Friday, July 13, 2018

The Culinary Chroniclers Conclave 2018: Part 1 - Highlights of Keynotes, Conversations, Presentations

I am a culinary chronicler!
And the first ever Culinary Chroniclers Conclave 2018 is a wrap! It’s been two weeks since, but I’m still not over the high. And all the great messages from those who attended (thank you all!) are keeping me there! But in all of this, I thought I should just take a moment to savour the day, the happenings, the wonderful interactions and share them with all of you that did not or could not join us!

As I said in my welcome speech, the career of food writing found me by serendipity 16 odd years ago. Over time I went on to discover food blogging, then progressed into social media; Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram. (I stopped there but new platforms are being launched every day). I've had a gratifying journey in food going from writing 2500 paid-by-the-word articles to 240 word tweets, visual Insta-stories and hashtags on Twitter.

We are at a most exciting phase in the food world of India. Food, in all its aspects; production, preparation, consumption and more, proliferate our lives. We are eating, reading, talking about, watching, even identifying ourselves with and through food, and cooking, more than ever before. And to feed this ever growing consumption of food content are a very important segment of people. Those individuals who tell the stories of the food producers, that record diverse facets of food preparation, and document its consumption. It is their work that tells us what we cook, how we cook, what we eat, when we eat, how we eat, where we eat, why we eat and more. Giving us insights into understanding food, cooking consumption and related trends.. 

From my world view of the industry, I have watched many, many conversations between different sections of the industry, both positive and negative. The mediums for chronicling are evolving, and with them, our conversations must evolve too. I have always wanted to create a platform for all of us, whatever the medium we chronicle in, to come together so we might learn from each other and perhaps weave a new narrative together. Hence the idea of the Culinary Chroniclers Conclave - a common platform for chroniclers from various disciplines to connect with one another, share divergent perspectives and hopefully weave a wonderful new narrative around food! Vikhroli Cucina, and the entire Godrej team, shared our vision and helped bring it to life.

After months of planning, curation, and coordination, the day of the first Culinary Chroniclers Conclave dawned, sunny and bright (in July!), as we all gathered at the beautiful Godrej One campus in Vikhroli, Mumbai. With some some truly lovely spaces, simultaneously green and aesthetically modern, the venue proved to be an ideal backdrop for a cerebral meet like the conclave. Starting with the stunning auditorium where the conclave was held, fabulously appointed smaller conference rooms, in which we showcased some great masterclasses and creatively embellished lounge areas, right down to the beautifully laid out atrium space we used for the food art exhibit that fed the creative soul, every corner of the building is beautiful, all done in minimalist white with huge windows that let in an abundance of natural light.

The Atrium, Godrej One Campus
This year, the conclave focused on four key streams, based on four broad mediums of chronicling food and cuisine - Art and Craft, Literature and Journalism, Styling and Photography, and Film and Media. The schedule for the day was packed with multiple parallely running tracks of activities like keynotes, discussions, lectures and masterclasses. In the auditorium itself, we wanted to keep the theme casual, and the conversations flowing. So we used beautiful furniture from Godrej Interio to transform the stage into a chronicler’s home, where our guests would comfortably sit and reflect on world of the culinary chronicler. It was against this backdrop, that our speakers and presenters were showcased, with musicians adding accents of music in between.

Sharing the beautiful Godrej Interio stage with Sujit Patil
The day began with a welcome by Sujit Patil, Vice President and Head - Corporate Brand and Communications, Godrej Industries Limited and Associate Companies, who was intrinsic to this conclave taking place, supporting all our ideas all the way, and myself. This was followed by keynotes presented by the four stream champions. I presented on the stream of art and craft, talking about the evolution of Food Art, the world of food artists and the food art exhibit. Then food writer Vikram Doctor took over to talk about the evolution of food literature. Saba Gaziyani, India’s foremost food stylist and photographer, and founder of Food Photographics, then carried the baton forward by speaking on food styling & photography in India and photographing Indian food. Finally, Ruchi Shrivastava, TV producer and owner of Greed Goddess Media, spoke on the evolution of film and new media as a chronicling medium. These keynotes set the tone for the day, and as it unfolded, the conclave went on to explore various mediums of culinary chronicling, the forms they take, and how we, as chroniclers interact with them.

Presenting keynotes with fellow stream champions Vikram Doctor, Saba Gaziyani and Ruchi Shrivastava
Our first session for the day was on Culinary Chronicles of India, by Dr. Mohsina Mukadam, Professor & Head, Department Of History, Ruia College, and also one of India’s few food historians. While most of India’s culinary history has been passed down orally, there are some documented chronicles. But besides these, there are many other resources that have captured and preserved information about our food culture. During her session, Mohsina ma’am shed light on existing lesser known/unusual sources of reference for food history, how to find them, and what can be inferred from them. She spoke about traditional sources like historic travellers accounts and cookbooks, and many others that are often in plain sight, but easily overlooked. For example, community cookbooks, that tell us by mentions, and the lack thereof, of ingredients used or dishes cooked at the time they were written, thereby helping historians deduce what ingredients were available, or food consumption patterns of the time the books were written in. She also talked about legacy restaurants being a source for chronicling. From their names and sign boards to their menus, old restaurants shed light on the cultural climate of their market throughout their existence, while their menu boards and menus reveal information about food culture and history.

Dr. Mohsina Mukadam unearthing unusual sources of culinary chronicles
The history note of the conclave took a whole new and unique turn with the next session. There is a marked absence of written historical documentation around the consumption of food in most communities. This is perhaps due to historically low literacy amongst women, who were the traditional cooks at home, and who then, typically passed down food knowledge orally to future generations. Saee Koranne-Khandekar, author of Crumbs!, and culinary consultant who runs Scrollific Content Studio, hosted a conversation on Food and Oral Tradition with Lalita Iyer, columnist, journalist, and author of recently published books, Grandma’s Tales and Grandpa’s Tales, collating folk tales from grandparents, and Shubra Chatterji, TV Producer behind popular food shows like Chakh Le India, and whose research has taken her to small towns in rural India, to discover lesser-known recipes and ingredients, regional food, and culinary stories. Shubhra is currently also working on a book that chronicles the culinary history of India. This session took the audiences through an enthralling journey of discovery of food chronicles in the form of harvest songs, nursery rhymes, fables, folktales, songs, rhymes, idioms, metaphors and more.

Lalita Iyer, Saee Koranne-Khandekar and Shubhra Chatterji in conversation about Oral Traditions of Food
Vikram Doctor then came back on stage to interview food writer and critic Marryam H. Reshii about how one could go about building a career in food writing. As one of India’s finest, most celebrated food writers and critics, Marryam has been writing about food and travel for more than 3 decades. In this span she has amassed a considerable body of work that ranges from independent features, (several) food guides and books, including her most recent iconic work, “The Flavour of Spice: Journey, Recipes and Stories”. Sharing her wisdom on successfully writing on the subject of food, she spoke about the importance of strengthening our knowledge of Indian food history, the provenance and origins of Indian foods, and the importance of analysis in food writing.

Vikram Doctor speaks to Marryam H. Reshii about building a career in food writing
When one talks about food writing, cookbooks feature as a strong genre. Mohsina Ma’am had already remarked on their ability to be a great window into the culture, history, diet, ingredients, struggles of any people or place. Taking this conversation forward, Vikram Doctor, perhaps the most prolific collector of cookbooks and food books (an obsession he has passed on to me) hosted a discussion with Saee, who in addition to being the author of Crumbs!, has also written a privately published family cookbook and is a proponent of Maharashtrian cuisine. Also in the conversation was Jyotsna Shahane, filmmaker, blogger (The Cooks Cottage) and author of The Classic Konkan Cookbook, a modern recast version of Narayani Nayak’s classic Konkani cook book originally titled '500 Easy Recipes'. Both Saee and Jyotsna are also avid collectors of cookbooks. And what a discussion it was! With threads of conversations ranging from the kinds of cookbooks being published today, to what makes cookbooks still relevant, to what makes a cookbook truly interesting in the age of ‘Google’, when thousands of recipes for nearly any dish are just a click away! The trio also deliberated on why some of the most interesting cookbooks today are self-published because mainstream publishers will not bet on them, and what it is that publishing houses are really after in the genre. It was a session that I did not want ending!

Saee Koranne-Khandekar and Jyotsna Shahane speaking to Vikram Doctor about the significance of cookbooks
While cookbooks reflect home cooking, another side of food culture is dining out. An area of phenomenal growth in India. And with its growth there has also been an evolution in the role of the restaurant critic. Our next session was a discussion between food writers and restaurant critics Antoine Lewis and Sourish Bhattacharyya, who were accompanied by Anisha Oommen editor and co founder of The Goya Journal. The session touched on a variety of topics. What separates the restaurant critic from other reviewers? In a world where all opinions have equal value, what is the role of the critic today? Knowing your food and being a good writer are fundamental but are they adequate? The debate of the food critic versus the Zomato reviewer? The discussion was delightfully provocative, and elicited strong opinions from the guests on stage, as well as from the audience.

Sourish Bhattacharyya, Antoine Lewis and Anisha Rachel Oommen in deep conversation over the role of the restaurant critic
The proliferation of food content consumption on the internet, through crowd-sourced restaurant review sites, and online food publications like The Goya Journal, set the context for the next part of the day’s proceedings - topics covering video and new media channels that are used to chronicle food.

Chef Varun Inamdar, took the stage next with his session on How to be a Culinary Video Star! Having built an extremely successful brand for himself as The Bombay Chef on his cooking show by the same name on YouTube. Varun, always one of my favourite speakers at any event, spoke on the importance of well-researched, original, genuine and empathetic digital content and shared his personal guiding principles to follow for those aspiring to build their own public brands in this space.

Chef Varun Inamdar takes the audience through the hard work that goes behind creating a successful video brand
Considering the sheer volume of video content being created on the internet everyday (apparently, 400 hours of content uploaded every minute, on YouTube alone!), our next speaker was someone we all had been looking forward to hearing from.  Bhaskar Ramesh, Head of YouTube Sales & Brand Advertising, took the stage to speak about the kind of food content that is currently working on YouTube, things that a serious video content creator can look forward to, and how they can use information and tools easily available from Google and YouTube, to strategically create unique content that stands out on the platform.

Bhaskar Ramesh shares tips on creating unique video content that stands out
Finally, the ribbon that tied the whole day together was a closing keynote by leading journalist, food critic and food commentator, Vir Sanghvi. Vir is someone I have looked up to, like many in our industry, for almost as long as I have been a food chronicler. And just like his columns, his keynote eruditely summed up the fabulous day, touching upon all the topics discussed through the day, and summing them up beautifully. He concluded with what he believes will be the future of culinary chronicling in India. More on that in another piece.

Vir Sanghvi sharing his perspective on the world of the culinary chronicler
Our last speaker of the day was Chef Ranveer Brar, one of the most cerebral chefs of our time, with a multifaceted, sufi outlook to work and life that always makes him someone for great listening! An accomplished chef, he is also a master storyteller - a chronicler of food stories from the bylanes of India and its unsung food producers. Having successfully created multifaceted content across various channels and media, from writing columns and books, to creating content for TV and video, Ranveer had us enthralled with stories of food from history, his travels and his food experiences!

Chef Ranveer Brar speaking about the role of storytelling in creating food content
Ending on the note that I have to quote him on “Just because right now there is a need for information, recipes, historical texts and research, do we want to lose the romance with food? I don’t think we should.”

*Mike Drop*

In my next post, I will tell you about our masterclasses where our stream masters took a select few delegates through the elaborate process that goes behind creating quality culinary content in art, literature, media, and photography.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

About what makes a Culinary Chronicler, & more on the 1st ever #CulinaryChroniclers Conclave


What is a Chronicler? What is the Culinary Chroniclers Conclave? Do I qualify? Why I should be there? These are just some of the questions I’ve been inundated with since I put up my first update on the Culinary Chroniclers Conclave two days ago. I thought I would share some background.
The Culinary Chroniclers Conclave is a result of several things, self-introspection, industry watching and the need to be part of more conversations as a community.
On a personal level, it was a culmination of much self-introspection. The career of food writing found me by serendipity 16ish years ago. And I went on to discover Food Blogging, learn Food Styling, progress into consulting, and eventually open A Perfect Bite Consulting and APB Cook Studio. Then came the age of social media, disrupting the food industry unimaginably (in a good way!). No longer were writing, creating art, photography or video production the premise of the few who had the education or (often) expensive tools of trade required. With new technology, smartphones, Google. Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and instagram. (I stopped there but new platforms launch daily) careers in food were no longer limited. Anybody could do anything, and did! People quit corporate careers to become chefs, restaurateurs, food bloggers. Food businesses were hot startup ideas. Housewives became Home Chefs, SMEs and Youtube sensations. A world of opportunities opened up and a billion stories began to be told.
It was all wonderful and exciting as an industry! But is also brought some complications. For many, like me, it brought doubts, and questions, like how to stay relevant in this rapid evolution of mediums? I’ve traveled a long way from 2500 paid-by-the-word long form articles, to 240 word tweets, FB lives, social video, visual Insta Stories and hashtags on Twitter. But I often found it hard to describe who I was. What I did. And I wasn't alone, many friends and industry colleagues had traveled similar paths and were going through similar dilemmas.
Was I a Food writer? I was producing so much content for social media that I wrote far less than before (and traditional media offered very little space for the sort of writing I did). Was I a Food Blogger? I had honestly hesitated on this. One of my biggest pain points is blogger bashing (It’s become cool to abuse bloggers, so much so that ‘Food Blogger’ has become a bad word.) Like many fabulous blogger friends I found myself wanting to distance myself from the Label. Was I a Chef? I was often put in that box, but I was and am (proudly so) a cook. Teacher? Historian? Consultant? Yes, successfully so. Food stylist? I was not just one of these. I was a sum of all of them, part writer, part artist, part photographer, part video producer, all creator, all STORY-TELLER.
It was the subject of many conversations between my husband, Shekhar and me. And then we realized, in one of those epiphanic moments, that the one thing that resonated constantly was the term storytelling. In all my avatars, writer, blogger, cook, stylist, I am a storyteller. Many of the people I knew also fit this bracket. In fact we were more than just storytellers, we were chroniclers.
Storytelling is the greatest technology we, as humans have created. The basis for almost everything in society, from the way we interact, communicate, build, create, dream, live, love and fight to even how we eat. It is just that the mediums for telling stories keep evolving. Drawing and Oral traditions gave way to the written word, print gave way to the online space, visual imagery evolved from SLR photographs and video to digital and amazing phone cameras. With this evolution, our conversations must evolve too. Chronicles have been and can continue to be recorded by anyone, in any medium, anywhere and about anything. Including food.
What are we eating? How are we eating? Why we are eating as we do? How is food made? Where are we eating? Who makes our food? Who eats our food? Chronicles about food – let’s call them Culinary Chroniclers - often address these questions. And any of us that are documenting ingredients, their usage, traditional food knowledge, food traditions, cooking practices, recipes, cooking methods, local street food, restaurant trends, through writing and journalism, art, craft, literature and journalism, film and media, styling and photography are chronicling food. And culinary chronicling is essentially a way of sharing food with others, through various mediums.
Some, like me who love Asterix, might remember Asterix and the Golden Sickle? The second comic of the famous comic book series, by René Goscinny (stories) and Albert Uderzo (illustrations). For those who have not read it, the story is centered round Getafix the Druid and his Golden Sickle. Life is as normal in the Gaulish village where the series is set until disaster strikes and Getafix breaks his golden sickle. The tool that is intrinsic to cutting mistletoe for his legendary magic potion (that fuels the village in fighting off the Roman army). More importantly his golden sickle is his symbol of Druidry, a ticket without which he cannot attend the annual Conference of Druids, a gathering of the most learned druids in the world. The story is about getting Getafix a new sickle but it is the conference of druids that inspired the Culinary Chroniclers Conclave.
We are eating, reading, talking about, watching, even identifying ourselves with and through food and cooking more than ever, today. And to feed this ever growing consumption of food content are a very important segment of people. Those who document and chronicle food in myriad ways from being inspired by it in illustrations and creative writing to writing about it as journalists, critics and food writers, photographing, shooting and talking about it on various media channels, in print, through online publications and blogs, and social media platforms.
The Culinary Chroniclers Conclave aims to do just this by bringing together chroniclers to talk, share divergent perspectives, and work together to weave that new narrative. Because the stories of the past are the chronicles of the present and stories of today will be the chronicles of the future. And because good food and cooking is a collective requirement of our and future generations and our earth.
If you have read this far, let me tell you about the Culinary Chroniclers Conclave.
This is an initiative between Vikhroli Cucina, a property of the Godrej Group celebrating food. The Culinary Chroniclers Conclave aims to bridge the many streams dedicated to the art and craft of documenting and chronicling food. In its first edition, the conclave will focus on the streams of art and craft, literature and journalism, film and media and styling and photography. It will include a spectrum of offerings such as keynotes, discussions, lectures and masterclasses by celebrated experts in these fields who will share their perspectives on the past, present and future of chronicling food. The Conclave will also host unique exhibits and installations around Food Art, including a fantastic chocolate installation to serve as creative inspirations. The Conclave will culminate on a grand note with a felicitation ceremony to honour individuals and initiatives in the field of chronicling.
Block your Date! The Culinary Chroniclers Conclave will be held on Saturday, 30-June-2018, between 9:00 am - 7:30 pm, at the Auditorium, Godrej One, Vikhroli, Mumbai.
More information on the Culinary Chroniclers Conclave.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

ArchaeoBroma: The 1st All India Conference on Food as Culture - Everything you need to know!



If you are into food and have any interest – be it as curiosity or immersive study, you need to block 5-6 May 2018 and make it your business be at Bombay University! I did it the moment my friend (and someone I’ve held in the highest regard ever since I first heard him talk about food) Dr Kurush Dalal called to tell me about the upcoming ArcheoBroma conference.

Anyone who operates in the area of food, especially food writing will tell you that there are very few resources and references on Indian food history. And those that exist are perhaps not the most optimal. While that cannot be corrected, this all India conference under the auspices of The India Study Centre (INSTUCEN) Trust and the Centre for Extra-Mural Studies (University of Mumbai) curated by Dr. Dalal and Raamesh Gowri Raghavan is an endeavour to start filling the gap. In its first year, it will focus on the cultural aspect of food through various sections, seeking to address orthodox as well as alternative ways of looking at food.

In their own words as part of the introduction to the document, Dalal and Raghavan state “… there is very little serious academic research into food. Not food as nutrition. Not food as farm produce. But food as an expression of culture, of cultural values, as the stuff that has determined who we are and why we are what we are, food has rarely received meticulous study of its cultural aspects. And finally, there is very little if no research on the history of the various foods that we take for granted in our Indian kitchens. Where art, architecture and literature are easily seen as the expression of a culture and its values, food is rarely seen as such, although it is central to the mundane as well as celebratory lives of people. Food carries with it multiple associations of culture including social privilege and deprivation, wealth and poverty, conservatism and liberality. To different foods are attributed connotations of identity and drift, good and bad taste, and notions of comfort and estrangement. Of all cultural traits, it is food that has undergone the most acculturation and transmission across boundaries, as well as evolution over time and space. It is a geographic, social, cultural and economic indicator.”

After an introduction by Mugdha D Karnik, director, CEMS and managing trustee, INSTUCEN Trust, the conference will unravel in several progressive sections.

The first section Concepts in Food Studies, will set an overall context by creating an academic framework for examining food when it intersects with Ayurveda (the traditional Indian doctrine of Indian wellness and health) with Shailesh Nadkarni followed by Dr. Dalal presenting on the intersection of Archaeology with food and Dr. Mohsina Mukadam, one of the few food historians in India, will share insights on Methods used in Historical studies of food which will help those of us who document food learn to ask the right questions, extract the right data and form a better structure for the overall study of food.

This will be followed by a section examining Basic Foods that will look at food through the integrated lens of nutrition, cookery and social values to examine Indian food practices related to Carbohydrates – Grains and their preparations by Saee Koranne Khandekar, Vegetable Protein – Dals and their preparations by me, Fats and fat consumption in India and elsewhere by Sid Khullar and The role played by tea and coffee in modern Indian culture by Raamesh Gowri Raghavan.

This will be followed by a section that focuses on the intersection of food and identity. As home to various diasporas, subaltern communities and remote regions, Indian food is diverse to an extreme rarely seen in other large countries. This section is divided into 3 sub sections.

The first looks at Diaspora, focusing on three communities in particular that have clear oral histories that tell of their origin from outside the Indian subcontinent, but are today well-integrated into the Indian social structure and hierarchy. The session will explore the currents and counter-currents in the history of these communities' food traditions, as they share the same living space as 'native' communities around them. Parsi Food will be presented by Rhea Mitra-Dalal, The food of the Bene Israeli community will be presented by Leora Pezarkar and Sindhi food will be presented by Alka Keswani of the Sindhi Rasoi.

The second section examines the traditions of food selection, preparation and consumption among four Autochthonous Communities focusing on some of the oldest communities to have resided continuously in and around the islands of Mumbai and Salsette, that while obscure within their own endemic habitat, have evolved a rich culture around food and its role in quotidian as well as festive occasions. Anjali Koli will present the Kolis, Soumitra Velkar will present the Pathare Prabhus, Andre Baptista will present the East Indians and Dr. Mohsina will present the Konkani Muslims.

The last section will explore four Subaltern Regions, that have rarely figured in the 'food scene' of modern urban life. Communities whose cuisine is undoubtedly mainstream in their own regions but suffers from a lack of visibility outside it. Megha Deokule will present Kodava food and culture, I will present Garhwali food and culture, Ruchi Srivastava will present Bundelkhandi food and culture and Gitika Saikia will present Assamese food and culture.

I am so excited to be part of such an epic event, and the prospect of learning so much from some amazing fellow speakers. But I am also terrified because as you might have seen, I've been asked to present two papers! Is it possible for one to be excited and terrified simultaneously? My current state of mind will confirm it is But I digress...

If you have read this far, I am sure you are as eager to be at the conference as I am, so here are the details. Participation fee: Rs. 2000/- (Fee includes conference kit, ethnic tea and lunch). Information on how to register and more information here at Instucen site on ArcheoBroma. Also here is a link to details on all the speakers. You can also write to archaeomaha@gmail.com.

See you there!

Sunday, April 22, 2018

B is for Barni, Boyam aka Martabaan


What better object could I have had that this for a logo for Pickle day? It was a no-brainer. Don’t you agree? There is nothing more identifiable with Achaar in India than the traditional pickle jar called Barni, Boyaam, Martabaan or Jaadi based on where in India you are from!

Who can forget the beautiful ceramic pickle jars that every home in India had quietly sitting in some corner of the kitchen, store room or verandah, patiently allowing their contents to cure. The Kothar or store room in my Daadi's house had these in different sizes, with small ones for pickles and larger ones for storing grains, pulses and condiments. These typical large cylindrical shiny and round receptacles were always two toned with a white body and mustard to terracotta brown top and a snug ceramic knob topped lids, were once the pride of the Indian kitchen.

Logo for the first ever #AamAchaar Day 
Used to store pickles and other food for long durations, these jars were not just huge in capacity but also favoured because they had properties that ensured whatever was put in them remained spoilage free. Indian dietetics believed that utensil used for cooking and serving and vessels used for storing food affected our health, The ceramic kept germs, bacteria and fungus out and preserved pickles, chutneys and other long shelf life items.

There is something charming and nostalgic about these pickle jars, isn’t there? I still find them immensely heart tugging! They remind me of days and days of preparation, sunning and gossip that happened around them. Of a different more carefree time… I treasure an antique Boyam I got from my Nani's house in which I store salt in my kitchen today.

Logo for #AchaarDay 2018
Over time the use of these has dwindled with families getting smaller, and glass and (Shudder) plastic alternatives coming in! But did you know that we now get them in all sorts of sizes? Let us all go back to using them in these days of plastic over use...   If for nothing else, then to look at them and feel good! 

Stay with me through April and I celebrate the bounty of our culinary heritage and explore the A-Z of Indian Achaar with #BlogchatterA2Z.












A for Achaar and my affair with Indian Pickles


My spicy Affair with Achaar started early. And has never really abated. In fact it has only grown! Initially my reaction to Achaars (Indian pickles) was visceral, I could never resist the call of a pickle! With time, as I learned more, delved deeper my interest took an academic, almost geeky turn... for better or worse ? You decide! 

One of my earliest fondest memories is of running around the terrace of my childhood home while the women of the house were immersed pickling mangoes. They gossiped as they did their tasks. Dicing, and grating, salting and spicing various combinations of mangoes. It was the first time I tasted salted green mango. Mangoes for chunky pickles are typically rubbed with turmeric and salt and left in the sun to dry out. My mouth still waters at the memory of that sun dried, succulent sour-salty texture unique to that pickling mango time. In fact my teenage years were idyllically spent stealing a few chunks and hiding in a shady corner to feast on them with a favourite book on pickling day.

That summer I also had my first taste of the final Methia Keri pickle. Initially I could not handle the spicy-ness. So my grandmother would pull out pieces of mango with as little masala as possible. And my older cousin taught me how to use mix the pieces into dal rice to clean them up. He also taught me to ask for the chunks with the stones in them, we would eat the pickled flesh and any tenderized stones (if we got lucky and got one) and save the hard husk for after dinner. Tucking it into a corner of our mouths and sucking on it for ages after to get all the spicy juices it had absorbed from soaking in its spicy oily pickle bath for weeks!

Pickles stayed with me through the years when I went to study at boarding school. Jars of Chunda and Golkeri smuggled in got me through the tuck deprived initial months. Then the school allowed students to keep a bottle of achaar from our homes. And I first discovered that there was more to pickles than the Gujarati pickles I grew up eating. May midnight feasts consisted of an array of home-made pickles with flaky Mathris my Rajasthani friends smuggled in and rotis stolen from the school mess! Later in Animation school at Hyderabad, I was introduced to fiery Andhra pickles at the hostel mess and the concept of meat pickles through a wicked East Indian Pork Sorpotel my friend Ricky brought from visits home!

And then I discovered a whole other world of pickles after I got married. My Mother in law is a master when it comes to pickles. Her Heeng ka Achar was the first thing made by her hand I ever tasted, and to date it remains my favourite of the huge repertoire of achaars she makes. But I still remember discovering her Meetha kala Nimbu, Spicy Namkeen Nimbu, Bhrwan Lal Mirch, Hari Mirch, robust Kathal, and even Kachnar and Karela she pickled, in my first year at our Dehra Dun home. Later I was a willing disciple assisting her in her regular pickling cycle, and she was a skeptical participant in my in experiments like China Orange Pickle and the time I decided to try making my Grandmother in laws Meat pickle.

In fact it was a decision to write an article on Indian pickles that got me onto my career of food writing down the line! But my interest in pickles took a more academic, intellectual turn because of a discussion with a friend a few years ago. She was talking about the need to preserve languages, commenting on how the universal use of English and Hindi for communication while broadening communication, was narrowing our use of regional languages with each progressive generation. It struck me that it was much the same with pickles. And so much other culinary knowledge. I was a classic example! According to family lore, my paternal grandmother made some 90 different kinds of pickles every year! I meant to document her recipes, I really did, but procrastinated – what can I say, I was young, life stretched ahead - and then one day it was too late! I learnt my lesson, however, and while my Dadi’s recipes are lost I managed to record some of my Nani’s (and many more from all the other legendary cooks in the family). But that’s just a fraction. Aam Achaar Day last year showed me just how much wealth we are in danger of losing in India.

I also realised I am not alone in my love for Achaar. Zillions of us Indians have loved our Achaar in India down the ages. Pickling is the process of preserving otherwise perishable foods by immersing it in acidic brine for anywhere from days to years is a practice that has existed globally and in India since ancient times. Interestingly, while many of concepts and ingredients; salt, pickling spices like mustard and more are common to pickling across the world - just like everything else we do when it comes to India - we have taken pickling to a whole other level too! From using all sorts of souring agents, sour kanji, buttermilk, lime juice and vinegar the adding oil, spices like turmeric, coriander, fennel, onion seed, and most importantly oil to the equation!

In India we will pickle almost anything, vegetables, fruits, flowers, roots, shoots stems, even seafood and meats. Which is why Indian pickles offer some of the most diverse and exotic tastes and textures imaginable. A lot of our pickles are fiery hot, but they're also sour, pungent, fragrant, sweet-and-sour and tart. They can be toothsome, crisp, chewy or silky-textured. Sometimes the flavors are fresh, the taste of each spice distinct. And often when the pickle has been aged, the flavours will have melded and intensified, the textures melted and softened. The astonishing range of pickles available, probably exceeds the sum total of languages and dialects spoken in our country! So much so that a mango pickle of the South will taste totally different from one of the North although the same fruit is being pickled (there will probably also be a few hundred types in between).

And this mind-boggling diversity comes from the variety of ingredient pickled, the quantities and nature of the oil, spices, souring agents, and treatments applied to the pickles from region to region. The oil used as a base varies - with Mustard oil preferred in the North as opposed to Gingelly (Sesame) common to the south. The colder North favours warming spices like Cloves, Pepper and Nigella while the warmer South use cooling spices like Mustard, Curry leaves and Asafeotida, The north prefers Lime juice amchur and Circa (Vinegar) while the south uses lime juice, tamarind, curd as the acidifying agent. And where applicable the sweetener will also vary.

Talk to any Indian and she or he will have a pickle memory, making them with their grandmothers or mothers, their first taste of spicy flavours, or eating a favourite meal, hot and steaming dal-rice with a spicy mango achaar, ghee laden parathas with stuffed chilli pickle. curd rice with vadu manga or finding comfort in a bottle of pickle far away from home! And that primal feeling of orgasmic satiation after that favourite meal!  When children are introduced to powerful flavours so young in India, is it surprising that we grow up to want robust flavour in our food? In India we LIVE for flavour! And there is seldom subtlety in our greed for it! Possibly because our meals have evolved over time to be simple combinations of lightly cooked cereals, pulses and vegetables. Robust condiments have evolved alongside to add oomph. Nothing beats the instant flavour satiation of achaar (or chutney but that’s for another day)! And once hooked, we are ever famished, always wanting more… taste, texture, flavour… like all addicts, constantly looking for a stronger fix. In fact, I often think that the Hot sauce clubs of America have nothing on us achaar (pickle) fanatics of India! We may not be neatly organized, or have publications dedicated to our passion, our love for pickles is far more visceral… we love our Achaar!

It is April in India and pickling season is on. An annual ritual that has repeated itself in the hot months of the India’s summer for eons. It is also #AchaarDay on 22, the Indian Food Observance Day calendar I started last year. Come join me in celebrating the bounty of our culinary heritage as I explore the A-Z of Indian Achaar through April and participate in Blogchatter AtoZ. 


Wednesday, April 18, 2018

A VERY exciting slightly INSANE announcement! (Read to believe!)

I am entering the blogging #BlogchatterA2Z blog through April Challenge

Yes I am VERY late.

Yes I am most definitely insane!

But I haven’t been able to stop thinking of it. So I am going to do it.

I’ve been wanting to get back to blogging – the live-my-food-life-on-my-blog type of blogging. I have also been wanting to lose myself in a subject. And then this A2Z challenge caught my eye, and had me obsessed. And then the folks at Blogchatter got in touch to ask me to be part of #FBChatter their series of Live Panel Discussions. Namely one on 'Food Writing in India' along with my long-time friend, food blogger Kalyan Karmakar of Finely Chopped and hosted and moderated beautifully by a newer blogger friend Anindya Basu of Pikturenama who I have followed keenly since I discovered him last year. The session, our conversations, the memories it evoked and the audience participation is really what finally got me truly going on this.

I am late starting because I was looking for inspiration. Then #AacharDay came along… and I finally found it in Achaars when I started gearing up for Achaar Day (portentous since my career in food writing began with a blogpost on Achaars 15 years ago- talk about coming full circle!) And then I had to put content together to see if I had enough to start with because I had to catch up halfway through. Well 15 years of writing stood by me, I did! And like the best pickles, it all fermented together and here we are!

"What is this Blogging From A to Z Challenge you ask?"
And I thought I was THE LAST ONE to find out about it!

The blogging A2Z April Challenge started in 2010 and has been growing each year. Blogchatter does #BlogchatterA2Z. It basically calls for bloggers that participate to post a blogpost every week-day in April, inspired by a letter of the alphabet (hence the A to Z!) In normal circumstances Sundays are off (but not for me seeing as I am JUST starting). Ideally at the end of April one would have 26 blog posts, one per letter of the alphabet!

The theme I have picked is A-Z of Achaar! Look forward to my trip through the pickle jars of the world as I lose myself in mangoes, chillies, jars, vinegar, fermentation, making, tasting, cooking and God alone knows what else… (I promise I am far more sorted than this sounds…) There will be essays, recipes, #Foodles, trivia, memories, histories and if I get high enough on pickles maybe a stray poem or fiction piece too!

So... off we go! With the hope that this will get me back into my favourite aspect of my life, blogging and writing regularly (too many unfinished posts have languished to unread death in my computer), will help me write faster and with greater self-discipline (something I forgot along the way) and hopefully find new blogger friends and blogs to read! And maybe at the end of it I’ll make an e-book on Achaars or something because I so want to write another book… BUT I will stop here (lets leave that for when I get to that bridge!) 

See you on the other side! 

R

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

#AchaarDay, everything you need to know and the start Indian Food Observance Days round 2!


#SubziTarkariDin concluded the 1st round Indian Food observance days I started celebrating last year. And just like that one year has gone past and it is time to celebrate #AamAchaarDay again on 22 April 2018! Only this time let's not stop at Amm achaar and expand the concept into #AchaarDay.

Many people felt that sticking to only Aam Achaar last year was limiting. Something I also began to feel as I got down to planning round 2 of Indian food observance days. What convinced me, completely was a research project I was commissioned to do. The project involved documenting pickles from all over India (Yes! I AM that lucky....!) An during the research phase, I realised that no cuisine in the world can equal the repertoire of pickles Indian cuisine boasts! Then, one day, I visited local supermarkets to see what pickles were available on shelves. It was shocking! The offerings were so meagre, just a handful of commercially packaged mango, lime and chilli pickles occupied spaces that just a couple of years ago, were brimming with all kinds of wonderful regional pickles.

It was heart breaking. Indian pickles offer some of the most diverse and exotic tastes and textures imaginable. Aam achaar Day 2017 exposed us to the massive range of mango pickles, alone, in India. Now multiply that with all the other vegetable like lime, chilli, carrot, cauliflower pickled across regional and community cuisines and the results become formidable. AND THEN, add all the special pickles that are unique to regions and communities such as the Monji achaar of Kashmir, Ool (Yam) achaar of MP, Gunda Nu Athaanu of Gujarat, Ker Sangri of Rajasthan, Bombay Duck pickle of the East Indian community, Narangya pickle of Kerala, Bengali Kuler Achaar, and Bogorir (jujube), Bamboo shoot and Jolpai (local olive) pickles of Assam. We can pickle almost anything in India--vegetables, fruits, even meats. In fact one of the most interesting aspects of my project was discovering the variety of fish and meat pickles we also boast in Indian cuisine. From the Teetar ka achaar of the north (now illegal), meat pickle of Garhwal, Mutton loncha of Maharashtra and Pork pickle of Assam, to the Fish Pada of the East Indian community and the Kolimbiche Lonche (pawn pickle) of the Pathare Prabhu community. And that’s STILL just scratching the surface!

My friend Saee pointed out last year that "Indian pickles are as Artisanal as food can get."  Artisanal food are non-industrial foods, handmade in small batches, using methods handed down through generations and often dangerously close to extinction. Indian Pickles certainly fit the bill! In fact let me give you an example of myself, my paternal grandmother, was legendary for making upwards of 90 pickles annually. I inherited only a handful of her recipes. And my maternal great-grandmother is said to have been a legendary pickle maker, but I only have descriptions of the truly unusual pickles she is said to have made! I can only lament over what is lost in these cases, but, that said I do believe that we can all work to ensure we avoid more losses like this. It really is up to us to carry our legacies forward...

So this year on Sunday 22 April 2018, we will celebrate with two hashtags. #AchaarDay and #AamAchaarDay for specifically Mango pickles where applicable.

How can we celebrate #AchaarDay on social media ?
#PickleFace
  • Instagramers - Show us your best 'Pickleface' ! Eat a face puckering pickle, take a selfie/picture and share with us using #Pickleface !
  • Video Bloggers - Traditional pickle recipes will make great video content. Here is
  • Food Bloggers - this is a fantastic way to be inspired and create content! Write about pickles, compile listicles on regional pickles, pickle sellers (look at mine at the end of this post). Share stories and memories of pickle making, or pickles and their recipes from your family or regional cuisine. All great ideas for blogposts/articles with unique content. Go blog and write! And share links with us using hashtag #AchaarDay. For example, read Saher’s blog on Konkani Muslim Lonchas and Aparna's blog on Andhra Avakai from last year.
  • Chefs, restaurants and/or food outlets - Do your serve unusual Pickles or pickle-based dishes? Tell the world using #AchaarDay hashtag.
  • Remember to use the #AacharDay hashtag!

How to Celebrate #AchaarDay?
Pickle making is messy business!
  • Eat Achaar
  • Recipes - Pull out family recipes, get together with the elders in your family and make achaarDocument recipes. Share regional, community and family pickle recipes and stories.
  • Have a Pickle making session with family and friends
  • Can’t or don’t want to get your hands dirty? Share pictures, videos, stories and favourite memories of Achaar, achaar wallaas favourite achaars eaten at homes or local food outlets.
  • Take your pickle to  #AchaarDay party! Have a pickle potluck. Cook up a huge batch of Dal rice and rotis, and invite everyone to bring an achaar! Pickle heaven!
  • Ditch the supermarket and buy local regional pickle, try new things, here is a list of pickle makers I have compiled. (Do share any others you might know.

Pickle Makers
Type of Pickles Available
Makes a whopping 12-15 types of pickles. Some Punjabi and others her own including mutton, chicken, pork and kheema pickle. ALo caters.
Gujarati Pickles (And Gujarati Pop-ups)
Parsi Lagan nu achaar, Bombil pickle, Vasanu, Tarapori Patio, Dudhi Murabba and more.
Parsi Prawn and Brinjal pickles and more to come.
(Also Parsi catering)
Sindhi and Kutchi Pickles
Bengali Pickles and relishes and more
Fantastic signature pickles, amazinf Bengali and other food pop up meals in Bandra.
Punjabi pickles
(Different from above)
Chicken, Pork, Prawn, Mutton, Jackfruit, Lotus Stem, Mushroom
Gujarati Pickles
Gujarati Pickles and some others as well.
Lovely South Indian artisanal pickles
Largest selection of pickles from around India
North East Indian Pickles
Assamese Bhoot Jolokia, Jolpai pickles and North East cuisine pop-ups
Goan Sorpotel (On order) and some fabulous Goan food on order.
Pathare Prabhu pickles (On order) and Pathare Prabhu food on order.

Please to tag the new page on Indian Food Days - The Annual Indian Food Calendar  (Feel free to follow this if you want to follow everything happening). If you would like to join into conversations, participate in celebrations and more, we also have a group now Indian Food Observance Days Facebook Group.

I will end with a deliciously pickle-y recap of last year’s #AamAchaarDay celebrations. Here's a blogpost on the regional pickle making event at APB Cook Studio. Or watch the Aam Achaar Day video (don’t miss the part where Harini sings a traditional Tamil song associated with pickling). Click on the #AamAcharDay FB Twitter and Instagram to see all the wonderful updates from last year. Also read this story by Vikram Doctor in the Economic times. And this story by Avantika Bhuyan in ET Panache. And lastly my blogpost on what #AamAchaarDay meant to me.

This #AchaarDay I am hosting a Pickle potluck, Email me if you would like to join the fun. I am also really late with it but I’v decided to attempt the Blog from AtoZ in April challenge starting tomorrow. So watch this space!
Have a wonderfully piquant #AchaarDay!
Our pickle makers from last year (Usha Wadhwa, Heena Munshaw, Saee Koranne Khandekar, Rhea Dalal, Harini Prakash, Myself, My daughter Nastasha and Geeta Sridhar. )