Nostalgia, Food and Lockdown Kitchen Stories

It has been two months since am at home. I had to self isolate myself after a work trip and just when I was done with the two weeks of isolation, the nation wide lockdown begun. Ever since then it has been work, cook, clean, eat, sleep at home. I got to say am lucky even in these frustrating times for I am safe home, have a big wide window to keep me entertained and a big well stocked kitchen to experiment from time to time. Cooking for me was about doing the basics, everyday stuff and seldom an extravaganza. For example, I never do a deep fry cause it is a very small quantity that needs to be fried for a single person and the oil gets wasted. And the dishes that need hard work are out of the question of making. But this lockdown has made food closer to my heart and more than just therapeutic. Food delivery apps used to fulfill my cravings of chole bhatura, keema pav, cheesy pasta, salted caramel ice cream, rasagulla, french fries, mutton biryani, dalcha, pastries and the like. But with those not in place I have to cook what I crave for.

rava dosa
Mom’s favorite

Not just the cravings, food connects with people and memories. Every time I miss my mom I would order her favorite onion rava dosa. I sincerely do not understand why this simple dish is her favorite but it has kind of become mine too. The thin layer of rava roast with pepper popping in for the spice and loaded with fried onion, the dosa tastes awesome when paired with coconut chutney. Corner house ice cream sundae reminds me of the days I use to stay at a hostel in my initial Bangalore days. I used to walk down to corner house get a creme de la caramel packed and would come to my room, lock up the door and enjoy it all for myself. I still have bisi bella baath loaded with kaara boondi when I think of the guy I loved. The Indori poha with pomegranate sprinkled on the top and jalebi by side would always take me to the rustic roads of Madhya Pradesh. And one day I was reminded of the poori bhaji which was a staple Sunday breakfast at home.

You know, being a Tamilian I should actually be calling it as poori urulakizhangu masal and not bhaji vaji :D. Sunday always started with poori aloo masal followed by some program on DD national. Sunday was about elaborate and yummylicious food. Looking back, I wonder why we made mom slog in the kitchen like that. And to top it, I would add a demand that there has to be one poori which is crisp like a pappad. I would wake up to the sound of the pressure cooker whistling away about the potatoes. I did not have to do anything apart from showing up at the table. Those hot fluffed up pooris have to be gently poked to let out the steam trapped between the thin folds. Being the youngest, the fully puffed up poori was always mine. It was also one such morning when I was walking around with my crispy poori in hand and singing aloud some random song super childishly, when my mother noticed, held her chest and gave the gravest look. My crispy poori was snatched away and I was declared a woman! Sighh.

mom kitchen
Mom in my Kitchen 🙂

Once the breakfast was done we would all gather in front of the TV to watch Sunday special in DD National. Few days back Ramayan was re-telecasted and I was so missing those simple childhood mornings of Sunday. I woke up a little early, made the aloo bhaji and kneaded the dough for poori. Poured in a lot of oil than needed and the pooris divided into the sizzling oil. My puri did not fluff up as much as my mom’s but I promptly took a pic and sent it to her. And later that day we were reminiscing about those simple Sundays and how she used to make 50 to 60 pooris for us. Scrolling through social media that day I noticed it was not just me recreating memories in the kitchen. My friends were cooking out their hearts too. To reconnect with fonder times, to get them closer to their loved ones stuck else where in the lock down, to recreate the good times they once had. Lockdown has had many impact on us, but these food memories have been the kindest of all. And so here are stories from kitchens of my friends, giving you a glimpse into their lives and let us see what is cooking. 🙂

Poori bhaji
How good are those golden pooris

Vada Pao from Abhinav’s Kitchen

The lockdown had initially depressed me as my wings were clipped and my maiden Europe trip got canceled. However, it has also rekindled the desire to cook something, a job which I hate to do. After mindlessly tossing in the homegrown broccoli, kale and lettuce into Ema Dhatshi, Thai green curry, Aglio Olio pastas and even a Maharashtrian thalipeeth, I decided to try my hands on Vada Pao. Of all the places I missed during lockdown, Mumbai stood at the top. I had lived for 7 years in Navi Mumbai and I can assure you that Mumbai and Vada Pao are synonymous. I craved so much for it and this lockdown has proved that I could still taste a slice of Mumbai, sitting at my home 1,400 kilometers apart.

I was desperately looking for Mumbai style vada pao across North India ever but all I got was lackluster vadas, stale chutneys and sweet pao. During lockdown, I wanted to see if I can make an authentic Vada pao as I had time. I looked up a random recipe from the internet and followed the recipe for vada religiously. I was also lucky to find Mumbai style bland and coarse pao (not the real stuff but close enough!) near my home. I then prepared the super hot chillies based chutney called thechaThecha is commonly served with Vada Pao in rural Maharashtra and not in bigger cities like Mumbai or Pune.

Vada Pao
Vada Pao from Mumbai 😉

Honestly, I was not expecting much as my absurd cooking skills were well known by my family. However, to my surprise, the final result was pretty close to its authentic counterpart.  Perhaps, so much spare time at hand helped! The authentic packaged shengdana (peanuts) chutney that I had picked from Mumbai during a recent trip added to the flavor. With the Mumbai style fried chillies, this Vada Pao was just what I was looking for and even my family loved it who on normal days hate my once in a year cooking! As I finished my plate of Vada pao, I and my soul window were dreaming of a day I would get to shift to Mumbai again!

Rasmalai from Deepa’s Kitchen

Memories involving food somehow just seem more real and recallable. I had a similar experience recently when I tried my hands on “Rasmalai” in my kitchen. I am not a big foodie and there is no food that I crave for, ever. But “Rasmalai” has always been my favorite and has a very special place in my limited love for food. It could be because of the sweet taste of saffron milk or because of the chewy taste of the malai. Probably they both sing well together.

While people have been figuring out ways to cope with the lockdown period, I found my solace in the kitchen trying out different dishes. And one such day I went on to prepare my favourite “Rasmalai”. Just the thought of it makes my mouth water. I surprised myself on how the dish turned out. Because I always thought that it cannot be replicated at home at all and I had made a delicious one.

Yummy cold rasmalai

The best Rasmalai I have tasted was in Malleswaram 8th cross a long time ago at an eatery named “Asha Sweets”. This was when I first moved to Bangalore from Hubli. I and my friend were a regular visitor to the shop just to have this delicious dessert. The sweet taste of Rasmalai took me to those days. When I prepared Rasmalai, I immediately shared the pic with my friend, and we were instantly transported back to our early days in Bangalore. Those memories are very special and unique to both of us. And this food gave us a moment to relive our memories. It’s irreplaceable.

Dal Pittha from Manjulika’s Kitchen

To avoid unnecessary travel before the lockdown, the Husband and I decided to stay back in Vijayawada while my parents and inlaws are in Delhi/NCR. So its not just that I am missing my people, my home but also the luxury of delicious home-cooked meals. I am living in a service apartment and have a kitchen with very limited essentials. It is manageable but it’s too far-fetched from the idea of homey. Cooking has never been my thing. I am learning but I am yet to catch up with my mother or mother-in-law. While one is from UP, the other is a Punjabi. And so they both feed me with a wide variety of dishes.

During this lockdown, I have been trying some of my childhood comfort foods. Even now when I go to my mom’s place, I ask her to cook those for me. One such dish is Dal Chauha or also known as Dal Pithwa or Dal Ka Dulha. It is made of arhar/toor dal with wheat dumplings and some tadka. This was my first attempt at the dish. And no doubt, this lockdown seemed like the best time to cook and introduce my Punjabi husband to this popular delicacy of UP-Bihar and Gujarat too. Later, I learned from my Maharashtrian friends that even they have a version of it which is known as ‘Varan Fal.’

Dal pita
Dal pitta

The whole exercise of making it for myself and my husband was joyful and immensely satisfying and finally when it turned out just the way I wanted, I felt really close to my mother. Penning down my thoughts and making this dal pittha was so satisfying.

Akuri from Roxanne’s Parsi Kitchen

I grew up eating food that my grandmother cooked which was typical Parsi fare. I’ll admit I’ve never been a fan of my own cuisine but there are a fair number of dishes that she cooked which I adore. In this ever so depressing lockdown I’ve decided to cook up a storm and cook simple things that not only make me happy but demand ingredients that are easy to source. A favourite in our house is our Akuri. It’s a Parsi version of spicy scrambled eggs, mind you this is NOT egg bhurji. I get irked when people say it’s the same thing because it isn’t. While ingredients might be similar the texture is completely different. It’s a soft smooth and very lose scramble cooked carefully with love and devoured with hot toast or hard Brun pav. It’s a recipe that my sister uses ( I think she got it from my grandmother ) and it evokes fond memories of lazy brunches and pit stops en route to Udvada ( our holy pilgrimage ) to relish a piping hot Akuri and break the journey.

Akuri in the making

Chocolate Cake from Meenakshi’s Kitchen

Pulling out good-old-handwritten-recipe-sheets tucked away inside the now hardly used cookbooks, unfolding the ‘never used’ apron and realizing the frivolity of wearing it in these pandemic times, and, a nostalgic journey through yesteryears, has become a staple every time I start planning a meal and whipping that ‘one’ favourite dish or bake of my family. A luxury of time on hand and a sense of ‘no hurry’ has been engulfing me off late, and, I’ve started since prodding my memory more than the actual cooking time.

One such episode and a flip of the page, made me bake the wacky chocolate cake that has never failed me. This recipe was a chance encounter in one of the ‘Ladies association’ books of the 90s. Oh yes! These wonderful books were a treasure house of recipes put together by the talented homemakers and home chefs. From baking cakes out of Bournvita to Horlicks’ cookies and from cooking that delectable Rajma to extracting wine from pineapples, these books had it all. Coming to the wacky chocolate cake, the recipe was the first of my trials with baking as a newly married officer lady into the Indian Airforce. Having been posted to a border town, we hardly had the luxury of procuring baking wares and ingredients. And, this recipe was a success even when I used it to bake a cake in the pressure cooker, as we still hadn’t bought a Microwave oven. Since then, this wacky chocolate recipe has been a loyal and dependent family member, and, the one that I trust and turn to when I need to bake a quick chocolate cake for any occasion.

Chocolate cake
Cake all set to be gobbled

Hanumanthu Mutton Pullao from Pravin’s Kitchen

Traveling to rustic places and relish country-style food are my favorite things to do. As covid has changed the life and outlook forever, during this lockdown I can only look back and recall the last trip to Mysore. All my trips are around food and that trip was no different. One of my favourite place in Mysore is Hanumanthu mutton pulao. It’s a legend and the name is familiar with most foodies. Mind you not to confuse this with any biryani. Now, what makes a biryani different from a pulao. Where do I begin? There are fights between biryani fanatics about the differences and one man’s biryani is another man’s pulao. Like politics, you just can’t win. For me, biryani is sandwiching rice between two layers of spices meat so it absorbs all the flavors. Pulao is mixing the stock in the rice and cooking it with the meat so the rice becomes flavorful. Traditionally pulao uses less spice and allows the flavor of the meat to come through.

Hanumanthu Pulav
Home made Hanumanthu Pulav

Hanumanthu uses the mutton fat skillfully with lots of pepper, coriander mint and chilies for that typical taste. I don’t know when I would be able to travel back to this legendary restaurant and have this mutton pulav. So finally made the effort to cook this in my kitchen. I have to pat on my back. It was pretty close to Hanumanthu’s pulav.

Hanumanthu pulao
Succulent well cooked mutton

Far Far from Twinkle’s Kitchen

Summers in my childhood meant spending vacations at my grandma’s. Being gujjus, summer meant a lot of work because we would have a list of snacks and pickles to be made. I still remember lending a hand when my grandma and mom would make sago and rice fritters. Mostly with the hope to learn how they are made, as they would give me instructions on how to do it and me, as a kid would meticulously follow it. And in the process we’d spend quality time bonding and having fun. Grinding the batter for the fritters and getting it sun-dried in the terrace, chasing away the crows from pecking our fritters, those were the fun days. This Quarantine to me feels like summer vacation with time at hand and home with mom. And so, I and my mother decided to make those fritters again after all these years. It was fun spending time at the terrace while making fancy homemade snacks. It certainly felt like a rush of nostalgia as I recalled the childhood memories and bonded with my mother all over again. Far Far from Casual Abstractions.

Well folks, what are you cooking that has taken you down the memory lane? So far I have nailed rasagulla and biryani, yet to get the rave dosa right 🙂 Please leave your fond memories and food recipes in the comment.. Love you

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  1. Thank you for having me. Enjoyed reading other entries too. One of the best lockdown post I read. Food indeed are made up of memories. 😊

    Also I cracked up at ‘My crispy poori was snatched away and I was declared a woman!’

    I too love papad poori. I keep telling my mom can you please burn the roti /poori /paratha a little please. Lol.

    And like your mom I too love Onion Rawa dosa. Also Bisi bele. But then I love all the vegetarian South Indian dishes.

    Our moms would make 50-60 pooris without complain. And I take 2 weeks for just thinking if I really want to make that vada pao or not. And once made. I take a break of 1 year lol. 🤣🙈

    Very well written article. 👏

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