My father and his parents are a rare breed of Punjabi. The kind that don't eat, sleep and dream food. They consume a limited range of dishes that are nutritionally sufficient to get from A to B. So, growing up with them in Hyderabad meant that my diet also consisted of a limited range of dishes that were nutritionally sufficient to get me from A to B. School lunch tiffins were either Maggi, chola bhatura, jam sandwich or alu puri and I honestly cannot remember what we ate for dinner. Am sure we were force fed vegetables at some point.
Hyderabad was a very small town in the 70s and 80s and going out to eat in a restaurant was an event saved for special occasions for most families. Our family was no different, save for two special occasions that my sister and I were treated to, each week. (Yes, very spoilt.) Every Sunday my grandparents would take my sister and I to either Harsha Hotel or Sarovar Restaurant for a topi dosa breakfast. And once a week my father would take us swimming to Hotel Banjara. We were water babies from the day we were born and this swim was the highlight of our week for more reasons than one. Each week Papa's pleas to get us out of the pool would begin an hour before sunset. When all else failed, the only bribe that actually got us from the middle of the pool to its edge was the promise of Chinese noodles. We raced out of the pool at the sound of these magic words, had a perfunctory shower and arranged ourselves on to Hamara Bajaj, reeking of chlorine. And so, somewhere between the ages of five and seven, I formed my first olfactory memory. Even now, even a distant whiff of chlorine has me craving for sweet corn chicken soup, crispy noodles and one more ride through Banjara Hills riding pillion with my father.
Chlorine, I realised was only the beginning. The first smells of summer have me reaching for a Spencer's Special ice cream soda; birthday party balloons take me back to ordering my own birthday cake from John's Bakery; and a visit to an ice cream parlour with my nieces make me long for a strawberry cone on the swings of Wonderland. There are so many more.
All of these exist only in my memory now. These are recent memories, recent foods and some of these places came into being after I did. If we haven't managed to hold on to a sweet treat from the 80s what hope does a dish that truly needs preserving have? We are all a bit greedy about family recipes, keeping them a secret and contributing to their obliteration, and also the death of a little part of us in the bargain.
In her article on Lost Recipes Marryam H Reshii speaks of exactly this, making us think about food and what it’s life or death truly says about us.
Thankfully, all is not lost (pun intended). My MidWeek Crush this week is the jalebiwala from Undivided India - Old Famous Jalebi Wala. Four generations of halwais have been squeezing the same recipe for jalebis into desi ghee and then dunking them in a saccharine syrup at this Chandni Chowk institution since 1884.
Also doing her bit to popularise "lost recipes" is Chef Pallavi Nigam with her vegetarian moti pulao as part of IFN's series on Lost Recipes.
Last, but certainly not least, my top pick for a recipe from IFN this week is Chef in Shorts Irfan Pabaney's take on a Potato Peel Pie. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society released on Netflix yesterday and we thought it might be quite fun to see his interpretation of the pie, and fun it is! He makes the potatoes 3-ways and they're all delicious. You will want to write this one down...