'Pakistani cuisine is a lot like the food in North India'

Sunday MiD Day caught up with popular Pakistani chef Amina 'Poppy' Agha who was in the country recently for a television show for a freewheeling chat on life in Karachi, her khansaab and her foray into the kitchen

Popular Tv host for Dawn TV's cookery show A Taste of Fusion, Amina 'Poppy' Agha was in New Delhi last November to shoot for a new cookery show for an Indian channel. Organised as a cook-off, the show pits eight Indian chefs against eight Pakistani chefs.

Thirty five year-old Agha, who runs a culinary institute in Karachi, speaks to Sunday Mid Day about how the first cr me caramel she made changed her life. Read the excerpts:

You began to learn how to cook when you were quite young? Was it expected of you?
While it is common for girls in the sub-continent to be taught how to cook, that wasn't why I was sent to the kitchen. My younger sister can't cook at all, and my brother cooks quite well. It was because of our khansama (cook) Zahoor sahib, who must have seen some potential in me and told my mother, 'she'll be a chef'. He asked that I be allowed to assist him in cooking. At first I thought it was the elders' Machiavellian scheme to keep me away from the playground, but then, I made my first cr me caramel. When you can do something that cool when you're that young, which other eight year-olds can't, you begin to see things differently. I realised that I do have a flair for it.
What all did Zahoor sahib teach you and how does that affect your present ideas about food?
I learnt how to make a lot of European and English dishes like ginger snaps and filo pastry -- I wasn't taught curries. In fact, I still call up my mum to ask her how to make masalas for the desi dishes. However, what my training gave me was a developed sense of palate, which made me want to introduce fusion dishes to Pakistan, where the dish would be desi, but the ingredients, more global.

We have not modernised sub-continental cuisine yet, the way that say, the French have. I want to bring out the nuances in sub-continental cuisine using global ingredients, because there are depths to our cuisine that isn't present elsewhere. I thought of opening a restaurant, but the market wasn't ready for such Pakistani fusion food then. So I opened a culinary institute instead.

How different is Indian cooking from Pakistani cooking?
Not very. Pakistani cuisine is after all very similar to North Indian cuisine. Most of the ingredients are the same too.

Poppy Agha will participate in a show called Foodistan that begins later this month.

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