My dearest Komal, Anjli and Amar,
Early on in March when many countries were implementing a lockdown to curtail the spread of this new coronavirus, all my friends and I decided to inform each other of our daily food adventures. Little did we know that this lockdown was going to last this long. As I write this letter, we have just heard that the ‘quarantine’ in Switzerland is being extended for another fortnight at least!
All the ladies who took part in this exercise, cook with the Indian flavour. The meals they prepared were not just a repeat of age old recipes, they were creative and appetising(as is evident in the photographs) and all made with great awareness of the nutritional balance. Unlike in the West, salads play a very small role in the typical Indian meal. The most you might have in an elaborate dinner party is a plate of sliced cucumber, raw green chilies with wedges of onions and limes. It was pleasing to see scrumptious colourful salads and an abundant use of sprouted beans. For the vegetarian meal, sprouted beans constitute a great source of proteins. As most of my compatriots are vegetarian, the use of sprouted beans is very important. Extremely inspiring. So don’t be surprised if you find a variety of sprouted bean dishes on the dinner table on your next visit.
The Nutritious Sprouted Beans
Another method of adding nutritional value to the vegetarian meal is the extensive use of milk. Hence yogurt or buttermilk(છાશ ) is always served as part of the meal. These days due to the negative reports of meat and dairy products, more and more people are turning vegan. I would find it very difficult to follow that diet but I am sure it is possible. Many people think that the vegetarian diet is difficult to achieve. Absolutely not true!
Coming back to our cooking adventures, it was refreshing to see the influence of other cuisines like Middle Eastern, Italian, Chinese and Mexican. Mostly vegetarian!
World Cuisine in Lockdown
The Indian thalis were a regular feature. You can easily recognise the different regions of India from these thalis. Can YOU pick out the Gujarati ones from the photos below? Another noteworthy observation was the South Indian influence. None of these ladies are from southern India! I keep referring to the ‘ladies’here, but a wonderful change was also to see many of the men cooking. I guess they couldn’t use the ‘no time’ excuse. Though to be fair to them, there are some men in our circle who do like to be creative in the kitchen. To this end both Atishmama and Neshmama have proudly displayed their culinary achievements on the family group chat.
Variety of the Indian Cuisine
Judging by the number of comments received, I decided that the chaats(street food snacks) were very popular in most households. Most chaats are a variety of deep fried items together with various finger licking(chatpatta) chutneys. . So now you know how to throw that successful party. Make sure you have plenty of the following chutneys:
A positive of this quarantine period and our food diary was the emergence of the budding food photographers! I have collected a huge album of photos of these dishes. To keep to my usual format, I have only posted a few of these pictures. If there are any dishes here that you would like to cook yourselves, let me know and I will ask the cook(s) for the recipe(s) and share it/them with you.
The lockdown has definitely been earth shattering in numerous ways. Isn’t it amazing that it has made us slow down our fast pace, made us appreciate the smallest of things that we used to take for granted AND got the men cooking their own food? Something tells me our lives are going to be quite different from now on. Were we in need of this? Is there a higher being trying to balance this world which seemed to be going into a crazy direction?
On the other side: I never thought any of the ladies would get fed up of cooking and specially not our ‘Queen of the Kitchen’. I might use this grand title for just one of my friends, but the variety of meals cooked every single day and for all the lunches and dinners and even sometimes breakfasts, I feel everyone deserves this grand title. Perhaps I shall award them the ‘Queen of the Kitchen’ certificate, WHEN we next meet in person. We have all got so used to attending dinner parties at each others houses and going out to the emerging new restaurants in Zürich, that thinking of, and cooking each and every meal at home has started to tire us out. That is but inevitable. This non-stop cooking has also meant risking grocery shopping! I guess it wasn’t such a big problem for the ‘avid home-farmer’ in our group. In fact her household benefits from her home grown, potatoes, onions, zucchini, garlic, spinach….. the list is endless. I wish I had the green fingers. Two instant benefits come to mind: Continuous supply of green coriander, and healthy organic vegetables.
Putting up our meals on our group chat has definitely kept our spirits up. It has also been inspirational for everyone. For me the added inspiration has come from Jamie Oliver’s ‘Keep Cooking and Carry On’ shows on channel 4 . In early March he started off in the studio kitchen. Now he makes the show in his ‘temporary kitchen’ together with his wife taking videos on the smartphone, and with some help from a couple of his children plus the wonderful intrusions of his youngest. Really makes the whole show more believable and achievable by the general public!
Humour during Quarantine?
Having grown up in an extended as well as a vegetarian household, it was customary to have six months supply(ration-as we termed it?) of flour, oil, lentils, split daals, papdi, papad and hoards of spices. Nowadays with the dwindled household, I tend not to store so much but nonetheless I can still get by for 3 months! I have altered that hoarding attitude to having a huge freezer full of frozen vegetables, left over cooked dishes , stacks of special offer pizzas AND shelves full of tinned and bottled food items. With my 3 month hoard of flour, I can make rotlis for many months. Don’t despair, I do have some bread in the freezer. I am always prepared for your surprise visits.
You might think that I am deviating from my usual format and am being influenced by the current unbelievable situation we find ourselves in. The answer to that is Yes and No. Yes because I have veered from writing about my childhood memories and No because whatever I have related here has been in some way influenced by my past experiences: The friend circle, the predominantly Indian food, the vegetarian cuisine, etc.
So what have you three been up to during this quarantine period? We are all influenced by the governments of three different countries, so we all have marginally different experiences. The bottom line is, this virus has leveled all our existences irrespective of country, social status, wealth, race and so much more. I am however well aware that where you are and who you are will determine how your ‘new’ world is going to evolve. I hope that we ALL emerge more tolerant and helpful towards each other in the coming uncertain future.
Anyway before I start going on and on about the after-effects of Covid-19, I will end my dialogue here. Stay safe and stay healthy and keep laughing. Hopefully you will have already received notification of the new recipe I uploaded. Achalamasi’s Paella. Do tell me if you make it.
Thinking of you as always,
lots of love, hugs and kisses