Taste Memory Talks: Series Two—Pooja Dhingra

Our lives are made up of dreams. We visualise them with great passion, and give it our soul to fulfil them. But, when you realise the dream can no more thrive, you can feel the cocoon coming apart. What you actually need to do is to wake up the next morning, smell the coffee and keep going. Dream another dream. Eat a chocolate chip cookie, probably, and be hopeful for tomorrow.

As a chef and an entrepreneur, Pooja Dhingra dreaded the shutdown of Le15 Café in Colaba, Mumbai. Her food enterprise, Le15 India, is an iconic one in Mumbai, which includes many counters across the city. Le15 Café, however, was a place she often called her home. “I had to make a tough decision based on the current economic climate. It was a decision that wasn’t easy (but a necessary one) so that the rest of the business could survive. I spoke to my investors and mentors and took the decision based on all the facts in front of me,” says the 34-year-old chef.

After seeing all the love for the café, Pooja and her team decided to come up with an e-cookbook (in less than a month’s time) with the precious recipes and stories coming straight from their kitchen. “It was heartwarming to see the memories everyone had of the café. It made me believe that when you put out something with the intention of love, it’s received with that same intention,” says Pooja.

A cookbook for the memory keepers 

“I’ve always wanted to write the Le15 Café Cookbook and highlight our recipes and dishes. When we shut the café, I was heartbroken and wanted our recipes to live on forever. That’s when we decided to have an e-cookbook (with co-author, Tejashwi Muppidi, who was the head chef of savouries at the café). Now, people can make their favourites at home and support our business and team with every purchase,” says Pooja. The e-cookbook has 50 recipes of basic items like pickled onions and hollandaise sauce, breakfast hits like Pooja’s Omelette and the Turkish eggs and of course, the pancakes, pastas, waffles and desserts (yes, the hot chocolate is included too).

The feeling of home

As a kid, Pooja remembers the special meals that her dad cooked at home for the entire family. During the lockdown, the chef in him came back in action. “It’s exciting to see him rediscover his love for food and cooking,” says Pooja. The current scenario has allowed her to catch up on some reading and learn the most-cherished home recipes. “I’m trying to learn how to cook from my family. I haven’t spent so much time at home in 10 years and the silver lining is that I’m with them. Considering that the ingredients are limited and access to groceries is sparse, I’m not experimenting too much with anything new,” says Pooja, whose current reads are Normal People by Sally Rooney and Everything is Figureoutable by Marie Forleo. What is the first thing she wants to do when the lockdown is over? “Honestly, I just miss the simple things like having dinner and being with my friends. Post pandemic, that’s the thing I’m most excited about,” says Pooja.

Memorable meals around the world

As a child, Pooja used to love it when her Nani visited her from Delhi and cooked some good food in their Mumbai kitchen. “That was the time when actually I ate the typical Punjabi food; those are all happy memories,” says Pooja. Her favourite travel food memory, though, is from the time when she had travelled to Peru. “I had one of my most incredible meals at a restaurant called ‘Central’ in Lima, Peru,” she says. A trip to Tokyo made her believe that delicious food has no labels. “I had a simple pork cutlet from 7-Eleven in Kyoto, Japan. It was just a random day; I walked in, picked up something from the supermarket, and, it turned out to be one of the best things I’ve ever eaten that costed like nothing!” reminisces Pooja.

Good days, bad days

Life of a pastry chef is not just about berries and pies, there’s a new little war at work every day. “I don’t think life is a cakewalk for any person running a business. There are always problems and nothing can prepare you for most of them. I’ve been running Le15 for 10 years and the challenges have only changed in nature but they still exist. From starting out as a very young businesswoman, not being taken seriously and trying to understand the business to now dealing with a large team, navigating the future and planning for scale—there’s a lot of hard work that has to be put in,” says Pooja, who also enjoys teaching baking skills through her studio workshops and books. Her newest dessert store is ready to open its doors at Palladium, Lower Parel, Mumbai (when the mall reopens after the lockdown).

Word of wisdom

If you’re an aspiring baker, listen out to what Pooja has to say. “Just be patient and passionate about what you do. The only competition you should have is with yourself. What matters the most is to keep learning new things and working on your skills.” And, don’t forget to wear the right attitude, the way she does. “There’s a lot that one doesn’t know and that keeps me motivated to constantly learn and grow,” says Pooja.

Le15 Café Cookbook is written by Pooja Dhingra and Tejashwi Muppidi. It can be bought here.

Taste Memory Talks: Series two—Ranveer Brar

He is India’s chef next door for millions of home cooks who find his cooking effortless and fun. Behind his modest smile is his strong culinary repertoire that makes chef Ranveer Brar stand out in the crowd. Here, he talks about his family life as he’s homebound, like the rest of the world, during these COVID-19 times

Being at home is something every chef must be grateful for these days, as their routines slow down. Chef Ranveer Brar is no different. He’s at his Mumbai home with his family and has been balancing out his time while creating content for his followers on social media. “Spending time with my son is something I was not able to do due to to my frequent travels, so, this is a great opportunity for me to catch up with the family,” says Ranveer.

The magic of home cooking

Ranveer loves the fact that he’s getting to cook for his family during these tough times. “As chefs, sometimes, we tend to get lost in the glamorous food of the commercial world. For me, now is the time to rediscover the comfort of home food,” says the chef. Ranveer supports the thought of making the best out of the resources that are made available at home. “I have always believed that less is more, and it’s the principle that is in force now more than ever,” says Ranveer, who likes to indulge in quick/cheat meals for his son and himself.

Bonding with his child

For any parent, being stuck at home without any outdoor activity can be nerve-wracking, but, for Ranveer, this time is all about enjoying every day with a positive mindset that helps one see a broader picture. “It is a challenge to keep kids constructively occupied at this time, especially when we are all mostly confined indoors. But, it is also a blessing in its own way. Try and inculcate healthy habits in kids, plan interactive family activities rather than leaving the kids alone to be entertained with digital media all the time. Rebuild that family bond,” he says.

Keeping busy at home

Apart from creating content for his brand and the ones he’s associated with, Ranveer is constantly doing recipes and live sessions on his Instagram page for his tribe. “Also, I’m catching up on my reading list and revisiting my bookshelf. Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks, The Third Curve by Mansoor Khan and Food for Thought – Thought for Food are some of the titles I’m reading at present. I’m also watching the latest season of Money Heist and Sherlock, my current favourite digital series,” says Ranveer.

Revisiting childhood summers

As a kid, Ranveer clearly remembers the train travels that he took with his family from Lucknow to Punjab. “The one thing about those journeys that pops up in my mind is the safar ka khana or the travel food that my mum cooked for us. It was unforgettable,” says Ranveer. Apart from this, the chef remembers being with his grandmother—whom he fondly calls Biji—in their ancestral kitchen or guarding the fields as a young boy. “Our summer holidays coincided with the harvest time for wheat, and after the harvest, we would sow alfalfa for the cattle. I was the guardian of the fields, and it was invariably my job to look after the crops. At that age, I used to feel a bit off when other kids at school would recite their interesting vacation stories and mine would be the same every year. But in retrospect, it’s become my most cherished memory,” says Ranveer.

Mango madness

We all have our own version of childhood stories when it comes to mangoes. And for Ranveer, his goes like this, “As kids, we used to pluck the mangoes from the trees, drop them in buckets of cold water and go off to play cricket (with bats that were made with mango tree branches) and come back to enjoy the juicy mangoes.”

The Pandemic effect

The five restaurants that Ranveer owns are currently operating with limited staff for deliveries, he confirmed. How will the pandemic impact the restaurant business? “The recovery from the COVID-19 situation would be a joint exercise, a give and take act between landlords, tenants and staff. Every one will have to pitch in. And this includes stretching the currency to stay afloat as well,” says Ranveer. Not just this, the food that would be cooked in professional kitchens might also see a streak of change, according to the chef. “Dishes ordered would be simpler. The menus—on the whole—would be smaller and simpler that would require less ingredients,” says Ranveer.

Taste Memory Talks: Series One—Tejasvi Chandela

Meet Jaipur-based Tejasvi Chandela, who is all set to take the baking world by storm. Here, she talks about her favourite desserts that she’s had around the world and gives us an update on her creative life.

Since the past few years, chef and entrepreneur Tejasvi Chandela took it all in her stride to excel in what she went on to do in life. From studying at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris to doing her masters in chocolate making at EPGB, Barcelona, she has come a long way to reach where she has. Today, she enjoys the sweet taste of success, as she is the proud co-founder of All Things—an artisanal chocolate label, and runs Dzurt (cafe and pâtissière) and Cut Chocolate Cake (a studio kitchen) for imparting workshops.

The current lockdown scene, however, has helped her push the envelope in terms of reaching out to more people and share her baking expertise with. Apart from doing tutorials on YouTube and on her social media page, she is busy reading (her current read is Macarons by Pierre Herme) and penning her first cookbook. The cherry on the cake is the time she gets to spend with her baby girl and family. “I’m trying to stay motivated as much as I possibly can. There are good days and bad days—but I’m sailing through it like everyone else,” says Tejasvi.

Know her signature style

Tejasvi likes to give her personal touch to everything she makes in the kitchen. She takes inspiration from her travels, experiments at her All Things’ factory space with the assorted bars of chocolate and finally, uses her mastered French techniques to lend her own touch to the recipes she’s had since childhood. “I like to stay true to what I love to eat, and bring that to the table. For instance, I love S’mores. So, I decided to get my own version at Dzurt (her pâtissière and cafe in Jaipur). I have got a S’mores Choux Bun, which is basically a choux bun with a chocolate cremeux filling, a brûléed marshmallow fluff on top with a house-made graham cracker stuck on the side,” says Tejasvi.

Debunking baking myths 

For Tejasvi, one should always have fun while baking. “Baking is therapeutic and I genuinely believe that the mindset in which the cake was made is exactly how it turns out in the end. Having said that, I find the cut-and-fold method while making a cake batter a waste of time. It means nothing and rather, incorporates air in the batter. Your cake should never be over-beaten once the dry ingredients go in, as that will make the cake even more dense. Just mix the batter with a whisk first and finish it off with a spatula,” she says.

A baking trick she swears by 

“Foil paper is my go-to buddy in the kitchen. It’s a fabulous thing to play with. Many a time, I use steel/aluminium rings (bottomless) to bake my cakes. While I do that, I just place a piece of foil underneath and scrunch it up from all sides and this gives me the perfect mould,” says Tejasvi, and adds, “If your cake is fully baked on the top, but, is raw from the inside, you can gently place a piece of foil paper on top of the mould and save the cake from burning or browning the top.”

Much-loved dessert moments 

Thinking about her favourite food memories, Tejasvi recalls, “Every Sunday, my father would make banana flambé for us kids. Even now, there are times when we pester him to make it.” She fondly remembers the first time she got to taste what she calls the best tea cake in the world—the Victorian sponge cake. “I had it for the first time next to the Windsor Castle, which was very close to my university in London. The feeling of sitting in the garden on an English summer day and eating a slice of that heavenly cake—I’ll never ever forget that taste,” says Tejasvi. When her classmate made Brigadeiro—a traditional Brazilian dessert—for her, she knew she could never forget the taste for a long time. “I was studying in Paris at the time. My Brazilian bestie, Lulu, and I took a weekend off and went to see my god mother at Les Sables-d’Olonne. I remember entering a grocery store, where Lulu picked up a can of condensed milk, dark chocolate, butter and cream. We went back to our apartment and she made Brigadeiro and it blew my mind,” says Tejasvi.

Predicting the future 

“Honestly, post-pandemic, I really hope our businesses can sustain. Looking at the current scenario, our industry is going to take a huge hit. Nevertheless, I hope chefs remain inspired and something amazing comes out of this. Wishful thinking can do no harm,” she says.

Taste Memory Talks: Series One — Shilarna Vazé

A passionate foodie, mum, TV host, author and co-owner of Gaia Gourmet (Bollywood’s most-loved catering label), Shilarna Vazé is an inspiration for many home chefs. Here, she talks about how she spends her self-isolation days at home and spills a few kitchen secrets.

Taste Memory Talks: How are you coping with the current self-isolation days?

Shilarna Vazé: “As a working mom, I’m using this time to do all those things I said I wanted to do but didn’t have time to. Now, I can hang out with my baby without having an agenda of what’s next, cooking for my family and doing yoga (not as regularly as I would like). I’m enjoying this time without the pressure of our usual go-go-go lifestyle.”

TMT: What do you love to cook the most these days?

Shilarna: “I love to cook what I call ‘simple’ home meals but might not seem simple to a layman. It could be ramen one day or poha the next or a flourless chocolate cake! We basically cook what we feel like eating on a day!”

TMT: At home, which are the kitchen tricks and tools you swear by?

Shilarna: “A well-stocked pantry is the biggest essential. You can’t cook interesting food if you don’t have interesting and assorted ingredients in your kitchen. As far as tools go, my blender and oven are really being used. A good peeler and mortar pestle and a salad spinner are essential as well.”

TMT: Tell us a few food memories that are close to your heart. Also, a few of your favourite books.
Shilarna: “Varan bhat and fried fish from my childhood. The fondue that I had in the Swiss alps (reminds me of my husband’s home). Also, I’m a die-hard fan of amazing dim sums. When it comes to books, I like Island by Aldous Huxley, An Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan and the Third Plate by Dan Berber.

TMT: Post-pandemic, what changes can you see in terms of food trends?

Shilarna: “I see everyone wanting to be more self-sufficient, wanting to cook more, grow more and come back to a slightly more holistic way of living.”

Taste Memory Talks: Series One — Garima Arora

Michelin-star chef and restaurant owner, Garima Arora, shares her thoughts on life under lockdown, her most memorable meals, and why her dad is her biggest inspiration.

She is in Bangkok, far away from Mumbai, her home town. With the lockdown in place, Garima has embraced well to a slow lifestyle. How’s a typical day at home? “I’m a routine kind of a person. Every day, I take my dog, Aloo, for a walk at 8AM for about an hour, followed by my daily chai and a couple of hours of work, and then chores and some reading. I eat an early dinner with a glass of red wine. Before I head to bed I FaceTime with the husband (who is now in Mumbai),” says Garima.

Home life

For Garima, her daily routine is all about living a healthy life. “Now that I have time, I take this opportunity to really focus on my health. It was challenging before when the restaurant was super busy all the time. These days, I enjoy cooking myself simple, healthy meals. My go-to meal is scrambled eggs with some good bread,” she says. Her local bakery, Salee, is her saviour when it comes to artisanal baked goodies. Garima is not at all into TV. She’d rather see something that inspires her to stay fit. “Of late, our PR manager has been sharing some good home workout videos on YouTube. I highly recommend Natacha Océane’s HIIT workouts,” says Garima.

Current reads

“I’m currently reading Curry by Lizzie Collingham and Butter, A Rich History by Elaine Khosrova. I just finished The Shining by Stephen King,” she says.

Kitchen inspiration

Her love for good food comes from the memorable meals her father cooked at home. “Being in the kitchen with my father as a child is definitely one of the most defining moments of my life. He travelled a lot and would bring back home (at the time) exotic recipes like hummus and baba rum. The reason I enjoyed his food so much was that he always cooked with pleasure and joy,” says Garima.

Food nostalgia

“My husband and I celebrated our first anniversary in Tromsø, Norway. One of the things that I remember fondly from that trip is the fish stew. The weather was really cold at the time and to have something hot and delicious like that was the best thing in the world. I pretty much had it everyday on that trip,” says Garima. The other dish she fondly remembers was prepared by the Filipino chef, Margarita Forés. “She whipped up this dish called Kinilaw—which is a Philippine ceviche—right in the middle of the market when we were in Manila last year. It was a salad—made with the freshest crab meat and coconut milk we’d ever had—tossed with palm vinegar and fresh chillies. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it!” adds Garima.

A home recipe close to her heart

“My father makes this pickled ginger that he always keeps at the dining table. The thinly sliced ginger is left in vinegar for two weeks at room temperature. It’s very simple to make and so versatile. It can be added to anything and will instantly brighten up any dish with some spiciness and acidity,” she says.

Post-pandemic trends

While home chefs are cooking day in day out to inspire themselves, what the future food trends behold is an unknown territory that’s tough to talk about. “Future predictions are guesses at best because how this all ends will mostly depend on how long this lasts. Right now, we are taking it day by day,” says Garima before signing off.

Let’s make some rolls

I’m at my mother’s place, and I’m constantly trying to divert my mind whatsoever. In spite of running around my toddler, I end up thinking a lot. But thanks to my cooking and baking expeditions, I rather plan to gamble with yeast and coconut milk instead of overthinking how life will be after a few months. We got to find hope. We got to calm our anxious minds. And yes, we got to save our pantry from using too many ingredients but it’s a bit tricky. How else will I divert my mind if I don’t try something new in the kitchen? I don’t mean baking a cake every day, but one or two baking expeditions in a month shall be fine?

I’m not a person who can use a weighing machine, let alone kneading a dough with yeast. These days, however, I feel like going all out there, without fearing the outcomes. It can cause embarrassment when my dough doesn’t rise or when a loaf of bread comes out flat, but who cares. Until and unless you keep going, there’s no point getting stuck and giving up. Now, I’m a basic person when it comes to food. So, I thought, it would be great if I could make some basic buns. Lockdown days don’t allow us to step out, and then I thought, what the hell, it’s high time I try making some.

So, here’s how I made some burger buns. Titli Nihaan of the Bread Kitchen came to my rescue. It is her recipe that I tried, but you got to see how it went in my kitchen.

Step one: You got to activate your yeast. If your yeast is not active, your dough won’t rise. You can never be in a rush with yeast. So, I added around two tsps of inactive yeast and two tbsps of sugar to 300 ML of homemade buttermilk. In Title’s video, her buttermilk became all frothy in ten minutes. But, it took me an hour to just see those bubbles and it almost was more than an hour when my buttermilk became all frothy. And, I was good to go to my next step. Tip: If your buttermilk is not frothy even after an hour, take some warm water and do the same process with it. It should activate in 15-20 minutes.

Step two: Knead the dough. Now, we need four cups of all-purpose flour or maida for this recipe. Maida is excellent when it comes to how soft are your burger buns, and if you have those occasionally, it’s better to eat the best ones that are risen well and that only a maida dough can help you achieve. But, I had only two cups maida with me, so I went ahead and took two cups of whole-wheat flour and two cups of maida. Added a tsp of salt, and slowly, started adding the frothy buttermilk to it. Now, make a dough. I added one cup of warm water too, as I couldn’t achieve a good consistency. After getting to a sticky dough, you need to knead it for 10-15 minutes.

Step three: Knead the dough. So, sprinkle some maida flour on a clean kitchen counter and start kneading the dough. I used some ghee and flour in between to keep the process easy. Watch Titli’s video for the technique. Have attached a link here.  Then, place the dough in a big bowl and cover it with a wet kitchen towel or plastic bag or cling wrap.

Step four: Now, for some, their dough goes double in an hour. But I took 2.5 hours. Once you know it has gone double, you need to start making the round buns and place it in a greased (I used some ghee) baking tray. Take the dough out of the bowl and knead it for a minute or two to remove the gas out. Take some flour on the counter or ghee on the palms of your hands to knead well. Now, make small balls out of it. Weigh each of the ball on a weighing machine and make sure all of them weigh the same. Then, follow Titli’s instructions and make your buns as she shows in the video. Now starts the second round of proofing the dough. Your bun balls should rise after about an hour. Cover them and keep the tray in a warm place. Tip: If you want to make pavs or Pav Bhaji, follow Nisha’s instructions in this video on how to go ahead.

Step five: After you know that the dough balls have risen, you need to bake them. With a silica/plastic brush, polish the top of each ball with milk. Once you do the milk wash, sprinkle some black and white sesame seeds on them. Bake the buns (I used the roasting option which makes the heat was on, on both the sides) on 200 C for 15-18 minutes. once you know that the buns are looking a bit brown on the top, remove the tray and check.

I was on cloud nine after this baking session. If you can activate the yeast well, chances are, your buns will turn out all right. Happy baking, you all!

8 Food YouTube Channels That Inspire Me 

I’m someone who’s been jobless for years (since I got married), and being at home can be really dull. That’s when I started using YouTube a lot, a hell lot in fact. I’m a loyalist by nature, so whichever video I liked, I didn’t mind going back to it time and again. Secondly, I and my husband are not much into travelling. Weekend getaways are fine, but we’re really lazy when it comes to long/international trips for many reasons, which is why when I see a YouTuber talking about their local food, it gives me a peek into their lives and that widens your horizon automatically. Lastly, I’m not into food fads, so knowing local people from foreign lands doing their local dishes is an eye-opening experience. I’m a vegetarian, so all the videos that I have seen are of the same category. There’s a lot of filtering that needs to be done, but I can manage. Here’s my list of a few of the channels/individuals that I follow on YouTube. 

1. Bong Eats

I was hooked to this channel from the first video itself. It was mind-blowing to see Bengali food being represented to perfection. From the measurements to memories—Saptarshi Chakraborty and Insiya Poonawala have done their job so well, it’s unbelievable. Whenever I miss home, I go to this channel and get lost into their music and their simple yet heart-warming way of featuring recipes. 

2. Food Wishes 

You hardly find chefs these days who are successful and yet levelheaded. Chef John of Food Wishes is a master when it comes to food tutorials. There are so many recipes that are in my list from this channel that I want to try in my kitchen! He’s the coolest chef I know! Chef John can do desserts, savouries, breads and so much more—with utmost ease. Plus, the humour of this American chef is the best part about him.

3. Pickup Limes

This Canadian nutritionist who currently lives in Netherlands is the one you’d like to follow for healthy and good-looking dishes. Her recipes score high on nutrition and overall appeal. My favourite is the one in which Sadia talks about Vietnamese Pho and why she loves it (the background score was so melodious I must have kept it on repeat for 20 times during my travels). If you’re into vegan food, you won’t be disappointed too. She always shares PDF version of her recipes and has her own ebook that can come in handy. She also does videos on minimalism and personal life talks that helps us viewers connect better. Did I say she has a gorgeous smile?

4. Maangchi

I’m not into non-vegetarian food so why do I follow this Korean food blogger? Her love for her native food is incredible. You get a good insight of all things Kimchi and more—plus her passion for sharing her food stories got me all happy whenever i watched her. I do have to skip many videos as I don’t eat non-vegetarian food, but I filter it up and keep going. There are so many cute moments—from the way she washes everything including her chopping board to the way she tastes everything that she makes in the end of the videos—that will make you fall for Emily Kim aka Maangchi who resides in the US but is totally Korean by heart. She has her own cookbooks as well, FYI.  

5. Pasta Grannies

Before I die, I want to learn how to make pasta for my husband and my family and relish it to the hilt. Now, I keep imagining myself strolling in the streets of Italy, looking out for the many versions of pasta, knowing their history and meeting a bunch of foodies too. But thanks to this godsend channel, I can see adorable grannies doing pasta. It’s such a tough task to make pasta from scratch but looking at their videos, I guess one day I might make myself some and go to sleep like a child. No wonder I keep thinking before getting carried away buying pasta packets at the gourmet aisles. 

6. Sukkari Life
Raoum is into yoga, zero-waste life/minimalism, vegan food and travel, which is why millennials should follow her. She is based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and this again gives me a glimpse of how’s life in that part of the world. Raoum keeps doing her routine videos and I love those. She doesn’t have a studio kind of a thing going on for her, so I find her videos raw and artistic for some reason. I like the way she has her tea, preps her day’s food, the way she keeps bringing her siblings in her videos to make it real, and does heart-to-heart chats about different lifestyle topics before the camera. 

7. Li Ziqi

She’s a young food blogger from the interiors of China but watch her videos and you’d know what her place is like. When I saw her for the first time, I couldn’t believe such a beauty of life exists. She makes food from scratch and does creative things where she’s making her own stuff. It’s like a fairy tale on play whenever I watch her. Imagine a girl climbing trees, picking fruits and flowers in her cane basket, drying them probably too, then cooking the same in food containers of varied sizes and storing them so well. Each activity offers a crisp sound—peeling veggies, plucking plants, tempering them and so forth. 

8. The Bread Kitchen

As a freelance writer, I spend a lot of time sulking. I remember being in Gurgaon (have spent almost five years in that Delhi NCR area), and exploring passionate foodies around the globe through YouTube. I and my husband had our version of tragedies and there was a time, anything that made me smile meant the world to me. Titli Nihaan brought me one big smile, and every time I saw her bake bread, I was happy. She’s like Julia Child. A passion for food is enough for others to fall in love with you. Who cares for the frills. Titli offers many bread varieties to her followers; her simple approach to things comes through. What a winner I tell you! 

What mangoes meant in Ramgarh

My father grew up in Ramgarh, a desert village near the district of Jaisalmer. It’s near the border, hence you can always see army trucks on the main road that leads to the village. Unlike the districts, desert villages didn’t procure the harvest of fruits and vegetables because of many reasons like limited supply of water and land quality. So, my grandparents always had to do with whatever was made available to them. My grandfather, whose name was Gyan Chand ji, ran a Kiryane ki dukan (general store) with his brother. They basically had two families to be fed with what they earned and what was left from the stock. And this about the ’60s, so at the time in India, people had huge families. Whatever produce my grandfather or his brother got, it always got divided among the kids and this meant limited supply. The kids (my father and his siblings counted five) were always offered small-sized portions of food items and there was always this competition of who’s going to get what.

The desert life was all about using what you have. There were many cows that my grandfather had, so there was always milk and its products for the kids. But fruits and veggies were luxury items, and the king of all–needless to say–was mango. When the mango season came, the kids dreamt of nothing but juicy mangoes. Everything else was secondary. In Ramgarh, mangoes, unlike now in cities, didn’t come in endless varieties and volume.

“My father used to get some mangoes from Jaisalmer (as the main market was there), and we, in the end of all distribution, got around one KG mangoes for us all. Which didn’t mean much. The five of us kids had to make up with two mangoes per day,” papa once told me. Every mango was like a treasure for us, and the fights were real. “A mango was divided in three parts. The one that came along with the skin, the middle juicy part, and the best part was the gootli (the seed),” he fondly narrated to me. Whoever got to eat the gootli was the lucky fellow as that is the tastiest layer of the mango. Dreams are made of this. You always have to earn the gootli. It doesn’t come easy.

My grandmother made Aam Ras (mango pulp mixed with water and sugar) which was supposed to be had with rotis. When the mango season came, it was only Aam Ras and Roti for the kids. They were ready to kick everything out. After a hard day of play and school in the sands, a dream-like reward meant all. “Imagine. My mom used to make Aam Ras with only two Langda mangoes for us five. A lot of water was added to suffice our portions, and we still loved every sip of it, ” papa told me with a smile that of a child. When you break a piping hot tukda of roti and dip it in the cool and sweet Aam Ras, it sparks stars in your mind, let alone the taste buds. And that was all for them in summers. Aam Ras Roti. And, all they knew, was life was good.