I was so happy to complete the first draft of the Cook to Jhoom book (we are going with that, rather than Cook2Jhoom) last week. All the recipes have been tested and re-tested, the photos are done, the introduction has been drafted, there is just enough nutrition information to enlighten you and not overwhelm you and Shalini has even written the Foreword!
Shalini’s Foreword came as a very pleasant surprise. She had hinted at what would be in it but I was quite taken aback by how much of it comprised her childhood food memories. I am now back in Mombasa after almost 18 years of living away, but when I was in England Shalini and I (and our dear friend Muno) would often talk about the fact that we had been away from our childhood home (Kenya) for more than half our lives and we discussed how this had shaped our identities. There was usually a consensus that we had moved on from our Kenyan Indian identities in many ways. Speaking for myself, it took me a long time to stop calling Kenya home. It wasn’t until 2006, when I had settled into and was enjoying life in London that Kenya began to feel less and less like home. Before 2006, I would take every opportunity to return to Kenya for my holidays, often spending inappropriately long summers in Mombasa and returning to Switzerland/Miami/Milton Keynes with a very heavy heart. When I was in London, that all changed. 2-3 week holidays were now just enough time in Mombasa and, as much as I missed my parents, I was always happy to go back to London. I was moving on. Writing this cookbook has led me to revisit the food
of my childhood and to reconnect with the Kenyan Indian in me, this time putting my own twist on things. Reading Shalini’s foreword, it was apparent that she has so many fond memories of the food of her childhood informed, not only by her mum’s and dad’s cooking, but also by the chain of fine dining Indian restaurants that her family owned in Kenya. You’ll have to read her Foreword to find out the rest.
One thing we both remember fondly – and many Kenyans will relate – is our fathers’ Korogas. A Koroga involves outdoor cooking, usually a chicken or meat curry, in an industrial sized aluminium pot on a charcoal fire (jiko), almost always by a man. Crusty white bread and a mixed raw salad usually accompanied the Koroga curries of my childhood. On my first birthday party in 1975 my Dad did a Koroga for 200 people. And my mum made about 14 other dishes. I wish I had a scanner so I could share the photos with you, although they are embedded in an album and my mum would freak if I dislodged them, so you’ll just have to conjure a mental image of women in impeccable 70s fashion (a lot of bouffants, bell-bottoms and elegant saris) and a lot of men sitting around a simmering cauldron of chicken masala. I think my 1st birthday was just a convenient excuse. The Koroga tradition is alive and kicking with dedicated Koroga clubs and facilities all over Kenya. I went to a Karoga the other day and not much has changed – over-sized pot, rustic jiko, all fresh ingredients, beer, scotch, madafu (coconut water), bread, salad and a lot of anticipation for the main course. Though now there are a few more starters (they were called ‘bitings’ in my childhood days), naans, more vegetarian options, and rather fancy desserts (we usually got fruit salad or ice cream – a trifle if we were lucky). Many cultures have a tradition of outdoor cooking in various guises, be it a barbecue,
cookout, or Koroga. It’s about getting together in the fresh air and great outdoors and giving the men a chance to cook in the ‘manliest’ way possible – not for them the fancy Le Creuset casseroles and the small cooking ranges! Yes, I know things are changing now!
Of course, most of my childhood food memories are made up of my Mum’s cooking. She’s from Delhi and brought her traditional North Indian cooking knowledge to Kenya after
getting hitched to my dad. I’ve seen her cooking change over the years as she has exchanged kitchen wisdom with her Gujarati, Swahili, Sri Lankan and South Indian friends, not to mention her Polish friend (Mrs Babriski – the loveliest candied orange peel), her Israeli friend (Aunty Doba – amazing breads and cakes) and a lovely Japanese lady whose name I forget but who made the most delicious sweet bread rolls (and gave us a lot of Hello Kitty paraphernalia which I should have looked after because it would be vintage and worth a bit now). The strongest memories, however, are of home cooking in Kenya.
Indian food in Kenya is distinctive – it is different form Indian food in India – at least to me. On two occasions I went to Indian restaurants in London where I felt that the food was very evocative of the food in Kenya and I later found out that both restaurants were owned and run by Indians from East Africa who had emigrated to England in the 1960s. Perhaps it is because of the intermingling of various Asian communities in such a small space that leads to considerable exchange and sharing and is quite unique to East Africa. I’m so grateful for it as I am grateful for all the new things I learned in my time away, especially in London. London is incredibly unique for the sheer range of cuisine (variety and price) and availability of ingredients, not to mention speciality food shops – I know, I have mentioned this a few times in my blogs, but I can’t help it, it is a food nerd’s paradise. I have definitely channelled the food of my childhood in this cookbook, my Kenyan Indian childhood and while I may move on from Mombasa again one day, food is one way that I will always stay connected to my childhood and current home.