Let's go local, Bombay
On Christmas Eve, a wish for the city to retain its charm and fervour during the festive season, starting from its culinary traditions
My first memory of a truly sumptuous Christmas lunch goes back to the time when we headed to Bangalore for a grand family reunion. I must have been ten years old. I recall how nana Maxine, my maternal grandmother, would literally roll up the leg of mutton sleeves (yes, it was a wildly popular tailored style!) of her frocks and would busy herself in the kitchen for days on end before the big feast.
The riotous whiffs and aromas, not to forget the incessant pounding of spices and whistles from a vintage pressure cooker made it all very curious for her city-bred grandchildren, yours truly included. The Anglo-Indian spread was unlike anything we'd seen back in Bombay – chilli beef fry, ball curry (no Anglo meal is complete without this staple), tongue roast, chicken korma, peas pulao, a garden salad, and cabbage foogath (a delicately stir fried dish). I can't quite recall how that meal ended because we had passed out from food coma. That frame of a buzzing luncheon table, laughter and Jim Reeves' Christmas carols in the background, courtesy papa Tom's gramophone, was Christmas at its best.
Fast forward to decades later, and we found ourselves in another part of the country where Christmas in its traditional sense is alive and kicking – Calcutta. A lit-up Park Street could've passed off as any street in downtown London (minus the crowds and traffic) while the inner lanes of Camac Street, Landsdowne Street and neighbourhoods like Bow Barracks and Rippon Street wore a quaint festive look that made us smile. But what really took our joy several notches higher was when we spotted an Anglo-Indian Christmas potluck lunch menu in a tiny restaurant off New Market. For the following hour, we tucked into Aunty Lucy's fish fry, Uncle George's mutton steak and a riot of names that were amusing takes on the community. It was one of the happiest meals we'd had that made for a warm culinary tribute to the community in the simplest way possible – by celebrating their authentic cuisine.
Time travel to present-day Bombay. Recently, when the features team began brainstorming and poring over city menus to list out traditional Christmas lunches, it turned out to be a damp squib. Instead, we noticed how most menus took the firang route. We were spoilt for choice with options from turkey roast and smoked salmon to stollen bread and Yorkshire pudding. Whatever happened to lip-smacking Goan sorpotel or Mangalorean vindaloo? It made for a disappointing realisation. Considering that the city prides itself on terms like 'melting pot', what with at least four communities that celebrate the festival, apart from the oldest Christians – the East Indians – it did put things into perspective.
With a rapidly changing population, taste buds are also seeing distinctly different trajectories. As well-travelled, discerning foodies form a large part of patronage at eateries and bars, this group seems to possibly prefer westernised options even during festival time, leading to menus themed on those lines. It's a reality that seems to have taken over even this city. There was a dearth of regional Christian culinary fare at the table.
Since it's that time of year when everyone's making a Christmas wish, we're sneaking in ours as well. We'd love to see the city's restaurateurs relook at their Christmas menus and give it a rethink next year; this, in the interest of their roots and as a platform to support regional food. The two personal episodes that we shared earlier were dripping with culinary nostalgia and traditional fervour that cannot be replicated even with the most extravagant seven-course menu by a Michelin star chef.
Bombay ought to not lose the soul and essence of this season that is, beyond doubt, another layer of its wonderfully multicultural fabric. From a very hopeful Lady Flora, Sir PM and yours truly, here's wishing all our readers a joyous Christmas.
mid-day's Features Editor Fiona Fernandez relishes the city's sights, sounds, smells and stones...wherever the ink and the inclination takes her. She tweets @bombayana Send your feedback to email@example.com
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