Medha Sharma’s Pandemic Memory
I hate cooking. Not surprisingly, I do not have many memories associated with my kitchen. But what I do have is a bonding that I developed with my brother while trying to cook something to feed ourselves. Last year, my mother had to be hospitalised. While she was away, my brother and I found out that we were completely clueless about cooking. When I became desperate, I decided to watch some cooking videos online. As I was struggling, my brother decided to step up and help me. I was never very close to my brother. But the pandemic in the past two years made us share the household chores and brought us together as a team. Bonus point? Now he can make perfectly round chapatis.
Samiksha Purohit’s Peace via Bite-sized Blasts
If I ever had a motto to live by, it would be to try out Golgappas from every new place I visit! And if I find any culture unaware of these magnificent flavour blasts, I would introduce them to the magic they are missing out on.
Bite-sized and easy to prepare, this tummy and soul-filling street food has many different varieties and names. Nevertheless, it’s united by the love of its fans. My love affair with Golgappas/Gupchup/Puchkas/Pani Puri/Bataashe began much before I could recall life for what it is. It is sad that we don’t have a meet-cute but I doubt that it will prevent us from having a love affair far beyond this lifetime.
My favourite person—who, due to purely logistical reasons, does not live in my house—is the golgappa vendor. While I do understand hygiene concerns that keep many people from savouring golgappas on the streets, I cannot endure those who order fancy, fusion, gastronomy induced ‘Stuffed Semolina balls with Tangy Sauce’ in high-end restaurants. The vendor who might scratch his beard once or twice while waiting for me to finish the golgappa stuffed in my mouth has got more of my trust.
I believe that golgappas—given their inherent nature to blend with varied flavours and textures and their impartiality towards different stomachs— have the power to unite people, end discrimination, and ensure world peace.
Apoorva Khandelwal’s A Variety of Love on the Streets
It’s hard to talk about my favourite street food because I simply don’t have one….I have many! I love all the varieties of Indian street food— from my hometown’s popular Kota kachori to Mumbai’s vada pav. Wherever I go, I enjoy trying the local delicacies. Though many palatable street treats are dear to me, chow mein and momos have a special place in my heart. Those narrow streets in the Indian cities containing vendors with small carts seem to allure me. The aroma and the spicy flavours of the Indo-Chinese food they sell satiate me both physically and metaphysically. I believe that cheap street food is the most efficient food for me—they provide maximum output at minimum input.
Gurpartap Singh Kaur’s To the Love of my Life, Samosa Punjab-wala
Any friend would testify to you that my life has been blossoming like spring ever since I’ve come to Hyderabad. Amid the melange of flavours I have tasted here, there seems to be something missing. I think it’s because you are not here, my dear Punjab-wala samosa! The zest that you season me with is lacking. My tongue despairs with longing for your spicy potato, onion, peas and paneer filling. No lover’s kiss gives my lips the joy that it gets on the taste of your conical top dipped in the sweet red chutney. Oooo! How my senses crave to bathe in your aroma! I miss you so much. We shall meet soon—not in the dreams that I often have here, but in reality—in front of the halwai’s shop, by the bubbling oil cauldron, out of which you emerge mature and hot… unlike your stale imposter who is sold here in bakeries. I vow to you that I will wait patiently and not touch the sour villain who pretends to be you. Nothing can tempt or deceive me, my dear Prince of Tastes! Bisous!
Vandana Likhmania’s No Such Thing as Joy When Perfection at Stake
There is no joy in our family kitchen, only fights, followed by anger and silence. We are authoritative lone rangers doing our best when no one speaks. No one likes being told to get water when they were about to fetch it already. My mother, after all these years of cooking, knows best including that there is no point in correcting us before we have made a mistake. I, a self-certified expert, have a specific taste and think my brother has poor judgement. My brother, however, is stubborn to a fault but the maggie does turn out better when he boils the water.
Although I think there is more meaning that lingers in the distances between us when my mother only extends her hand and I know she wants salt. Speech is violent anyway; it breaks what we make with a lack of words, thoughts and feelings that language cannot contain. Leading by our senses of smell and taste and an umbilical connection, we find our way around each other, quietly. We make pasta and biryani and curries from scratch, adding no more spice and sugar than the other can handle or adapt.
Cooking with my family does not make me happy, it is stressful and agitating. We turn it into a competition with one head chef attempting to impress themself. And at the end when they inevitably lose the battle of perfection, the rest come together slurping the extra-salty, inconsistent soup to say, “No it’s good, it’s good. It’s great, get me some more.”
Shikha Dwivedi’s Nani’s Nimki
Tucked away in my heavy suitcase, between layers of clothes and my other belongings, was a package wrapped in brown paper secured by layers of tape—a symbol of belongingness I was carrying with me to another country. That half kg of nimki, carefully measured to fit the unbending, no-nonsense 23 kg luggage allowance, was perhaps worth far more than the remaining 22 and half kgs. But we all carry burdens we don’t want to.
Perhaps my nani did too–the burden of marriage at 16 and all that it accompanied. She often says she was lucky; she did not have to slave away over a hot stove all day. At least not until her father-in-law had trained her in culinary arts, or rather chiselled out her hidden talent as I like to imagine. The story of a bahu learning to prepare ten different types of pulao from her father-in-law—that too in a society where newly-wed brides were kept in strict seclusion from men of the house—is a legend that girls in my family would still aspire to call their own. But all wasn’t gold; nani was taught all that for a purpose.
But I will get back to nimki now. Nimki is gold, quite literally. Although English explanations almost always ruin the feel of desi words, I would still do it: it is a savoury snack made from flour, deep-fried in clarified butter and garnished with carom seeds. It is durable, it can last for weeks and pairs best with masala chai. Although there are hundreds of varieties available across India, the one that nani makes always follows the laws of Geometry and Chemistry—same colour, same texture, same aroma, same length, same sharpness at the edge, same taste and crunchiness….same emotion, same love. She tells me that she developed the unique recipe herself, and I believe her.
While the nimki remained unchanged, all the fans of her nimki grew up. One of the stories she likes to fondly narrate whenever I see her is that of my brother’s childhood, her first grandchild who basically grew up in her arms. “I often used to start making nimki just to keep him occupied and entertained. He would sit at the dining table and roll and cut the dough into funny shapes. I would fry it all and ask him to eat it. The entire ritual would take many hours but he always ended up being very happy,” she tells me. I can see nostalgia etched across her ageing face. Or is it the pain of irretrievably losing something?
When I squeeze that small brown package in my suitcase, I am afraid of having the same look as nani on my face one day. Despite eating only a handful each day here in London and trying desperately to make it last, I know I would one day lose nimki. If only some food, some traditions, some people could be preserved for posterity…