On the weekend prior to India’s Independence Day, Shreya Suri, 37, was enjoying the sunny Copacabana beach with her daughter and toddler son. It was the first weekend she has been able to relax since the Rio Olympics began. And it will get busy again starting on Monday.
Not that she is participating, but she has been busy cooking for more than 20 people every day. For Independence Day, dinner has been organised by the Indian mission in Rio for the 20-odd Indian families and the Olympic contingent, including athletes, officials and support staff, who have been invited.
“I am cooking Indian food for our athletes as they would probably be missing their ghar ka khana (home cooked food),” says Suri, a Delhiite from Rohini who studied at Indraprastha College, as she keeps an eye on her two-year-old boy running after a football on the beach.
Even before the Indian Olympic squad arrived, Suri, an architect by qualification, was in touch with chef de mission Rakesh Gupta over providing home cooked Indian meals for the athletes. “I prepare huge Indian dinners for my Brazilian and expat friends here in Rio. And I understand the important role diet plays in being competition ready. So, I offered to cook for the Indian contingent,” said Suri, who has lived in the upmarket Leblon neighbourhood of Rio since 2012.
“I have hosted Rakesh Gupta already and over dinner he explained that the athletes are not allowed to bring outside food into the Olympic Village, where everyone is put up. So, we have arranged the Indian dinner in Flamengo Club on August 15 for everyone,” added Suri, who moved to Brazil because of her husband’s job in the petroleum sector.
However, high-profile Indians who were in Rio de Janeiro for the Olympic Games’ opening ceremony have kept her very busy even if the athletes might have passed her offer. Suri was contacted by Mukesh and Nita Ambani’s coordinator, who requested her to prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner for the family and their guests.
“The instructions were very clear. They wanted simple, home cooked vegetarian food. The breakfast was the easiest. Simple stuff like kanda poha and sprouts salad is what they liked the most. For lunch and dinner I used to make 5-6 sabjis (vegetable preparations), daal, rice and rotis… about 50 rotis every meal because there were 20 people. They also had dhoklas, samosas and aloo tikki…they had many options. I prepared all the food at home and got help from a domestic help. The family’s driver would come over and pick up food and take it back to the Ambanis’ hotel,” she added. The Ambanis initially stayed at the Copacabana Palace near Leblon and then moved to the Grand Hyatt in Barra once the Games started.
As for the ingredients, she said it is difficult to find lentils that Indians like (such as tuur and urad daal) in Brazil. “You don’t even get the rice that we are used to back home. So, all through the Games my friends or relatives headed to Brazil from either Singapore or India have carried stuff for me. 20kg rice, daal, masalas, aata (wheat flour)… these are the kinds of things my dear ones have been checking in while boarding the flight to Rio.”
The Ambanis, including son Ananth, were in Rio from August 1 to August 8 and will be back in the city to catch more Games action from August 16 to August 23. That means, Suri’s days will be packed.