Kitchen heirlooms

Updated: May 19, 2020, 09:37 IST | Sukanya Datta | Mumbai

An Instagram Live series is inviting people from all walks of life to share recipes handed down generations, exposing stories about places, communities and history

Recipes from a journal maintained by Chatterji's mother that prompted her to start the series
Recipes from a journal maintained by Chatterji's mother that prompted her to start the series

Restless at home, food show director and writer Shubhra Chatterji chanced upon her mother's journal from her medical college days, while spending the lockdown with her parents in Bhopal. Apart from patient notes, there were pages filled with handwritten recipes, courtesy Chatterji's grandmother. "Most of them were quick and easy ones such as fudge, halwas or cakes. One recipe which caught my attention was a pudding with just sugar, orange juice and eggs. Intrigued how one can make a pudding without any bread or custard, I decided to give it a shot and streamed the process live for the first time," she says. Encouraged by the response, Chatterji reached out to food aficionados to share heirloom recipes of their families, states or communities. And that's how #HistoryOnAPlate kicked off, with not just recipes, but also stories of people and places behind them.

Kala chana ka shami kebab prepared by Rana Safvi in one of the sessions
Kala chana ka shami kebab prepared by Rana Safvi in one of the sessions

Now in its fourth week, the series has had guests like historian Rana Safvi, journalist Vernika Awal, chef and caterer Rhea Mitra Dalal, among several others. While the guests show the step-by-step process of making the dishes, there's constant banter between them and Chatterji about memories that the recipes evoke, life under lockdown, what alternatives to use, etc. For instance, during Safvi's session, she not only shared the recipe of kala chana ka shami kebab, but also demystified Ramzan, what roza means and the meaning of the Arabic term 'shami'. Awal, on the other hand, delved into her mother's childhood memories at the latter's grandmother's house while cooking gurumba, a traditional North Indian chutney.

Aam'er luchi made by Rhea Mitra Dalal
Aam'er luchi made by Rhea Mitra Dalal

When we ask Chatterji why she chose to go with heritage recipes at a time when the Instagram kitchen is exploding with all kinds of trends, she says, "People have this perception that they don't know enough about food just because they are not celebrity chefs. But if you've lived a particular heritage, and have grown up around food, you are bound to know the story behind it. For example, Anjali Koli, a food blogger, who grew up near Alibaug, shared this culinary gem of how the Koli community never added salt to food as they cooked in sea water."

Shubhra Chatterji
Shubhra Chatterji

The sessions have earned quite a few loyalists who tune in at 4 pm every day from across the country, or watch the saved IGTV lives later on. Judging by the responses she's been receiving so far, Chatterji feels that what works is that people connect with the stories. "Food is a basic need, and even if you didn't cook before, you're doing it now. So, more and more people are taking the online route to look for recipes. And unlike a show, they can interact with the guests, ask questions and share their stories in these sessions," she elaborates. More importantly, she adds that her viewers feel that they can replicate the recipes. "For years, content producers have used celebrities to share stories about recipes, but most of the focus remains on them. What seems to be working with this series is that people who have lived these stories are telling them. There is no fluff; everyone's at home. So viewers are feeling that, 'If she can do it in her kitchen, so can I.' And more than anything, we're all looking for some positivity, aren't we?" she signs off.

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