I have spent half of my life growing up in smaller towns in North India. For someone who seeks the comfort of nostalgia, experiencing familiar tastes is an important part of returning to regular programming. When I talk of familiar tastes, I often imagine aloo parathas made with ghee, luchi-begun bhaja, soft ajwain parathas with Kissan jam and the mango achaar from Mother’s Recipe, dahi-kela, bread tossed in ghee and served with sugar, aatey ka halwa…these are just a few of the many items that cross my mind when I think about the taste of home. Do I always eat these food items? Not anymore- childhood treats are now replaced by mindful, adult-like choices like chicken curry-rice, Uzbeki pulao, macher jhal, rajma-chawal, aloo-gobi and the likes.
For many of us living away from home, these comforting tastes may be a distant memory, and the first thing we think of when we plan our visits to home is the food that we will be spoiled with. Those brief visits are all about packing in those flavors so that your soul is satisfied for a few weeks, and surprisingly, it always works! The comfort of home food is the best medicine for every adulting problem.
Growing up in Jalandhar, a small town in Punjab, makes up for a large chunk of my childhood memories. It is in Jalandhar that I got to know my parathas and halwas intimately. Special occasions had us spending time cooped up in the kitchens, making sure the rajma was well-steamed, the mutton and garlic in the Uzbeki Pulao soft enough, and the luchis round, not too oily. The Army Club introduced me to tandoori meats and tikkas in the 90s, the taste of which I still seek.
On good days, the kids were treated to plates of homemade aloo tikki. My mother would surprise us with homemade pani-puris every once in a while, or jhaal muri when she was too busy and we were too hungry. We would drop in unannounced to relish glasses of Rasna at every home during our summer vacations. Exam time meant spending hours at the desk, with mum feeding you 1 big bowl of dahi-kela for the extra energy that your brain needed. Photos from the 90s show me with a rotund belly, and I know those gigantic bowls of dahi-kela are to blame. Dahi -kela faced tough competition from the aatey ka halwa, a childhood favourite that I still relish with joy. It’s a dry halwa, made by sauteing wheat and sugar in ghee. Somewhere in the early 2000s, I also fell in love with cheene ke paratha (sugar paratha) Yes, you guessed correctly, these parathas were made with sugar, and the caramelised taste of the wheat gave me a sugar high that kept me going during exam times.
Food memories from Jalandhar also take me back to those times when my mum and I would sit on the balcony during the winter months, shelling peas while soaking in the gloriously warm sun. The joy of popping those pea pods, especially on Sunday mornings when the conversations never took us to pending homework and exams, remains unparalleled. Those freshly peeled peas would then make their way into matar luchi, matar paratha or just about everything that was cooked in the kitchen at that time. Mooli ke paranthe were another winter favourite, and the only way I could eat that vegetable that I still dread seeing on my plate. As we grew up, Sundays were also celebrated with home-baked chocolate cake, and the smell of freshly baked cake would almost always have our friends lining up for an evening snack at ours. My favorite memory from baking is licking the batter off the spoon, something my mother hated so much that she started baking when I wasn’t around. Now, she asks me to bake cakes for her, and I’m overwhelmed each time we have this conversation because it reminds me of how proud I was to share her cakes with everyone. Oh how the tables have turned :”)
As I prepare to visit home after a period of 7 months, my mother’s love and excitement show up in the form of “Kya khaana hai, batao, I’ll make it all for you” Chicken curry rice, aatey ka halwa, macher jhol, muri ghonto and Uzbeki pulao have made it to my list for now. I’ll also probably bake a chocolate cake for mum.
I have grown up in a variety of landscapes and weather conditions and accordingly adjusted to the produce, flavors and ingredients. One thing that remains constant is my love for my mother’s cooking, and that’s all the nostalgia that I need to feel alright.