The Hindu Lit Fest 2024: Tarana Husain Khan, Rakesh Raghunathan speak about rescuing forgotten recipes

Custodians of the country’s culinary traditions discuss the importance of sensitive documentation and on-ground revival

Updated - January 20, 2024 08:12 pm IST

Published - January 12, 2024 04:45 pm IST

Rakesh Raghunathan

Rakesh Raghunathan | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Taste often drives memory; be it a fragrant chutney that reminds one of the mundane, or a spicy kebab that invokes celebration.

This year, at The Hindu Lit Fest 2024, a panel titled A Taste of Memory: A Celebration of Food and Family, will bring writers and custodians of culinary traditions Tarana Husain Khan and Rakesh Raghunathan in conversation with Deepa S Reddy. 

“Both Tarana Khan and Rakesh Raghunathan are interested in plunging a hand back into history and pulling out forgotten memories and recipes,” says Deepa, author and cultural anthropologist, who will moderate the panel. “We tend to think that a recipe is just something that leads to a finished dish. But there is so much that is accrued with a recipe: personal meaning, social meaning, family associations — good, bad, sad and everything in between,” says Deepa. Both the panellists are making different types of effort towards tracing the varied aspects surrounding culinary memory. 

Tarana’s work goes beyond just textual documentation. “The process actually begins by finding some reference in oral or written history of a place, then going deeper into the written history. The cookbooks that I refer to are usually from the 19th Century or later. I also connect with the cooking communities to understand the food history around it. There might be a shop or an eatery that would begin this process. My work has a lot to do with oral and written history, primary and secondary sources, and finally I try to recreate the recipes,” says Tarana. What excites the writer most through this process is making that very first connection — to a story heard in childhood, or a distinct taste. 

The writer is helming the revival of tilakchandan rice native to Rampur. The conversation then will impinge on the importance of this sort of recovery, and goes beyond simple nostalgia to recreate lost worlds, says Deepa. 

Tarana Husain Khan

Tarana Husain Khan | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

“What are the possible creative works that have evolved? For me personally, the narrative [of the talk] would take the direction of what one can understand from the culinary traditions and oral history that has been passed down generations,” says Rakesh. His tryst with documentation began with a trip to Tirunelveli, where he came across a farming community reaping the bountiful harvest, all while singing in celebration. And beside, in a large cauldron, they were cooking something that they called ‘Kootanchoru’. “Everyone pools in their resources to make this dish together, irrespective of their social strata in the village. And people from neighbouring villages also join. They cook it together on festive occasions.”

This was a beautiful story of how food brings people together, and how food can never divide that propelled Rakesh on this journey. And so, he believes that every recipe, or ingredient that we use today has a story - maybe of conquest, celebration, victories or even adversity. 

Over the course of the conversation, Deepa hopes to point to a region, a recipe or a small subset of recipes to talk about the memories and social stories that have been uncovered. 

The panel will be held at The Hindu Pavilion on January 27 from 12.55 to 1.45 pm.

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