I am not a critic, I'm a foodie: Kunal Vijayakar

Actor and television personality Kunal Vijayakar is out with his first cookbook, Made In India, where he shares recipes that he has picked up from his myriad trips across the country. He speaks to Phorum Dalal about keeping a check on his health, kicking the butt and his love for food

Kunal Vijayakar's house is beautifully furnished with a white sofa, wooden flooring and quite a few Buddha statues. The walls are filled with paintings, some made by the art graduate himself and a few others by MF Husain and FN Souza prints.

Kunal Vijayakar, who launched his book Made In India last week, at his Prabhadevi residence. Pic/Shadab Khan
Kunal Vijayakar, who launched his book Made In India last week, at his Prabhadevi residence. Pic/Shadab Khan 

Dressed in a linen shirt and checkered shorts, the self-confessed foodie greets me with a huge smile as I enter his Prabhadevi residence. I guess some of the happiness also stems from the fact that he has just feasted on Kheema Pav, Parsi Sali Boti and Mutton Cutlets at Café Excelsior in Fort for lunch. I get this nugget of information from Twitter. His first cookbook, Made In India, launched last week. When I ask him when did his tryst with food begin, his eyes light up.

Food stories
Vijayakar attributes his passion for diverse cuisines to his paternal and maternal grandmothers who would rustle up a variety of dishes in a jiffy. "My paternal grandfather would get handwritten recipes from his sojourns across the globe so that my granny could try out a new dish. After my father's demise, I lived with my maternal grandmother. Our house had a vegetarian kitchen and non-vegetarian kitchen, and she did most of the cooking for our joint family of 10 members," says the writer who helped her out occasionally at the kitchen. As a kid, he was introduced to world cuisines through his family outings to iconic restaurants such as Gaylords, Horseshoe and Paradise in South Mumbai.

The root of the matter
Vijayakar is one of the 7,000-odd members of the Pathare Prabhu community in the world. "Originally a Bombay community — though this word is banned by the censor board — our history is a little blurred but we have been living in the city since the 13th century. Our food has a local Koli influence, but unlike the common Saraswat Brahmin Maharashtrian food, mainly Malvani, we don't not go overboard with coconut, except in our curries," says the Mumbaiite. He breaks into involuntary smiles as he describes the Ghada, a dish quite similar to the Gujarati Undhiyu but with oodles of prawns, fish and mutton; Patvad Alu Vadi, a patra–stuffed with shrimp or kheema and their typical green curry called Vatnacha Kalwad. "My mouth is watering!" he smiles.

He adds that Pathare Prabhu cuisine is quite easy to make, as each recipe barely comprises four steps. "Being a coastal community, we eat a lot of fish and meat, along with vegetarian food that is usually consumed only during fasts. The Pathare Prabhus use their own Sambhar masala that is readily available in the market," says the author, who first started writing a food column in Bombay Times around the year 2000. Vijayakar confesses that he was too lazy to become a chef, but he tried his hand at cooking at the tender age of 12. "When I tasted butter chicken for the first time at Fountain Plaza, I fell in love with the dish. I ate it again at El Taj in Khandala and I wanted to eat it all the time. Low on pocket money, I tried it at home. It was edible," he smiles.

Food on the road
A sucker for home-cooked food, Vijayakar admits that he got tremendous joy from spending time in people's kitchens while shooting for his food show The Foodie. "I'll never forget an incident when we were shooting at Cherrapunji. It was a beautiful, misty landscape with a slight drizzle. We stopped at an old frail lady's stall and she prepared a dish called Chera Chicken. The camera crew found a nice location between two hills. The stove took ages to light in the wind," he narrates. The only ingredients she used were mustard oil, onion garlic, green chillies and black pepper. But the chicken didn't cook due to the damp weather. Vijayakar sampled the dish despite the meat being undercooked. But the taste bowled him over. "The gravy was wonderfully balanced. The simplest ingredients in correct proportion create the best of dishes," he reminisces.

Penning his thoughts
The foodie, however, admits that writing a cookbook is a tough task. "It involves a lot of gadha mazdoori (donkey work). I knew what recipes I wanted to include but I hadn't jotted them down meticulously. I roped in a friend to format them," he smiles cheekily. But what he did enjoy was introducing the recipes to readers and sharing his experience. "I don't call myself a critic but an eater. All I do is describe the experience, without doling out any gyaan," he says nonchalantly.

Vijayakar answers every question with a know-how attitude except the last one. How does he manage his health? "Frankly, I don't do anything (grins). We usually shoot at odd hours so one can never really eat much. When I know that we will shoot at an excellent place, I ensure we go there during lunchtime or dinner, so that I can go all out," he says. But he is quick to add that at other times, he doesn't stuff himself. "I eat everything but only half my appetite's worth and just get up from the table. Recently, I even kicked the butt after 35 years. That's how I watch my weight," he laughs patting his stomach.

The book, Made in India, costs Rs 399 and is published by Jaico

Prawn/Pomfret Chinchoni
Chinchoni comes from chinch, which means tamarind in Marathi. It is a sour and tangy fish preparation. The influences date back to when the Portuguese would pickle their fish and meat for their sea voyages. Souring agents like vinegar, kokum and tamarind were often used as preservatives.

> 1 pomfret, cut into pieces or 1/2 cup prawns
> 250 gm coconut
> 6 red chillies
> 1 tsp cumin seeds
> 1-inch turmeric
> 8 garlic cloves
> Tamarind pulp
> Oil for frying
> Salt to taste
> Water

The Prawn Chinchoni is a sour and tangy fish preparation
The Prawn Chinchoni is a sour and tangy fish preparation 

> In a mixer, add red chillies, cumin seeds, coconut, turmeric and garlic, and grind coarsely
> In a pan, heat one tsp of oil. Add the ground masala and fry till it is cooked. In the same pan, pour some water and tamarind pulp. Stir well
> Add the fish pieces and cook them for a few minutes. Add salt to taste. Let it simmer and cook the fish for 15 minutes. Stir continuously and cook some more until the gravy thickens.
> Serve warm

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