There is an array of delicacies available in restaurants to satiate your taste buds. However, most of the times we find the dishes similar in taste with slight modification or addition of herbs and spices. We can go to the best of the restaurants, they fail to match the subtle taste of home-cooked food.
There are several distinct recipes which our mothers have inherited from our grandmothers or elders in the families which we love. But, in the present age of fast-food and glamorous culinary business, the traditional preparations are on the verge of extinction.
To make sure that the old recipes do not get lost forever, a few homemakers in south Delhi are putting their best efforts into creating awareness about traditional recipes: from giving classes to getting the recipes published to organising popups. The aim is to carry forward their food legacy, preserved and nurtured by their mothers.
While some women are making traditional dishes at home and creating awareness about them through social media and blogs, others are passing on the cooking skills to the next generation by conducting cooking classes. HT met with three such women.
SHABNAM BORAH: THE ASSAMESE HOME CHEF
Where: Jamia Nagar
Expertise: Assamese Muslim Cuisine
Must Try: Mutton Rizala
Everyone calls her ‘home chef ’ and a visit to her place in Jamia Nagar proves just that. Shabnam Borah, 53, whips delicious dishes belonging to the Assamese Muslim cuisine: korma pulav (prepared with mutton or chicken), mutton rizala (mutton onion-based curry recipe), khar (an alkaline dish served with rice) and chicken pickle.
Born and brought up in Assam, Borah came to Jamia Nagar around 10 years ago. “Initially I would cook only for family. But I always dreamt of putting up a stall at a food festival. I wanted a platform to showcase my cooking skills and promote the authentic taste of Assamese Muslim cuisine,” says Shabnam. The chance to showcase the traditional cuisine came upon when her son encouraged her to take par t in a food festival in Hauz Khas Village. Her dishes received a good response. She soon star ted getting invitations from other restaurants.
“The idea to promote our cuisine gained momentum from this year onwards. We set up a Facebook page in January. Small party orders started coming in through word-of-mouth. I began preparing food at home for 10-12 people,” said Shabnam.
Meat-based dishes are a prime component of the cuisine, she says. Lots of seasonal vegetables are also used. A fact that makes this cuisine different from others is that the spices are not ground. Shabnam also prepares a variety of dishes with fish. “Rice is an integral part of our food culture. An interesting feature about this cuisine is that it does not include biryani. It only has pulav,” she says.
Shabnam keeps sharing her recipes through different publications. She aims to pass on this food heritage to the next generation and keep it alive. “I am working on a cookbook. I want to take part in more food festivals, but without compromising on the authentic taste,” says Shabnam.
She takes orders for events or social functions; you just need to contact her through the Facebook page: Shabnam’s Kitchen — Mughlai Flavours from the East.
SADIA DEHLVI: THE DELHI GOURMET
Where: Nizamuddin East
Expertise: Old Delhi Cuisines
Must Try: Chukandar (Beetroot) Gosht
Writer and author Sadia Dehlvi loves to cook old recipes and serving to people who come to her house in Nizamuddin East. She is passionate about ‘Dilli ka dastarkhaan’, the food traditions of her beloved city. “Serving good food is about ‘mahman nawazi’ ( hospitality) that defines our culture. My son and I keep an open house each evening where friends drop in to share the table,” says Sadia. Her romance with food began in 1979 when she started Al Kauser, the first kebab eatery outside the walls of old Delhi at Kautilya Marg in Chanakyapuri.
“Delhi has a rich food heritage. There are many old recipes but a lot of them are dying. Earlier we used to make traditional Mughal-era dishes such as Mango pulav and pineapple pulav. In our home, we used to make dishes with Kachnar flowers. Today, not many people are aware of these dishes,” she says. In her efforts to retain Delhi’s food heritage, Sadia has started taking classes. She teaches them traditional dishes such as chicken korma, aloo gosht, beetroot gosht and karela keema, dishes typical of old Delhi.
She points to a sweet chutney, called Arq-e-nana, a name that many wouldn’t know today. It is prepared with raw mangoes, onions, raisins, ginger, garlic, water melon and pumpkin seeds. “It takes three to four months for the chutney to mature,” says Sadia.
She also has solutions for leftover food. Sadia says earlier dishes were made with leftover korma, rice, dal etc. Leftover chapattis were used to make breakfast cereals.
Worried that many traditional recipes may disappear, Sadia is working on a book where she shares 100 such recipes. “The book is also about traditions related to food and lifestyle,” she says.
NEETA KHURANA: THE BAKING MASTER
Expertise: Baked goods
Must Try: Caramel custard
Neeta Khurana has been teaching baking and cooking to people across all age groups at her house in Kalkaji since 2000. Being a nutritionist and an expert baker, the 56-year-old home chef makes the process seem not only simple but also enjoyable.
“Cooking has always been my passion and passing on the art gives me the ultimate satisfaction. The classes are held in small groups of 5-10 people, which ensures individual attention. I provide them all the ingredients. Printed recipes are given so that they can concentrate on learning rather than noting details,” Neeta says.
Born and brought up in Delhi, she was only 13 when she baked her first cake. Growing up, her passion for cooking increased and she learnt to cook variety of food items. Soon, she started getting orders for cakes and desserts. “I used to set up a stall during Diwali melas. My food would receive a good response from people,” she says.
Her teaching journey began when her daughter’s friends asked her to teach them how to bake. She got calls from mothers, appreciating her skills. “That encouraged me to start teaching. I stopped catering and began taking classes,” she says.
Neeta takes special classes for children, girls who are about to get married, people about to go abroad for jobs or higher studies and those looking for specialised and advanced courses.
“I have also designed classes for people coming from other countries, both Indians and foreigners, who want to learn Indian cooking,” she says.
Neeta is currently working on a cookbook. She also has a website — Neeta Khurana’s baking and cooking classes.