Earlier this year, I got a WhatsApp message from a dear friend Rushina. The message was about celebrating #AamAcharDay, and she asked me if I would like to share a Mango pickle recipe. It got me thinking, because let me admit it here – I have never made pickle in my life. In my house, the pickle was always made by mum or it came in large containers from my husband's village.
As I pondered over the harsh reality that one day, people sending me these pickles might not be around, and I felt a sharp stab in my heart due to the possibility that I might lose a very dear relish.
Recipes Often Get Lost, Then Forgotten
This isn't a stand-alone story. I think most of us have experienced it at some point. Like Rushina says:
As more women move away from the kitchen to pursue careers, and as we ask our kids to study and not bother about the kitchen, we are losing out on our culinary traditions somewhere.
The fact that all our recipes are only passed down orally from generation to generation, doesn't help either. Rhea, food blogger and caterer, who runs Katys Kitchen – a specialty Parsi catering service – adds:
Many of the old ways are designed for large families – they have involved steps, complicated techniques, and seasonal ingredients – none of which really suit the urban (often working), woman. In the quest for convenience and practicality, many recipes do get forgotten and eventually lost. Documenting them at least ensures they’re available, should we feel the urge to revive them or simply try them out of curiosity.
Ladoo Day Over Macaroon Day Please!
Preserving recipes was one of the reasons Rushina started the Indian food observance and celebration days, especially after her husband Shekhar pointed out, "What is the fun in Macaroon Day? What I want is a Ladoo Day".
To her, ladoo is an Indian equivalent of the cookie. There is one for every occasion, she adds. Whether it is bribing our gods or celebrating an achievement, or pregnancy and postpartum, or just finding that comfort sweet that reminds us of granny.
I think what makes Indian food stand out from others is the sheer variety we have in the same dish. For instance, each region of India has its own way to cook the humble dal. Some we know, and some most of us are clueless about.
This is what drives Rushina – “what could be more rewarding than to collect all these dal recipes and their hazaar variants for #DalChawal day”.
Did You Know About Chai Pakora Day?
When Rushina sat down to list the days she wanted to celebrate, she looked at seasonal calendars and rituals – like mango pickling happens in April all through the country (#AamAcharDay).
When the sun is sharp in May, we get to making papads and badis (#PapadBadiDay). In August, when the monsoon gods bless us, it is chai and pakora on everyone's mind (#ChaiPakoraDay).
These days, apart from preserving and collecting recipes that are slowly dying, I also aim at understanding our culinary heritage and practices. They can very well grow up to be that connecting link that this generation needs right now.
Like food author Saee points out “These days we see that another region in India makes similar badis like we do, but just calls them by another name. It’s a perfectly legitimate patriotic exercise if you ask me”. It’s about tying people together and going back in time when everything was about connections and emotions, it is about reviving those smaller cultural nuances.
Rhea adds "Food history is a huge part of our identity, our roots, and our culture. Food shapes our memories".
Both Saee and Rushina fondly remember the Tamil song Harini (food blogger) sang on Aam Achar Day as an example. Saee adds:
She sang it in Tamil, and even though we didn’t understand all of it, it was one of the warmest memories I have of the event. To me, that is what community cooking in India has always been like. Folklore, sharing, and most importantly, living in the moment and preserving one’s culinary heritage quite unknowingly.
The way that these food observance days have been celebrated is pretty inspiring too. Small cook-alongs, secret masala swap, 5-star kitchens getting involved in showcasing the huge variety of Biryani that India has, for me, it has been amazing to see people taking to traditional recipes these days, both as a bystander and as a participant.
Simply put, it has taken the routine Indian food out of the grandmother's kitchen to Instagram, against the popular perception that "Indian food, we think, is not fancy enough to show off, not pretty enough to Instagram" in Saee's words.
Mark Your Calendars for Chutney Day
Next in line of these food observance days is Chutney Day. To be celebrated on 24 September, it currently has all food enthusiasts online totally excited. Chutneys for me are a pretty unique condiment.
They are so many international foods rolled into one. A bit of relish, a bit of jam, a bit of dip and an ability to transform into any of it depending on how it is served. I personally think chutney is very fascinating. Saee, agrees and says “I love chutneys, and that’s an understatement”.
And the sheer number of chutneys that exist in India is epic. The thogayals of the South, the variety of thecha from central India, the cooked Bengali chutneys and the evergreen condiment of Indian food – the green pudina chutney from the North. And this isn't even the tip of the iceberg. Saee says her favorites are Maharashtrian dry chutneys and thechas.
And since we are talking about Chutney Day, here is an unusual chutney recipe for you. Eggplant Kosamalli or mashed brinjal chutney is the perfect side for idli, dosa or rice with a dollop of ghee. It also goes brilliantly as an evening cocktail bite as well, especially when served on crisp toast with a little feta cheese as the topping.
Time Taken: 30 minutes
- Boil the eggplant until tender and then mash them well. Keep aside for cooling.
- Soak tamarind in 1 cup of water and let it stand for 15-20 minutes. Mash well and squeeze out all the juice.
- In a kadhai, heat oil. When the oil is hot, add mustard seeds, urad dal, chilies, shallots, garlic and saute for 4-5 minutes.
- Add the tomatoes and continue to saute.
- Using a potato masher, mash the tomatoes and onions well. You can also coarsely grind them at this point if you want.
- Add tamarind water and mashed eggplant. Cook for 2-3 minutes.
- Turn off the heat and add fresh coriander leaves.
- Serve warm or cold.
Rushina's favourite is her nani's til and tamatar ki chutney, something she is working on perfecting and aims to add it in her next book. Rhea's heart is sold to the Bengali tomato chutney that's cooked in mustard oil with mustard seeds, dried chillies, sugar and a bit of water, and is eaten at the end of a meal. Me, I can't seem to make up mind. It seems a bit unfair to pick one honestly.
Rushina has an aim of collecting and documenting 250 chutney recipes for #ChutneyDay. She has about 100+ recipes pledged already, including 68 from students and faculty of Sheila Raheja Institute of Hotel Management. With the next generation already sitting up and taking notice, I think that's half the battle won already.
(Monika Manchanda is an ex-IT professional turned into a food blogger, consultant, home baker and an amateur food photographer. She loves music, writing, food, and travel, but not necessarily in that order! She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)