A partiality for pasta


WORDS AND FOOD: Githa Hariharan has a passion for both. — Photo: K. Ramesh Babu

WORDS AND FOOD: Githa Hariharan has a passion for both. — Photo: K. Ramesh Babu  

GITHA HARIHARAN was in fact waiting in the lobby having arrived early for the dinner. When escorted to Dum pukht restaurant (the place of her choice) at ITC Kakatiya Sheraton Hotel and Towers, she preferred to sit on the low cushions and eat the Hyderabadi way - have the chowki dinner. As she scanned the menu card she settled for the Hyderabadi specialities - kebabs and the ubiquitous biryani.

She admitted to being a foodie. "My sons are foodies too." What about cooking? "I think I'd be dishonest to say that I enjoy cooking. Certainly not on a day-to-day basis. I like a recipe where you have to follow the instructions blindly while thinking your own thoughts - it's almost therapeutic. I was clever to marry somebody who not only likes to eat, like me, but also likes to cook," she laughs. So do you share the cooking chores? "We decided to bring up the children on our own and have somebody to take care of some of the household chores including cooking the daily dal-chawal, dal and roti. We fix our breakfast and do something extra on weekends. I don't do it so often but my husband enjoys that. When there are no idlis or dosas, we have different toppings on toast like mushrooms and cheese. Once in a while we have omelettes on toast. That is one of the few things I love making. I love the idea that one can put in anything like in a casserole. I once had an omelette with cabbage in Bangalore. It sounded disgusting but it actually tasted good. It took me years to get the hang of it. I found it difficult to flip initially. Now a hot favourite of mine is the stir-fry because you can pick up anything to cook. Once I had sprouted sambhar onions which I used it in a stir-fry which tasted delicious."

Lunch is invariably sandwiches and tea when Githa is at work. "I love different kinds of teas, especially non-milk ones." The family tries to have dinner together whenever possible which consists of salad, roti, sabzi and dal. There is meat for children."

Gita is quite adventurous when it comes to food. She is game to try anything, though she says "in the last few years I have gone back to my vegetarian origins entirely for health reasons." Otherwise I quite enjoy a range of cuisines - I prefer something which is neither too sharp nor greasy because I feel it just disguises the actual taste." Does she have a sweet tooth? "For most parts, I don't have it. But there are items like chocolates and souffl�s which are irresistible and some fruits like oranges and mangoes. It is quite impossible for any Indian not to respond to any mangoes," she says and laughs. (Although there are quite a few who turn away from this fruit). Githa has taught items like sambhar and rasam to the cook, while she has to cook avial herself as she cannot do without it. "It is done once in a while as anything with coconut is labour-intensive." Since her husband hails from Karnataka, the family is equally at home eating bisi bele baath, nunchununde and peni.

As she talks about food, the starters - hara kebab and the chicken kebab arrive. As she helps herself to pudina chutney, her eyes notice the adrak ki gilori (stuffed ginger pickle). She is intrigued by the samosa shape and is curious to know more about it. She is surprised to know that the outer covering is made of ginger itself. She is reminded of the gilori (the same name) kebab which she had in Lucknow. "Mmm, delicious. The hara kebab has a stuffing of nuts too," she says as handles the kebabs with the knife and fork and asks for a glass of red wine.

And there's more about food, "I like to do my modest versions of Italian pastas - something which you can do quite imaginatively. I hope you are going to eat and not just click photos with my mouth open, she tells the photographer. The ginger is delicious. This is a discovery. I've never seen something like this before. It's always exciting to discover new things," she compliments Executive chef O.P. Khantwal as he explains the procedure of making the pickle.

Amongst world cuisines Italian is her favourite. She talks of her stint as a writer-in-residence in north Italy some years back. "For lunch, one got home-cooked food, which was not cheesy at all." She likes Mexican food too. Since Githa lived in Manila for many years she was exposed to all kinds of cuisines but because of the emphasis on seafood she didn't much care for it. "But there are other things like peanut sauce, rice cakes which I liked." She likes felafal (from the Middle East).

As she has her kachhi gosht ki biryani, mirchi ka salan and Dakhni saag she is enlightened about Hyderabadi cuisine by Chef Khantwal. And her mental clock is already ticking away. "I can become a pseudo expert on Hyderabadi cuisine and my next book will be on Hyderabadi cuisine (laughs). So perhaps it will be a love story with the characters falling in love over food as it takes so long from the first course to the end," she says laughing. But it could seriously turn into a book.

Over biryani as one questions her about Indian writing in English, she immediately retorts "trying to get me into trouble" and laughs. "As a reader I don't think you separate what you read - Indian writing in English and Indian writing in other languages and writing from elsewhere. While growing up, we read so many things in translations without even realising they were translations. I think it took me a while to realise I read Leo Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Moulier in translation. I was not simply aware of it. I feel Indian writing in English is part of a family but is still the youngest member - so since the youngest member is always a brat, demands lot of attention and gets it too but also like the youngest member can often be precocious and lively. That's the best way to look at Indian writing in English."

Do you think people have more scope to write given the publishing opportunities today? "I think in the other languages, there is a dedicated long term leadership, but in English, even from the time I published my first novel and now, there are more choices. There are more people aspiring to write which is a good thing. The more that is written and published, the greater is the variety, the more the different kinds of experiments. I, for one, think quantity is not bad at all because out of that hopefully will emerge not just quality but a range of quality. As readers we don't want to read only one good book - we want to read different genres."

Githa is a voracious reader since childhood. She used to be a passionate cinemagoer in her early days. Of late, writing keeps her busy. "I really enjoyed the meal," she thanks the chef and others and walks out of the restaurant onto the portico only to be "jolted back to reality from the `royal' repast."

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