Monday, December 05, 2011

Slow down to celebrate Terra Madre Day in India and win a prize from us! .

These days, when I am on a Masala trails through Grant rd. Market or even if I am just passing through, I make it a point to walk past this one vendor. He is a makaiwalla - corn seller and only one of two in the market that sells indigenous Indian white corn. And whenever he has white corn, I buy up all his stock. White corn has become the symbol of a changing food system for me and eccentric as it may sound buying up all of this vendors stock has become my personal way of “nazar uatro” ing or warding off the evil eye from Indian food diversity. And every time I walk away with bags of corn I hope I have done enough to keep white corn alive in that vendor’s farm for that day.

Makai ni Khichdi/Shaak was a breakfast dish I loved as a child, made of fresh white corn grated off the cob and simmered with buttermilk and chillies into a wonderfully savoury spicy textured porridge, studded with chunks of golden potato, flecked with mustard and aromatic with curry leaves. I particularly loved it on buttered white toast. And it can still bring me to my knees in thanks. But as much as I loved it I never really noticed when yellow corn replaced the white in this and other traditional recipes.

One day I was taking the Times of India team on a tour of the market to show them Gujarati ingredients for a story when I spotted white corn and stopped to buy some out of nostalgia. I was shocked to find that it was twice the price of yellow sweet corn! On asking why, I found out that this was because very few people grew it any more. Yellow corn was more in demand and easier to grow. He only grew it because he still found takers in this market in older Gujarati and Marathi consumers who still preferred to buy white corn for traditional recipes and religious occasions.

On thinking about it, I realised that I like the Makai ni khichdi of my childhood more, made with the less sweet white corn that allows the other elements of the dish to come to the fore. Consuming and using up the excess white corn is never a problem, boiling and keeping it in a box makes it a convenient addition to anything from soups and salads to rice and subzis. That day I also made a Spinach corn casserole with it. 

Just after this incident, I travelled to Italy to attend the biennial Slow Food convention, a biennial conference of the international Slow Food movement. While I was wandering about in the Salone Del Gusto, Safeguarding food biodiversity for the future is one of the fundamental principles of the Slow Food association and the entire Terra Madre network is engaged in defending local food in various ways. The Terra Madre Conference happens on one side where all the real talking takes place and the Salone Del Gusto takes place on the other side where producers of slow food from all over Italy and the world showcase their food and sell it.

Baby Methi
As I walked through the Salone Del Gusto, two things caught my eye, stalls dedicated to corn cobs in various stunning colors and lentils of different kinds. These, along with select cheeses, cured meats, breads, sweets, vegetables, fruits, grains and honeys belonged to presidia protected by Slow Foods Ark of Taste which is an international catalogue of heritage foods in danger of extinction. How amazing to see all the wonderful work people were doing to save food diversity around the world! And then I got down to thinking about how much diversity we have in India. Mind Boggling! Thoughts that were reiterated by my fellow delegates on the way home that night.  The Slow Food Presidia are concrete examples of a model for agriculture based on quality, the safeguarding of traditional knowledge and sustainability.

I came back to India resolving to do what I could about it. In my last post I wrote about Undhiyu and how I knew as a child that winter had arrived when Undhiyu was served up. But to put things in proper perspective Undhiyu was a very elaborate dish made a few times through the season. Winter also brings many other dishes that are dependant on vegetables that came into season at this time. I have been playing with all of these local ingredients with some delicious results.

Green leafy vegetables at their most tender, baby methi (fenugreek) I found that Baby Methi (very young fenugreek sprouts) used to make bhajji in the Gujarati and Maharasthrian communities, is also great in a mesclun salad (a gourmet trend abroad) and as a stuffing for Vietnamese style Rice paper rolls or as a crunchy topping for soups. Fresh green Bhavnagri chillies make a great salsa, when roasted and ground with garlic, fresh turmeric and mango ginger pickle is great with Thai Curry, green and red mogris (rat tail radish are so perfect lightly stirfried and tossed with noodles and peanuts. Dill (Suva, Shepu) eaten by Gujaratis as well as Maharashtrians as a vegetable and in dals is lovely in yoghurt based dishes with cucumbers, or added to salads and soupds and also lovely in lemony fried rice. Green peppercorns that come into season in the winter and are pickled by the Gujarati/South Indian communities, I use the fresh ones for an addictive pesto, pepper vodka, Lamb stuffing and can also candy them into peppery toppings for desserts. Green Fennel (Saunf) that is dried to make tradtitional Mukhwas is a an exciting touch in salads, or to flavour light seafood dishes. 

Here in India, we have a different sort of battle to fight. While the Western world has understood the dangers post the fast food revolution and is trying to return to traditional farming practices and resurrecting heirloom ingredients, we in India have a rich LIVING culinary tradition, perhaps the richest in the world that is slowly being eroded. We need to preserve this culinary tradition, not in books and papers to be sighed over in the future, but as a living culture. And in this can only be happen by practicing it. For us Indians, the slow food movement is probably easiest to implement. It means sticking to the old ways - of cooking, and eating. 

The Indian word for Kitchen “Rasoi” is rooted in the word “Rasa”. While transation dilutes it’s meaning, since “rasa” is “juice” juice in this case has a larger meaning, it is that quintessential flow of flavors that comes only from slow, deliberate cooking that follows the organic rhythm of nature. The Rasoi then becomes that special, sacred place in the home where these juices flow producing profound pleasure.  The Gastronomic Imperialism of fast food chains is a fly-by-night phenomenon in India.  Indians are linked to their tastes and culinary traditions in a very elemental way, and the low-quality food produced by fast food chains is no match for our rich food heritage.  Indian food is slow food, traditional practices of food preparation and cooking meet the manifesto of slow food. Indian food, with its diversity fits the bill perfectly with every region in India having its own unique cuisine.

Food is needed by everyone, everywhere, everyday; a small change in the way it is produced and marketed will have a great effect on health, the ecosystem and preservation of cultural diversity. Local food (also regional food) is a principle of sustainability relying on consumption of food products that are locally grown. It is part of the concept of local purchasing; a preference to buy locally produced goods and services. Shopping decisions favouring local food consumption directly affect the well-being of local food producers, improve local economies may prove to be ecologically more sustainable. You do not have to give up all food coming from other sources, just favour local foods when available. Support your eco system by buying local produce and supporting local farmers and food producers.

Mumbai and India are standing on the brink of a boom in food in every related business. But we need to strike a balance. Embrace the new but hold on to the old.

And we can start to do this is by celebrating Terra Madre Day is on December 10. Terra Madre Day is an annual event celebrated on December 10 every year by the Slow Food network around the world. The objective of this day is to underline the importance of eating locally. Activities to celebrate Terra Madre Day take place all over the world: in cities, rural areas, schools and community centers, cinemas or on farms, restaurants or at home. This year the Mumbai food bloggers community Come together to spread the message of Terra Madre Day across India., anyone who shares the Slow Food's philosophy, is welcome to participate. Spread the word amongst your circle of friends, speak to people you know in the food industry or simply mark the day by serving local foods, cooking up traditional recipes and promoting better food systems to your friends family and loved ones through the days of 9-19 of December. This is a very special celebration. That of food. Your food, my food, global food. You do not need to pay anything, you do not need to leave your house. All you need to do is cook local seasonal, regional, traditional foods because the only way to keep traditional foods alive is by cooking them. 

Share what you are doing for Terra Madre Day in India with me in the comments of this post on A Perfect Bite. I would love to be part of your celebrations as well. The best entry will WIN an organic hamper from Navdanya and a selection of favourite cookbooks from me!

Moolies and Radishes
White Corne and yellow corn
The purple stringy things are Lal Mogri or Rat Tail Raddish
ANd thesse are Green Mogri
Lots of different eggplants that were under the GM threat from BT brinjal
White Corn and Spinach
Turdana Risi e Bisi with Methi Mesclun and Roasted chilli garlic oil
Water Chestnut Green Thai curry
Mayalyu Daal
Garhwali Paturis made with seasonal greens.


Vandana said...

Rushina, as usual, I looove your articles! Not only are you a great chef, but an articulate writer, and I appreciate your concerns towards traditional, local & seasonal food and recipes.
We really need to keep the traditional vegetables and fruit alive; demanding these from from our vegetable vendors is a primary way to make this work!
Another thing you can explore through your blog is how gluten allergies have shot up because of wheat monoculture after the green revolution: the US breeds introduced here have made so many people allergic to gluten.
My website - - also works on creating awareness amongst people on these issues, and also explaining why organic, seasonal and local food is best, and whey Genetically modified food is avaoidable.
Hope more people wake up to the idea of 'good food'.

sangeeta said...

Loved this article. Every year at India international trade fair in Delhi many vendors from all the states come and sell all kinds of desi food ingredients and i end up buying lots of things , sometimes not even knowing their use and vernacular names. But i love exploring all those grains, lentils and seeds. Cannabis seeds from uttarakhand are being extensively experimented right now(suggestions are welcome)and so are grains like amaranth and barnyard millet. I even ask those vendors to tell recipes and they oblige happily. I am always a happy shopper in that place.

Our local markets will only stock the articles if we ask for those produce and that is the only way to keep traditional food alive. Real food is a lot more fun.

Knowing your expertise on garhwali food, i would like to know more about the traditional uses of cannabis seeds. I am using it for salads and chutneys , raw or sprouted for now. Have read about it being used in cookies too but not tried yet.

chinmayie @ love food eat said...

I am so happy that you are initiating something like this in India! I truly believe that we all need to take pride in our native/local/regional/seasonal/tredional recipes... Looking forward to participating in it.

pinky said...

Loved the write up rushina and totally agree of keeping the local avialable ingredients alive.....Till now even i have never seen the white corn and have only used the yellow corn.....It is so imp to keep alive the things we get locally and buying them is a sure way of encouraging them to grow. I make a point of buying all the veggies 4m my subziwala who buys it from a farmer and not from from pre-packed manufacturer.Again loved ur article as well

Nikhil Merchant said...

Superb initiative, I love the rat tailed radish, think im going to go pick that up and make something exclusive.. as for Slow Food Day, well holding a food bloggers potluck courtesy you at my house which showcases Terra Madre Day takes the cake ! Making Bhatia style Undhiyu which uses less oil but bursting with flavor and not an iota of sweetness in it. Winter Veggies cooked on a coal fire is one of my fav dishes ever...

See you on the 10th !

Anonymous said...

This is such a good post! :)
We have so much wonderful local produce, it's sad we don't incorporate it in our diets in a big way.
To celebrate Terra Madre day I will cook some locally grown spinach coz it's a gorgeous dark green and tastes so good with just some garlic and salt.
I love cooking simply and really being able to taste the main ingredient in the final dish. That works fantastically when you choose good, local produce!

pushpee said...

great article..wants me to buy all those veggies...Terre Madre day is the day I look fwd to.. a small note on my blog about this day at

Niv mani said...

looking forward to sharing bites on Terra Madre !

Pradnya said...

Glad to hear someone else cares for the white corn too! Not just eating it, but even the smell of the white corn boiling are some of my fondest food memories while growing up. I'm 20 now and HATE to see it disappear. And not just for the corn, our family is a stickler for sustainable development and see to it that it is reflected in all our choices. This's very nostalgic and so i'm off to the market to stock up on some white corn now!

Niv mani said...

Just uploaded my post on Terra Madre Day, with links to your blog..

sangeeta said...

Hi Rushina,

I posted a wild indian fig recipe on my blog celebrating Terra Madre day here...

and another recipe of bajre ka maleeda here..

Thank you.

Miri said...

What an enlightening post- I didn't know about the various ways one can use ingredients like Bhavnagari chillies etc! India has always been a country of local and seasonal cooking and though rapidly changing due to the plethora of global ingredients now available ( think apples and pears!) , has managed to retain most of its regional integrity because of traditions - both cultural and religious. So Undhiyu continues to be made with traditional winter vegetables while Pori Urundai- puffed rice and jaggery balls- are made for Karthigai Deepam- Tamil Nadu's Festival of Lights- from freshly harvested rice and newly crushed cane.
For my part, ever since I moved to Delhi four years back, local ingredients have got incorporated into our everyday diet. Freshly made paneer is a must not only in Indian gravies but also as an easy substitute for certain cheeses in Western dishes. Winter especially sees dishes like Gajar ka halwa made from the red carrots, sarson ka saag- a robust dish made from fresh mustard leaves- served with Makki ki roti- cornflour flat bread, my neighbour's mother's Konjee- a beautiful drink made from black carrots, Kadai Cholliya- my own stir fry creation using tender green chickpeas(I never even knew that one could eat chickpeas fresh, I had only ever seen the dried variety) and Rasbhari Cake - made from these lovely tart, sweet berries.
This Dec 10th is coincidentally our 14th wedding anniversary and we will celebrate with a meal as usual and this time in homour of Terra Madre as well. Roasted Pumpkin Soup, Carrot Koshambir, Grilled Chicken in a Spicy Green Pepper Sauce, Khasta Roti triangles and a beautiful Orange Clove Cake.

chinmayie @ love food eat said...

Hey Rushina! Here's what I cooked

Thanks :)

DEESHA said...

Hey Rushina,

I made my Grand Mother's traditional steamed lentil dumplings 'Nuchinaunde'

Thanks so much :-)

Miri said...

And this is what I did for Terra Madre Day - fried up a batch of these traditional Parippu Vadais (Lentil Fritters or Dal Wada) - something we have forgotten to do very often!

Kim said...

I'm travelling too much these days to actually cook a full out meal, so its been a lot of biryanis and shortcuts to cook faster. over the last month or so.

However on the 15th, I'm visiting an Assamese friend here in Guwahati and she will show me how to cook traditional Assamese dishes which I hope to post on my blog

This is a link to my last years Terra Madre Day blog post:

Renita said...

Was good to be a part of the Terra Madre day potluck. Thanks for all the efforts taken to surprise us.
Well, I made Porta Poleh, they are rice rolls made with a coconut, poha jaggery filling. True to slow cooking, made it the way my grandmother used to make by grinding the rice flour at home, making the batter, using ingredients bought locally. It took a while, the whole afternoon actually, making thin rolls, kneading coconut, poha, jaggery together. Wrapping Rolling, true to slow cooking. But was worth the effort. Hope you like it too.

Anonymous said...

I love to cook local and your post truly speaks my mind.
Here is what I cooked for the potluck

Miri said...

where did my comment go??
I made this delicious Tamil crunchy snack....

Rina said...


I love your writing. I look forward to learning something new each time I visit your blog. I hope you won't mind what I say next. The pics on your blog don't do justice to your writing. Do take this positively. I hope you can change that soon!


Now Serving said...

Love your brilliantly vibrant pictures of veggies - quite a turn on! I too love veggies and had a successful crop this past summer - Enjoyed my visit here and have liked you on FB - please do visit my blog when you have a moment :) cheers, Priya

foodiebychance said...

Hi Rushina,
Its so nice to have come across your blog. The article is really nice and the initiative applaud-able. I will make it a point to cook a meal only out of seasonal local organic produce this weekend for sure.