A love letter to food
By Navina Chhabria | www.navinachhabria.com
Let me start by saying I LOVE FOOD and I am eating a chocolate cream biscuit as I write this. There are sugar granules on the top and a creamy filling in the middle. The biscuit is crunchy, so buttery that it’s melting in my mouth. There may or may not be chocolate stains on my shirt.
Food has been an important part of my life. It has nourished me, soothed me, filled me up and inspired me. It is weird though. I was a thin, scrawny kid who’d rather run around outside than eat. Anything. Getting the stink-eye from my mother for coming home with my lunch box untouched was commonplace. All this until I discovered sweet cream. My mother collected it everyday from the milk she boiled. Layer after layer, it was stored in the refrigerator till she had enough to churn into fresh butter. I loved a thick layer of it on white bread and a sprinkling of sugar.
This began my love affair and continues to this day. My parents took us on a trip to Kashmir when I was about 12 or so. After a grueling train journey and overnight bus ride (did I mention I had severe motion sickness and a child) we reached Jammu. My dad bought us some breakfast of eggs and bread. I bit into that sandwich and… the thick freshly made bread with an even thicker, fluffy omelette with a generous slathering of salty sweet butter oozing through with each bite. Yeah, I am that person now. To be taken to the place they call “Heaven on Earth” and all I can remember was hmmmm…. that was a darn good sandwich!
Food has become a celebration now, a celebration of my family’s history. My mother’s family was big on eating. I still remember Nana, my grandfather. You could see the glow on his face when he ate — large boisterous. He burped the loudest. Completely unhinged. The women of the house perpetually in the kitchen, cooking and feeding the many, many people — neighbors, friends and relatives who plonked themselves for months on end.
My Nani was my favorite person in the whole world. Soft, kind, generous, she had a great love of family and community. The story goes that she happily gave her school certificates to her childhood friend so her friend could get a job in India after the partition. She showed love every single day by feeding the people close to her. Her fried fish and rotis, mutton gravy and rice, and oh my God, the Sindhi Kadhi! She had these plump, soft, beautiful hands I can almost feel and smell to this day.
My mother inherited these hands and while she cooks some of the same things, there have been new additions over the years. I remember the most amazing chicken pies coming out of her kitchen. The pastry, buttery, flaky, crisp, savory with just a hint of sweetness coming through and the chicken filling, Oof! Cooked to perfection — tender, juicy, the right amount of spice that lingered on long after the food was gone. We always demolished everything!
I, on the other hand, am not in the kitchen that often but when I am in the mood, you best believe my kitchen turns into a bollywood party. I even have my favorites on repeat — both menu and songs. My husband comes in and gives his hips a shake or two. He even does the dishes!
When I’m not cooking, we’re exploring food outside. We love our chaat, a tangy, sweet and spicy Indian street food. We also love dosas and Thai food and we love pizza and apple pie and ice-cream and and …. Now, excuse me while I reach for another chocolate biscuit. The same one with the sugar granules on top.