discusses the nation’s obsession with junk food, and how it’s a serious national concern. Some of the other contributors include Anita Nair, Rocky Singh and Mayur Sharma, Saleem Kidwai, Floyd Cardoz. Twenty three stories, collected from writers, poets, chefs, travellers, journalists, and even a fashion designer, take readers through a nostalgic journey of food, and culinary experiences that are not just revelatory, but worth cherishing. Five of these
writers talk about their food memories,
while writing for this anthology.
— Priyadarshini Nandy
Contribution: Tia Rosa
When Mita Kapur (editor) first asked me to
write for Chillies and Porridge, two food memories came to me. One was a Christmas cake recipe I got from a friend, and the second was a coconut jelly made for me by Mangala Wagle, who I worked with for Khadi in Goa. Though Tia Rosa sounds like a real aunt, she is fictional. The two recipes were so easy to make that I put them into the story about aunt Rosa. Eventually I added a third recipe to the story. When writing, the memory of our ancestral village in Goa stayed with me, as did the flavours, textures, perfume, and aromas that came from that kitchen. Naturally a large part of that memory came from the family members that wafted in and out of the kitchen very much like the dishes that went in and out of that dark, smoky space that was both scary and exhilarating. A wood fire kitchen has a special appeal and
I miss those days with a sense of loss (which we Goans call ‘saudades’). I retained that flitting emotion in the chapter as I begin the story with Tia Rosa’s funeral and move back in the time of her life and recipes.
My most vivid memory,
one that I begin the piece with, is of my grandmother making porridge for us every morning. It’s a simple memory, but invested now with the weight of a ritual. My mother, sister, and I all do the same, like it’s some sort of family tradition.
Contribution: If Food Be The Food (poetry)
The main chunk of poems in this anthology revolves around Sangam House, the wonderful writers’ residency hosted by Nrityagram, and run by Arshia Sattar, DW Gibson and Rahul Soni. I was there in November 2012, and mealtimes there, especially dinners, were cherished. Twice a week, Arshia and her husband, the late and much-loved Sanjay Iyer, would drive down from the city, bearing culinary treats. Repast is an evocation of those delicious evenings. Sally Altschuler, the Danish writer, and chef nonpareil, actually baked bread using a huge external boiler as the oven, an adventure that consumed about an entire day and was fraught with uncertainty. And any memory of Sangam House would be incomplete without a mention of the Indie dogs that played knights in muddy armour. Worship is particularly dear to me, because Thampi (one of the dogs) died this summer, and I have indelible memories of his persuasive eyes following each morsel that went into my mouth.
Contribution: Coming Full Circle
One of my earliest food memories would be of my grandmother making these pasanda kebabs. I haven’t mentioned this in the story, but the whole process of her using the right cut of meat, and
that too boneless, which was a rare thing,
gently pounded and marinated, and then cooking them on a thick cast iron grill, always laying them towards the sides because the centre of the grill was always too hot, is a memory that won’t go away easily. It was easily a two-day affair! I think just the nuances that went into every single dish she prepared, and the tiniest of details that was attended to, made it fascinating for me. I think that’s what helped me prepare for the world of food. And while I have tried to recreate some of her other recipes, the pasanda is something I haven’t tried my hand at. And I have realised one thing, that as hard as I try, it’s practically impossible to recreate the same thing.