Introduction

Introduction

By
Anjum Anand
Contains
0 recipes
Published by
Quadrille Publishing
ISBN
9781849495639
Photographer
Martin Poole

I believe that each of us is the sum of all our parts. I know that everything I have done and experienced in life has brought me to this place in my career and, looking back, I see how all the dots join up. In my case, these indelible markers started before I did.

My father was born in India towards the end of the British Raj, only 12 years before the Partition. His family were enjoying a cool break in Kashmir when they received word that the rumours about India splitting were indeed true, and that they had to gather what they could and travel to find a new home within the new Indian borders. This was a time of utter chaos, confusion and fear, with people traversing whole countries with more apprehension than belongings. My father’s family travelled on the top of a train for days, slept in a railway station for weeks and – with lots of help from old friends – made their way to Delhi. Many months later, they finally settled into a new home and life. By the age of 18, my father got a job with a British company, which meant he got the opportunity to travel a little. In his early twenties – for the second time in his young life – he moved to a new country where he knew no one and had little more than a few coins in his pocket.

My mother grew up in the mountains between Afghanistan and what is now Pakistan. She had six sisters and one brother and grew up very sheltered, her older sisters more like mothers to her. They were a proud family, with a little land to their name. My grandfather was a trader, importing fruits and nuts into India from Afghanistan. My mother’s extended family had more advance warning about Partition and came to live with my grandfather’s brother in a large, sprawling family home in Old Delhi. In time, the home was split between the men of the family, while all the women married and left for their new families’ homes. By the time I visited this imposing villa, my mother’s brother lived in a one bedroom flat with his wife and children (space for the new families having diminished as children arrived). It was small, but the grounds of the house were huge, with flat roofs forming verandahs around the home; everyone was surrounded by family and cousins, and all the positives – and the politics – that that involved.

My parents had an arranged marriage. My father travelled to India and met my mother; five days later they were married and he brought her to London… a world as different from hers as it was distant. The way she remembers it, my father had a party at home in London to celebrate his marriage and to introduce his new bride to his friends. My mother had never before been out without her sisters or cousins and she apparently left the party – full as it was of drinking, smoking and the loud friends of my father – and sat on the doorstep, looking at the stars, with tears falling for all she had left behind and apprehension for what was to come.

By the time we were born, my mother had settled into her new role as a supportive wife and – by the time I was four – my father decided to move us to Switzerland. We spent ten years in Geneva, the weekdays in school and the weekends driving around exploring a completely new world and cuisine. We went from one recommended restaurant to another, acquiring a taste for everything Swiss and middle European – with a bit of German, French and Italian – fondue and raclette, filets de perches (a local river fish), spätzle (a short noodle-like dumpling), Bircher müesli, wild strawberries and raspberries, pâtisserie and, of course, amazing cheeses and chocolates. Swiss food is very good; often simple but rich.

Inside our Swiss home, it was more akin to a little India, with Indian food on the table and Indian movies playing on the television, instead of the local networks. My father’s new circle of friends was also Indian as, having spotted a Sikh man at the bus stop, he went straight up to him, introduced himself and soon met all the other Indians in the small city.

My father loves having people round and these new friends were often invited over for dinner, so I have countless memories of women dressed in colourful saris with clinking bangles, laughing and recounting stories from “back home”, eating Indian food that Mum had spent the day cooking (enlisting a very eager young me to help) and generally giving me the impression that India was an amazing, vibrant, fun place full of interesting characters.

This was only reinforced on the frequent trips we took to India. In the early days we stayed with family, only taking hotel rooms once my father could afford them. One of his cousins had a chicken farm and, on arrival, we would receive a basket of eggs and have the tastiest eggs on toast. The food in India was always amazing; I don’t remember a single bad meal. Visits to my father’s family were always meaty affairs, with melting mutton curries and soft, puffed chapatis anointed with a little ghee. In contrast, my mother’s family were vegetarian and preferred lighter food and meals that usually featured lentils with seasonal vegetables and some of their own specialities. These meals were often punctuated with fresh sugar cane brought in from a nearby field; we would sit and use our teeth to strip off the hard fibrous “skin”, tear off large chunks, chew the flesh, extract all the sweet, flavourful juices and spit out the fibrous remains into a large bowl.

My mother’s family were wonderful vegetarian cooks, but she herself cooked to feed her carnivorous husband and children. For ten years she even took to eating meat to be more accommodating… before finding her voice and reverting to her own style of food. She had always wanted to work, but my father wanted a more traditional wife who took care of the home and children. She would say to me that, despite my interest in the kitchen, girls with a good education and opportunities could be anything they wanted to be (though when we didn’t help, she couldn’t stop herself from saying that if we didn’t cook no one would marry us!). I agreed and didn’t even think about pursuing cooking professionally. My father’s life seemed much more exciting; he ran his own business, travelled and was always surrounded by friends.

But two years after completing my business degree and working in a small company, reality dawned… I wasn’t enjoying any of it. The only thing that gave me any pleasure was cooking for myself after I got home from work. I had returned to the kitchen after a prolonged absence to cook myself low-fat Indian food. By this point, I had been on countless diets and, although I lost weight, it always returned. I realized the only way to keep the weight off was to enjoy the Indian food I loved, but in a lighter, lower-fat guise than that I had been eating. So I started learning my favourite dishes properly and cooking them for myself regularly. Cooking became my main passion and, with prompting from a few friends, I realized I didn’t have to force myself to stick doggedly to my career path; I remembered I could do anything I wanted to do… and I wanted to cook.

I tried everything. I worked in both a fast-food place and an Indian restaurant in New York, both as waiting staff and as an apprentice in the kitchen. I worked in a hotel kitchen and at a catering company… generally in any job I could get that had some exposure to a kitchen. The more experience I got, the more I worked in the kitchen.

I found that my driving force was dispelling the myth that Indian food was unhealthy, and full of ghee and nut pastes; in reality, Indian food is fresher, tastier, lighter and more varied than most people realize. It became a bee in my bonnet whose buzzing became too loud to ignore… and I decided to write my first book. That first book led to a BBC series: Indian Food Made Easy. I have since presented another couple of series and also launched a range of Indian foods called The Spice Tailor. My impulse is always the same: to bring authentic regional Indian flavours to everyone. Ironically, my life now does mimic my father’s and – now that I am a mother myself – my mother’s as well.

One of the questions I am asked the most (even by my mother!) is where I get my inspiration to write book after book on Indian food. That is the easy bit. I have been very lucky to have spent months and months in India, travelling and eating, talking and learning about the regional food. I have countless memories of eating chaat on the streets with my cousins and, later, kebabs on the streets with my friends, eating in the homes of friends from different communities, dining in some of the best restaurants and dhabas (simple streetfood-style cafés) around the country. I have eaten dishes that we have never heard about outside of India, such as spicy meat pickles; curries made from sorrel; puffed, roasted and spiced lotus seeds; smoked naans; water chestnut curries; and sweets made from almost everything. I have tasted Indian dishes inspired by Moghuls, Turks, British, Portuguese, and Arab traders, and Chinese immigrants.

I married a British Indian with a Rajasthani heritage and bonded with my mother-in-law (an amazing cook) over her son’s favourite dishes from that region. I have been to some of India’s most spiritual temples and enjoyed the purest vegetarian meals, where the food feels almost blessed by its closeness to places of good energy.

I have a passion for Indian food that surpasses all others. It comes from a combination of learning more about the country of my heritage, respecting its amazing and ancient cuisine that accepts all new influences and adopts them with no prejudice. I love the fact that people cook and eat together and – of course – I love the flavours and feel healthy when eating them.

I might not have been writing my eighth book if all my dots had not led me to this point. I have filled this book with my fondest food memories of India, and have relived so much of my life as I have written the recipes down. It is my favourite book so far, perhaps because it is the one that speaks the most of all my experiences and shows you a little – through the dishes I have inherited and discovered – of who I am.

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