When Sachin Tendulkar launches a book written by a cricket analyst, it has to be about cricket, right? Strangely, no. The ace batsman has a hidden side that revealed itself quite surprisingly on Thursday evening at the Cricket Club of India’s (CCI) C K Nayudu Hall, when he released a book on food. Written by Boria Majumdar, the book titled Cooking On The Run, is “not a cook book” according to the author; rather the blurb proclaims it to be the “average man’s encounters with food”. Whatever you may want to call it, it does include recipes after all, the evening was made special by Sachin as he recalled his fondest memories of food. It seemed as if the publishers HarperCollins and Boria himself knew it would be so, as during the event, no one really mentioned the book or anything about Boria’s experience in writing it. The whole conversation between Boria and Sachin focused on the latter’s experiments with world cuisine and was eagerly eaten up by the select audience present.
Where it began
Sachin admitted that when it comes to food, he is really adventurous. He has tried cuisines from different parts of the world — Lebanese, Thai, Malaysian, Japanese, Caribbean, Pakistani… you name it, he’s tried it. His culinary journey began around the same time as his cricketing career did. In fact, the two are closely linked as it was his love for cricket that took him to various parts of the world. He recalled, “Till the age of 13 or so, it was only pure Maharashtrian food and nothing else for me. Then I began travelling. First, I went to England (as part of a cricket team). We spent a month there and that was the first time I heard that even cold chicken was meant to be eaten. I wasn’t aware of that, but as time went by, I learnt to deal with these things. With travelling and more exposure, I was also open to trying out various things. I appreciate good food and good taste, and sometimes, it is good to eat whatever you like and not think about diet.”
Coming of age
As a sportsperson, Sachin has always stayed fit. The correct diet plays an important role in his performance, and he is very conscious of what he eats during matches nowadays. Last year, when India had to face Australia during the World Cup in Ahmedabad, Sachin went on a strict vegetarian diet for three days before the match in order to beat the heat. He stuck to curd rice and other bland food, and drank lots of coconut water. It is the player’s responsibility, and not the coach’s, to see that he stays fit, he says. But he hasn’t always been this conscious. Sachin’s first tour of Pakistan at the age of 16 may make his fans nostalgic about the time he made his debut in Test cricket, but it was a turning point for him in another way too. “Whenever I have been to Pakistan, the food has been delicious. The first tour to Pakistan was a memorable one. Sometimes I would only have kheema paratha and a glass of lassi for breakfast and it would be so heavy and tasty that there was no need for lunch or a snack in the afternoon. But on that tour, I was 16, I was growing. When I got back from Pakistan to Mumbai and stood on the weighing scale, I couldn’t believe myself!” he laughs.
Beating Pak, eating
Talk of Pakistan and the World Cup and it becomes almost mandatory for Sachin to remember another night of joyous celebration. After India defeated Pakistan in the World Cup, the team decided to celebrate in an unexpected way. Said Sachin, “The whole team decided that wherever we go (to celebrate), we have to be together. It is a big day and we should celebrate together. That’s how we went to a place where there was street food. We enjoyed ourselves. It was a big night. The match was one of the most important ones in the tournament. Our people had told us a year before the match took place that come what may, you have to win this game. It was one of the big nights, where we remember every little thing, we cherish those moments. It doesn’t happen every now and again.”
Sachin has several other precious memories too that link his love for food and cricket together. Like the time he and his teammates visited a game reserve during their tour of Zimbabwe in 2000. They barbecued chicken and sausages in the middle of the jungle. Or way back in 1997 or ’98 (he isn’t sure exactly) when he cooked baingan bharta for his 15 teammates at Ajay Jadeja’s home. Then there was the time he tried to introduce Suresh Raina to Japanese food. “I was so excited about introducing him to the food. He tasted sushi and said it wasn’t bad. I don’t know if he was pretending. I am not sure if after that he tried Japanese food or not but at that stage, he enjoyed the sashimi and sushi. I also asked for a burnt garlic fried rice so it wasn’t that bad for him.” He also tried to widen Harbhajan Singh’s palate when they were touring South Africa, but that didn’t turn out very well. He admits that his only teammates who are as adventurous as him when it comes to food are Zaheer Khan, Ajit Agarkar and, to a certain extent, Yuvraj Singh.
Sachin’s fascination for Japanese cuisine began around 12 years ago with sushi, but it is only the past three years that he’s been eating sashimi. “Raw fish is not that bad,” he says. What is bad? “Snails,” pat came the reply. “I’ve tried snails which were a little bit difficult to digest. It had garlic sauce along with it. I forced my wife also to try it. It wasn’t too good,” he said. But the worst thing he’s ever eaten is spoilt seafood. “Spoilt seafood does the job. If you want to lose weight, you should eat spoilt seafood,” he joked.
Sachin’s passion for food extends to cooking it too and he loves to prepare something special for his family. “I do sometimes cook for Anjali (his wife) and for Sara and Arjun (his children). Earlier it was on a regular basis, now it is on special occasions. I cook dishes which I have learnt from my mother.” Cooking is a great way to relax, he said. “I would cook food because of that, and also because it gives satisfaction. When you prepare something, serve it to your friends, and get appreciation, it is nice. There is no stress, no competition. And when you have good company it makes for a special package.”
Mom’s the best
Despite all the countries he’s been to and the cuisines he’s tried, there is only one dish that Sachin craves for at the end of a long tour: his mother’s varan bhat. “Among Indian food, my mother’s cooking is the best. Her homemade varan bhat is the best Maharashtrian food I have tasted. It is something you don’t get abroad. On various occasions in the recent past, my mother has cooked prawn and fish too. I told my cook at home to see how she makes it and now he can do it too. When I cooked fish curry for Anjali from her recipe, Anjali said it was the best she had ever had.” Twenty five years of travelling the globe later, Sachin – with his curly hair back – continues to remain a Maharashtrian mulga at heart.
About the book
Cooking On The Run is a compilation of Boria Majumdar’s experiments with food, which began when he joined Oxford University in 1999-2000.
It includes his easy-to-make recipes, his experiences with various cuisines and amusing anecdotes about how he once cooked at the International Olympic Committee museum in Lausanne, Switzerland. Priced at R250, the book is available at leading bookstores.
Favourite city for food: London. You’ve got all sorts of restaurants, right from Ethiopian to Japanese, you can have anything that you want.
Favourite dessert: All of them, Indian and Western.
Memorable recipe: One of lamb and rice. I ate it when I was in the Caribbean. I told the chef it was delicious but I couldn’t come there every time I wanted to eat it, so the chef very graciously shared his recipe.