Serving Food Is Intimate And Sensual: RD In Conversation With Actor And Author Madhur Jaffrey
Actor and author Madhur Jaffrey walks down memory lane and shares how she turned her passion into a career
How did you develop your fascination for food?
I have loved food since I was born. The first taste I recall is of my grandmother writing ‘Om’ on my tongue with honey because it’s a custom in our family, and my mother said that I opened my mouth and wanted more. So obviously I have a feel—and love—for food and that must be because God gave me a palate.
When did you start cooking?
When I left home in Delhi and went to England as a student, suddenly I missed Indian food, so I had to make it myself. I wrote to my mother and said, “Teach me how to cook,” and she wrote me little airmail with her cooking tips. I improvised from her experience, started cooking one, two, three dishes that I made again and again and expanded my repertoire.
What has cooking meant for you?
For me, it is a means to an end. The end is a good meal. When do you feel the most joy in the whole process? Eating well. Also, I love to feed people and cook dinners for people.
Cooking for some people is meditative …
In Ayurveda, the whole system of chopping, grinding and mixing is a meditative process. Your soul is uplifted by the slow doing of things, getting into the rhythm. Also, when you are feeding your children, they say that you are passing on your love. Serving food, in general, is very intimate and sensual.
When you visit India now, have you noticed the popularity of regional food?
This is something that started a while ago, actually. People are offering different things. But it’s kind of syncretic. The different gharanas of cooking … You see 20 gharanas of cooking at the same time, and it’s also snacky, like in the West. More than a meal, it has become snacky.
Vegetarianism is big. In fact, there are a lot of people who have turned vegan in India.
How can you become vegan with our dahi? Milk products are so important, paneer and dahi are terribly important. I just find it strange for Indians to become vegans. What are your food rules? I have no rules. I don’t like rules. I will put it together how I want to.
Has this enabled you to be more creative with your cooking?
It lets me enjoy the food the way I desire. Leave me in peace [I say]. Everybody has a different palate. You want to do things your way—at least I do. I [do] enjoy and love a lot of the traditional foods like dal-chawal and everything else like that though.
What are your favourite five Indian foods?
Kadi-chawal, idli-sambhar, idiyappams (string hoppers), with anything … Dal-chawal (mung dal), with a seasoning of hing [asafoetida] and laal mirch baas—Dilli wali.
When you eat out, is there a special thing you like to order in India or at home in the US?
In America, we eat at home most of the time. When we go out, we eat Chinese. In India I don’t eat out, because I am so rarely here. I go to my family—cousins, brothers, sisters—and when I eat with them, I am very happy. I get kathal [jackfruit] and all the things I like.
And you like it when others cook for you?
Yes, I love it, because then, I don’t have to cook.