Ghosts of kitchens past

Edible Archives is providing a delectable touch to the Kochi Biennale, by turning the conversation towards old, indigenous varieties of rice

A week before the Kochi-Muziris Biennale (KMB) 2018, opened to the public on December 12, Anumitra Ghosh Dastidar managed to procure 10 quintals (1,000 kilograms) of rice for her culinary project Edible Archives. And more rice was on its way.

Ghosts of kitchens past

Bahurupi from Orissa; Burma black, dodda bair nellu, kagisale and ratna chudi from Karnataka; chini atop, kala bhat, radha tilok and tulai panji from West Bengal; kattuyanam and seeraga samba/champa from Tamil Nadu; and thavalakannan from Kerala had arrived. Much of the rice in her kitchen at Cabral Yard, Fort Kochi, was unfamiliar. These unheard, unseen, rice varieties, which were once grown and consumed across different parts of India, are now either in stages of extinction or grown sparingly by a few farmers.

At the Biennale, Anumitra and three chefs — Prima Kurien, Kiranmayi Bhushi and Priya Bala — will be cooking and serving dishes using these heirloom varieties, and will also document the process.

Before she opened her restaurant, Big Bongg Theory, in 2012 in New Delhi, Anumitra trained under Chef Tamura, one of the oldest Japanese chefs in the country.

He made her “think” rice in a way she had never thought of before.

Ghosts of kitchens past

Japanese sticky rice was about grains of cooked rice remaining separate and yet connected with gooey starch.

Rigorous training under Chef Kong in Bangkok taught her to feel rice “sensually”. She learned to decipher on sight whether a rice is grown near a river or sea, and recognise from scent its time of harvesting and de-husking.

Growing up in Bengal, where rice is a staple, her father’s fastidiousness drew her to rice. In July, when it was time for ilish or hilsa fish, her father would procure balaam rice from their ancestral land, now in Bangladesh.

Later, when recreating a Modern Pan Asian foodline as a consultant with Ritu Dalmia’s Diva in New Delhi, she was again at the centre of rice-heavy culinary traditions.

Anumitra shares her enthusiasm with her compatriots, who she met over her eight years of experience in the farm-to-plate world of gourmet food.

The restaurant scene in Delhi was their common meeting ground. Here Kiran, a food anthropologist, ran Gunpowder that served Peninsular cuisine.

Kiran’s food is spiced with unusual rice stories, like her grandmother’s congee made with crabs and shrimps found in paddy fields.

Priya, a restaurant critic and author, brings with her the flavours of Jaffna and tea estate food, as a Tamilian hailing from Sri Lanka. She has organised several Sri Lankan food festivals. Prima Kurien, who specialises in traditional Kerala cuisine and has written Kerala Kitchen, is also part of Anumitra’s vision.

Writer Shalini Krishnan and photographer Manoj Parameswaran are part of the documenting process of Edible Archives.

The chefs will not be using the familiar long-grained basmati, apparently because of its ‘elitist’ image and the fact that its cultivation uses a lot of groundwater.

“Edible Archives is about serving rice that is marginalised, not commercial, and therefore not in collective memory,” says Anumitra.

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Printable version | Apr 8, 2020 2:23:32 AM |

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