Gia Claudette Fernandes
Jun 21, 2015
My memories of food and growing up are intrinsically connected to my paternal grandmother and my father, the two people who have influenced me the most.
I guess Granny passed on her passion for food to Dad and he bequeathed it to me. Since it’s Father’s Day, let me talk about the role of food in my relationship with Dad.
My father is one of the most enthusiastic foodies and best cooks that I’ve known, and even though it’s been years since he has been inside a kitchen, I can still recall all the wonderful things he introduced to my palate.
I spent 6 years of my childhood at a boarding school and one of the most endearing images is me coming out of class at the end of the day and finding a huge parcel with my name on it.
The carton, addressed to me with my father’s handwriting, would be packed with all my favourite snacks from chips and farsan to chocolates and biscuits.
When Dad came to visit me at the charming little hill-station of Panchgani, he would take me out to all my favourite eating joints and we would go to a different place for each meal.
When I returned home for the holidays, Dad would let my brother and me sleep in late and wake us up only after fixing our favourite breakfast of baked beans, toast, eggs sunny-side up, bacon, and sausages.
Each time he took me shopping, we would stop at our favourite Irani cafes for chicken puffs, bun maska, tea and other goodies.
I have memories from earlier on of being taken to a homeopathic doctor for my constant colds and coughs, and the agonizingly long wait at the clinic would result in me throwing tantrums.
So later, my doting Dad would actually take me for ice cream or kulfi because it’s the only thing that would calm me down. Of course, it was our little secret and we would not tell my mother or anyone else at home.
I also remember Dad and I walking back home from church on Sundays and stopping at a little shop for mutton samosas and then going to the nearby Dollop’s Lop Stop (remember those?) for ice cream, and I always had the black currant.
Then over the years, I remember Daddy cooking the most delicious meals for us, from roast meats and vegetables to dals and fish curries.
He loved to experiment and try out new things to expand his own repertoire as well as keep our taste buds engaged.
If I had to focus on just one thing, it would have to be sandwiches. From the time I was a little kid until my early 20s, Dad would always pack sandwiches for my brother and me.
He always made sure our freezer was stocked with cold cuts, from burger patties and salami to frankfurters and those tiny cocktail sausages that I still love.
My brother once told me that his fondest memory of growing up is returning from school and going straight to the fridge to defrost one of those burger patties.
Then he would fry them and put them between two slices of buttered bread and eat along with ketchup. “That was the best part of my day,” he said.
I remember eating those ‘burger sandwiches’ too and the patties would be bought from Mafco, in Bombay. It takes me back to those good old days when Daddy always made sure we had something to drive our munchies away.
I remember travelling from Bombay to Goa by bus in the late 80s and early 90s and we always packed sandwiches for our trips.
Dad would make them himself and he later handed over the task to me.
The long and dreary journey of around 18 hours (back in those days) would be cushioned by the comfort of our ham, salami, and luncheon meat laden sandwiches.
My favourite sandwich memory involving my father has to be the time I was answering board exams in the early 90s.
Daddy would wake up early every single morning and pack the yummiest sandwiches for me to carry along to the exam centre.
The thoughtful person that he is, he always packed a couple of extra sandwiches and made them all vegetarian so I could share with others (except for a couple of days when he used eggs because I was grumbling at the lack of meat).
And each day the sandwiches would be different because Dad also took the trouble to make a special chutney or sauce from scratch.
I remember him using the mixer-grinder early in the morning to grind the chutney and he always added something delightfully tangy like raw mangoes or tamarind.
In fact, these sandwiches were so delicious that the other kids would snatch away more than I offered them and there was one day, when they gobbled up everything and I was left staring at the crumbs.
I literally went hungry that day and had to answer the afternoon exam paper on an empty stomach! I curse those kids to this day.
Sadly, I can no longer eat sandwiches or even bread for that matter, thanks to a gluten intolerance.
On the other hand, it’s probably a good thing because Daddy no longer makes sandwiches for me. So I don’t feel like I am missing out on much.
Here is a basic green chutney recipe the way we make it at home.
1/2 coconut, grated
3-4 green chillies
1 bunch of fresh coriander leaves
2-3 flakes of garlic
1/2 small onion
A lime sized ball of tamarind or 1 small raw mango
A pinch of sugar
Salt to taste
50 -100 gm softened butter
1. Grind the above ingredients together, except the butter, into a smooth paste using a minimal amount of water.
2. Mix the chutney well with the butter and use as a filling for a variety of sandwiches.
3. You could add sliced boiled eggs, omelettes, boiled and spiced potatoes, shredded chicken, flaked fish, grated or sliced cheese, and even slices of cucumber and boiled potatoes.
Gia’s love for cooking goes back to idyllic summer vacations as a child, when she watched in fascination as her paternal grandmother plucked chickens, fried fish, stuffed sausages, pounded spices, and stirred huge cauldrons of aromatic curries over wood fires in their family home in Goa. She promises to decode the vast repertoire of Goan cuisine and culture for you, from revisiting popular favourites to unveiling the lesser-known gems.
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