Culinary writer Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal’s book A Pinch Of This, A Handful of That is as much a collection of recipes as it is of memories of people who made those dishes
Food is not always just about just food. It’s about taste and the memories those tastes induce of people who whipped up those delicacies for you, or taught you how to make those dishes.
When Mumbai-based food blogger-consultant Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal dishes out recipes of Pinky’s Carrot Cake, Neelu Bhabhi’s Chole Bhature, Nani’s Date Cake, Kalyan’s Doi Posto Elish, Yasmin’s Bohri Chana Bateta…you go to these recipes because they are the more personalised ones. Which is why her book is called A Pinch of This, A Handful of That (Westland, Rs. 595).
“We spend so much time raving about food that we eat out. But what about the men and women who nurtured us in our growing years? How many times do we tell them their food was great? I hope people will celebrate food in their own families first,” says the cherubic Rushina, in Bangalore for the launch of her book.
The whole idea of the book started brewing when a friend started talking about what makes us like what we eat.What will I cook today?
“This is the kind of book you can pick up on a day you’re wondering ‘aaj kya banaayenge?’. It doesn’t have food from any one country or any one region, or any one kind.”
“My nani could put things together very well, and I think I get that ability from her – to understand and ingredient and push its parameters. The important thing is to respect an ingredient and then take away from it,” says Rushina. “I can understand what’s gone into a dish and I can replicate it.” She does play around with ingredients, has trials and errors aplenty – “I’ve made Kafir lime tadka in daal, I do a citrus marmalade with five citrus fruits and a hint of Thai chilli,” she smiles.
“There’s no method to the madness of what I cook at home every day. For a whole year I was obsessed with Thai cooking and cooked only Thai! It drove my husband mad,” she grins.
Rushina’s family culinary inheritance is pretty cosmic too — her mother is a Kutchi Bhatia, her father a Gujarati Vasihnav and her husband is a Garhwali — and it reflects in the span of her book.
From a pasta to a pickle, a daag cury base, to a sev tameta nu shaaka, rice paper rolls with crab and fenugreek, pomegranate mousse to puran poli… Does she fuse styles?
“Food is a living thing, and Indian cuisine has always been fusing and evolving,” she stresses. She is happy to ask for recipes, “I’ll even ask the taxi driver for a recipe!” she laughs. She recalls eating a delicious chicken sandwich based on a recommendation that a Sydney bus driver gave her.
Even the Maharaj (cook) in their house has been with the family around 30 years and Rushina says he’s a repository of the family’s recipes.
“My daadi wasn’t a great cook…but she was a prolific pickler. And at some point she used to make up to 90 pickles during the course of the year, depending on what was in season. I love making jams and pickles… my jam is art; I used to be an artist till my son was born,” says the 37-year-old Rushina.
She also laments that we don’t use local food enough – green peppercorns are seasonally available and both Gujaratis and south Indians have a tradition of pickling it, she points out. Yet most people prefer to buy the pickled in brine generic variety at supermarkets.
Her home-kitchen studio, the APB Cook Studio sees her conduct classes that have been attended by kids as young as five, and men as old as 70. She specially conducts cooking classes for young adolescents, who, she believes, must learn to make the right choice about the food they eat. “Once they learn to cook, and know what goes into their food, they will learn.”
She hopes more young adults will flock to her studio, though. The largest demographic of her students is between 25 and 40, she observes. “We are a family oriented-country. Our previous generation had it in them to give others what they liked and needed to eat,” she says quite generously and thankfully.
At the Bangalore launch, it was the memories, the anecdotes, fellow food bloggers, and the people who mattered in her life who flocked to the discussion on “culinary souvenirs” that she had with celebrity chef Manu Chandra.
Even her desk-mate from school came to connect with her after many years.