It’s 4pm, I’m 11-years-old and I walk through the front door, straight into the kitchen for my post-school bowl of cereal. As I slurp my hot mush, I ask my mum’s what’s for dinner. It was amazing how the words which followed had the power to dictate my mood for the whole night...
If she said biryani (rice), chana bhatura (chick peas and puffed bread) or, glory be the day, vegetable pie with garlic bread, my eyes would light up, my shoulders would relax and I’d grin insanely. But if she said ‘rotli ne shak’ (chapatis and curry), my face would fall. I knew that could mean only one thing. That I’d have to help.
Which would be fine as I usually helped with dinner. But me, rolling pins, chapati dough and pastry boards just didn’t get on. We never have done. We just don’t understand each other. I mess up, try to sort things out, my mum tries to patch things up, but the end result is always an India-shaped piece of lumpy, not-quite-flattened dough that won’t fit into the flat griddle chapati pan.
Going out for ‘an Indian’ was always a treat though. My dad and I would share chicken tikka kebabs and I’d steal all my mum’s paneer. But as a lifelong enemy of ghee, margarine and all things buttery, my restaurant etiquette was slightly untoward as I’d always sniff the food before tucking in. Now, I realise butter-free naans are always available on request, and sunflower oil, who I have an excellent relationship with, is the norm. Sadly, so is departing with stained yellow fingers but I can’t bring myself to eat Indian food with a fork and knife, even if my fingers do suggest I have a 40-a-day cigarette habit.Image
With such a talented chef for a mother, you’d think my own repertoire might stretch to more than jeera chicken, chilli paneer and kichi. But having lived away from home since I was 18 and much time spent in the Mediterranean, my specialities do veer towards poncy gastro-pub-esque dishes like linguine with homemade pesto or organic chicken, leek and mushroom pie.
My family joke that all I must eat is pasta, but they couldn’t be further from the truth. Nothing beats the sound of cumin seeds popping in hot oil, the aroma of ginger, garlic and chillies frying or the sound of the pressure cooker telling you the kidney beans are dying to get out. If I could only eat one cuisine for the rest of my life, there’d be no contest. But please, let me have a chapati maker.