Honor past generations through culinary memories

Recipes are more than detailed lists of ingredients and cooking methods, they are about memories, communities and connections. One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t sit down with my grandmother – or even now my mother – to jot down their views on “special” traditional recipes. It’s not like I can’t find such recipes in a cookbook or somewhere online, if I really give it a try. What I miss is how she would have described the process itself, with a slight disregard for detail, urging me to measure with my eye and taste with my nose. “A pinch of thing, a handful of that,” was how she conceived the recipes, and it’s hard to find in printed cookbooks.

With that kind of local approach in mind, three young women who recently graduated from FLAME University in Pune, West India, have created an online archive to collect recipes forgotten amidst culinary trends. more modern.

What started as a small two-month college project is now in its third year as a free online repository of recipes from all over India, with its popularity growing even further amid the country’s COVID-19 crisis. that those in detention turned to cooking and reading about or working with new or lost recipes.

Calling their business Indian Community Cookbook Project (https://communitycookbooks.wixsite.com/website), the three have launched a campaign to showcase India’s regional culinary diversity. But the project also aims to collect personal memories about the kitchen in the form of everything from handwritten notes to audio or video clips.

Although Indian cuisine is regarded around the world as red curry mace (think “chicken tikka masala,” a dish most Indians have never even heard of), there are thousands of regional dishes. Each regional and ethnic community has its own recipes, dishes, ingredients and cooking techniques, many of which have gotten lost over time.

The idea of ​​a recipe like “a pinch of something, a handful of something,” as my mom taught me, is something that is hard to come by in printed cookbooks. (Photo by Charukesi Ramadurai)

“The idea of ​​Indian cuisine itself is very homogenized, but there are so many communities and subcultures within them, and each cuisine is so unique. It has kind of been lost over the generations. “, explain the project managers.

Odisha’s cuisine is prepared with little or no oil, which makes it very nutritious, healthy and also improves the taste. Mansho ghantia is a non-vegetarian mutton dish with dal and vegetables grown in the eastern part of India. (Photo courtesy of the Indian Community Cookbook Project)

Like the country itself, Indian cuisine is multifaceted. No two states eat the same food, or even the same kind of food. If the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh shamelessly leans towards red curries and pickles, then the western state of Gujarat is fond of generous pinches of sugar or sugary jaggery in its cuisine to balance other tastes. The cuisine of Northeast India is unlike anything else in the country, teeming with pork dishes and local greens.

The idea for the project took shape when Ananya Pujary, who grew up in the Middle East, felt she was losing touch with her family roots in the Tuluva community in the southern state of Karnataka. “I realized that our oral [culinary] traditions were mostly undocumented, and I wanted to bring them together. In addition, there was also a feeling of nostalgia towards my country and my community which pushed me to embark on this project “, she explains.

She joined her fellow students Khushi Gupta and Muskaan Pal. The latter also felt that she was losing touch with her roots in the Haryana community near New Delhi since growing up in Mozambique. “The food we cooked and ate was based on what was available there, so I was not very aware of the traditional cuisine of my community. And I wanted to fix it, ”says Pal.

The three women began to collect revenue from family, friends and university professors. As more and more recipes were submitted by people who heard about their project, they realized that it was a much bigger and bigger project than just a college project. .

Pal echoes my own thoughts when she says, “In the early days of the project, we realized that food was so essential to life. So we wanted to also document what the food means to the people sharing the recipes with us. It’s usually in the form of stories and memories, she says, adding, “It’s like something grandma used to do, or something that’s only done for special occasions.”

Pittu, a typical dish of the Arya Vysya community, is made from a variety of legumes and is therefore very nutritious. (Photo courtesy of Indian Community Cookbook Project)

What struck me about the project was how the trio pursued stories of underrepresented kitchens. Across India, generally affluent and ascendant subcultures, such as the itinerant and trader Chettiars of Tamil Nadu or the prosperous Gujaratis, have a great deal of literature on their regional specialties, while marginalized communities such as those in the north- east of India are hardly noticed. It is encouraging to note that the project is not only looking for recipes and stories from this neglected region in general, but also specifically to identify the cuisines of each state in the region.

And so it was that a small collegial assignment acquired the potential to become an important socio-cultural documentation project. Through food, it can also serve as a reminder for all young Indians (indeed, all young people of all cultures) to talk to elders in the family and collect and document their cooking tips and special recipes as a precious heritage. After all, cookbooks can feature recipes, but never memories.

Charukesi Ramadurai is an Indian freelance journalist based in Malaysia.

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