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The original food influencers

Meet the keepers of heirloom recipes from India’s diverse culinary traditions. Bonus: pro tips, and recipes

December 22, 2023 04:34 pm | Updated December 30, 2023 12:53 pm IST

(L to R) Meenakshi Meyyappan; Khan Rafiq Waza; Ummi Abdulla; Jane DSouza.

(L to R) Meenakshi Meyyappan; Khan Rafiq Waza; Ummi Abdulla; Jane DSouza.

At a time when the country’s contemporary foodscape is transforming rapidly — influenced by foreign cuisines and experiments, see-sawing between isms and social media fads — we remember the custodians who are the repositories of traditional food knowledge.

The names of India’s many regional dishes — from Kanyakumari’s kaya kozhakattai to the tabak maaz of Kashmiri wazwan and the wu san tikye of the Singpho people in Arunachal Pradesh — may be familiar, but the keepers of these heirloom recipes, often elders in the family or a community leader, are only known to the locals. “If in Goa this Christmas, check out Dona Figueiredo in Madgaon,” says food writer Vikram Doctor, when asked for recommendations from the Sunshine State. “She’s a repository of old Goan Catholic sweets and snacks, and one of the few people today who still makes the pastéis de banana [a delicate pastry wrapped around sticky figada or banana jam].”

In Hyderabad, Dilnaz Baig’s name pops up, the person to visit for home-cooked Nizami meals. In Mangaluru, Rafia Koya’s table is said to be unparalleled when it comes to generous servings of Mappila cuisine — think neichoru (ghee rice) and kozhi porichathu (spiced chicken fry). And in Mumbai, restaurateur Kainaz Contractor highlights historian Kurush Dalal’s work with Parsi cuisine. “His mother was the doyenne of Parsi catering in the city. His talks and books about culinary customs and forgotten recipes [like tadi ma gosht, meat cooked in toddy] have been my go-to whenever I research the menu at Rustom’s,” says Contractor.

This list for the holiday season is not exhaustive by any means, so write to us at with your recommendations.

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