Most people associate their favorite scent with perfumes, but for me, there’s strict rivalry between the aromas of garlic hitting sizzling butter, a solid brew of Turkish coffee (kahwa) and the beauty that is gulab jamuns being fried… My work in the last few months made me realise how food has been such a fundamental part of my upbringing. My earliest memory of food involves running around my grandpa’s ancestral home during the summers, with my frock smeared in mango pulp while raising hell for the grandmother. The earliest introduction to herbs came through lemongrass found generously in mum’s shai (Egyptian black tea) – being confused about the long green tendrils in her cup but actually being taken in and soothed by the earthy, slightly sweet, lemony aroma.
If I know how to handle meat, the credit belongs solely to my darling late aunt. It was under her guidance that I learnt the nuances of barbecuing meat and offal during Eid. What seemed fun as a child laid the foundation of tenderising, marinating and resting meat before and after prep. Maybe this innate understanding helped bring together a grilled fish dish that the twin and I labored over. Marinating fleshy, fresh blocks of Bengal Carp in a little bit of lemon and pepper, then coating with a paste of coriander, garlic, pinch of fresh ginger with a generous dash of mint sprigs and finishing it all up with a little bit of oregano. Charring it to perfection it on a makeshift grill, in an urban kitchen, no less!
I’ve grown watching my mother try out various recipes, gone through the ratty recipe book that she’s handwritten with several annotations, tips and explanations. Went so far as to mark out dishes that she’s NEVER prepared and demand they be made! Every summer my late aunt would pickle mangoes using different spices. Watching her hands move and mix the spices and fruit together was like art. Folding, turning and blending, delicately yet with dexterity that was absolutely satisfying to behold. She’d talk about why she balanced red chilli with turmeric in that exact quantity or pass on jewels of information like adding a glug of vinegar to hit that perfect balance between sweet, salty and spicy that the entire family would relish all year round. Pretty sure my love for food and the willingness to experiment is a part of the genome inherited from my father. His passion for food is undying, much to the chagrin of the darling mother – who laments good humouredly every time he cuts out a recipe from a magazine for her to make. 🙂
When someone says coffee, the first word that pops in my head is “NOW!” This long-standing affair began with a piping cup of mum’s café con leche on that that rainy evening in 5th grade. Little did I know that coming home drenched from buying school supplies would be the beginning of something so amazing! Our relationship has intensified ever since and has now grown into one that makes my soul sing.
I smile as I realise that my love for food is probably one of the best ways to nourish my body and nurture my soul. And as I sit writing this post, my heart content with lovely chicken curry cooked in pepper and yogurt for dinner, I can see my aunt lovingly secure jars of pickle to cure the mangoes to perfection…