The taste of childhood

Culture Cravings, December 19, 2015

Almost everyone I know, has at least one or more memories related with food. If I talk about myself, it would probably be the time when I was in standard ninth, coming up with a tastefully decorated salad which nobody ate because it looked so pretty, that no-one felt like disturbing the plate. I didn’t know whether to feel offended or not!

A couple of days ago, I attended the book launch of Chillies and Porridge at The Bombay Canteen. The anthalogy of food, with essays contributed by people such as Tara Deshpande Tennebaum, Manu Chandra, Bachi Karkaria, Nilanjana S Roy, Wendell Rodricks and many others, and edited by Mita Kapur, was a revelation for me. Back home, reading through some of the essays, I could almost smell the liquor-fattened plums and raisins, going into Wendell’s aunt’s Christmas cake and sense the delight that Niloufer Ichaporia King felt, while strolling around the many bazaars of Bombay.

But perhaps, it was Rocky and Mayur’s memoirs, of growing up in South Delhi as kids in the ’70s, that ignited my childhod memories. Growing up in South Delhi in the 80s and 90s, it brought back memories of jars of black carrots fermenting in the sun which turned into the super tangy kaanji, that my brother was fond of. I preferred the aam panna, which my mother prepared from raw mangoes, a taste which I have never managed to replicate till date or found in any of the packaged varieties. It gave me an unexpected thrill to read about the street food vendor calling out ‘kaale, kaale phaalse’. My friends in Bombay have never understood what the blackish-purplish fruit, made even more tangy with the special masala provided by the ‘phaalsa wala’, means to me. It reminds me of my childhood in Delhi, of lazy Sunday afternoons watching Spiderman on Doordarshan, searching for ladybirds on blades of grass during summer holidays, picking shehtoot from the trees growing in the colony park and rushing back home, so we could wash and devour them. Now, when I visit supermarkets and find packaged mulberries being sold at obnoxious prices, I sigh inwardly and think of the simple times when all we had to do was walk inside the park and pick up the ‘gire huye shehtoot’ from the ground.

Mita Kapur, Chef Floyd Cardoz, Tara Deshpande Tennebaum and Bachi Karkaria

Perhaps it does make sense to document our relationships with food. At the book launch, Tara had said that we come to a know a lot about people or cultures, when we discover their relationship with food. Maybe we need more of such books, that take us back to our roots and tell us who we are, where we have come from and where we are headed.

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