Although some might scoff at the overuse of the term ‘nostalgia’ with respect to the culinary industry, it’s undeniable that food and memories from our childhood are inexplicably linked together.
If you strip away today’s food of all of the pomp and theatre of a modern restaurant, it serves the purpose of nourishment and care, but these go hand in hand with someone who once cared for and nourished us. Be it a mother who comes back from a full day of work and cooks dinner for her children, a father who revels in his weekend feast that he so lovingly prepares for the whole extended family or a lover who knows exactly what your favourite food is and excitedly prepares you that meal to bring a smile to your face.
When I look back into my childhood food memories, I fondly remember the spicy macaroni that my dadi would make for me early in the morning before we ran down to catch the school bus, the surprise tiffins full of mutton or fish that nani would send over to us, and mom’s amazing desserts whenever we would have guests coming home. An honourable mention goes to dad’s Sunday morning Maggi breakfast with lots of veggies and his secret spice blend that amps up the flavour. These are some of the dishes that are still etched in my memories.
Nostalgia for me, is an element in cooking as much as salt or pepper are. Food should not stray so far away from its classical interpretation that you can’t recognise what it’s trying to be. It should instead be a reminder of something delicious you have had before and serve as a representation of what that food is today.
At Masala Library by Jiggs Kalra, nostalgia plays a central role in our Chef’s Tasting Menu. We might be a Modern Indian restaurant by genre but it is all built around a traditional frame. Our guests get a taste of something comforting they’ve had in their childhood or maybe even an obscure dish particular to their culture and see it represented with a touch of finesse that modern gastronomy allows.
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A dish on our tasting menu that has been doing the rounds in different iterations is a dish we jokingly refer to as Nani Ma. It’s my Nani’s Methi Mattar Malai that we currently serve with baby teardrop peas on an achu muruku made using the juice of the pea pods. It brings me so much pride to be able to serve my guests something that I grew up eating. Though the dish keeps evolving, I don’t think it will ever leave my tasting menu in one form or another.
Sometimes the nostalgia of the meal could be to bring you back to a different time and place, a fleeting moment of passion and joy in an otherwise mundane or hectic life that quickly passes by. Maybe it is then, our job as chefs to provide these moments for our guests; to allow them to take a pause in their day and re live a moment tucked away in a sweet memory.