Food has always fascinated me (read: to eat). It has been an integral part of the Varma household and for almost all Indian households. It is not just food; it is our culture! But my case was slightly different. In those days, when girls were groomed to be expert housewives, I was exploring a career that was in line with my talent, passion and capability, besides putting me on sound financial footing. This way my struggle was manifold, compounded with the impending role of a homemaker.
It was never a career choice for me and luckily my parents realised this early on. They were confident that I will adapt to it as ‘fish takes to water,’ whenever the situation demands. How I wish, it was true, and I didn’t have to learn it hard way…
Varma ladies: My badi bua, choti bua, Suman bua and Vimal bua (as I addressed them) were expert cooks and cooked every meal with a lot of passion and emotion. When mummy joined the bandwagon, she adapted to the food culture of the Varma family in no time. So, while growing up and gorging on delicious meals and cuisine doled out by Varma ladies (Amma included), I never knew what a stupendous task it was. While remaining sharply focussed on studies and other activities, I never checked what went on in the kitchen as mummy managed it with elan. I just had to tell her how many friends are coming over for dinner or lunch. Rest was taken care of.
My food adventure is unique, till now life was smooth, it was when I joined UP Government Undertaking as a Class I officer in the early 90s and was made part of the hospitality committee, reality check happened. I surprised everybody with my extreme lack of knowledge about cooking. I did not know what was the price of potatoes, tomatoes, bhindi, eggs, mutton, chicken, masalas etc. Forget, how it was all being cooked. As I closely watched mummy cooking and instructing her helps in the kitchen, I picked up in no time…(courtesy: My gene pool of phenomenal cooks). This was the time when Sushri Mayawati Ji was CM and our department was under her Ministry. She loved hosting lunches and dinners to Dignitaries, Officials, NRIs, Press…whatnot. She was very particular about hospitality arrangements including food.
Now we started having regular meetings with the Head Chef of Hotel Clarks Awadh, (Only 5-star then) and my knowledge zoomed after few meetings. For the first time, I came to know that running a kitchen is nothing short of running an enterprise, be it home or five stars. My understanding of food began from the Awadhi food there like what combinations to serve, what spices to use in kebabs, biryani, chole, paneer, pulao, veggies, lentils…list is endless. How much quantity to be taken and how to enhance flavours to be in sync with food of that region.
Impressed by my steady progress, I was made to select the menu for every event. Amidst adventures and misadventures, my love for food progressed. I love to talk about food, write about food, discuss food, review food, taste food and explore the history of every cuisine etc. I was professionally involved with the newly found love of my life – Food.
Lucknow is home to some exotic dishes in the world, I loved exploring these to know more about specialities. This way the “Food Wheel” of knowledge started rolling.
But managing the kitchen was still a distant dream…
My mummy encapsulated it beautifully, Jaise Jimmy(our pet Pom) nahane se bachti hai, waise hamari beti Kitchen me jaane se bachti hai!
So, what happened when the ‘moment of truth’ arrived, marriage beckoned that too in a Gujarati family, for whom food was nothing short of a religion. I was like ‘Alice in Wonderland.’
I am running an initiative on Instagram with hashtag #quickylunch to help all those home makers who spend countless hours in kitchen, to save for some #MeTime.
Wait for writer’s Part-II of Alice in Wonderland on for her tryst with Gujarati Food
- Bienu Varma Vaghela