How I made your mother’s lunch box. The role played by childhood memories in the kitchen.

Share this Article

A story I told our younger cat little Nimki

‘I’m picking up butta for my brother and me. Picking up some for you guys too.’

Little Nimki was amazed at seeing the corn on cob. He’d never seen one before. He stood up on his hind legs and probed the corn cob with  his front paw. Ready to diffuse the stealth missiles if required.
Just as amazed as his big sis Gee Gee was later when she heard us refer to it as bhutta and not butta. She’s Goan.

Just as amazed as I was when I had my first bhutta in Kolkata a tad more than forty years back.
Don’t worry Daddy Loaf. I will defuse the bomb

This was during the period of a year when we stayed at my maternal grandparents after my dad had passed away. I was a chubby 9 year old then.

My maternal grandparents had moved to Calcutta from New Delhi a few years back after my dadu retired from his job in the Indian Railways. My mom and her siblings had all grown up in Delhi and this had left a deep influence on them. As it had on my didu who was born in Dacca but who moved to Allahabad and then to Delhi after her marriage which was at a rather young age. A year before India became independent.

My mama (maternal uncle) was a scientist. He got a job in the government and his place of work was in the southern stretches of Calcutta. Dadu moved to Calcutta and built a house close to this office and the family (barring my youngest aunt) moved to Calcutta. Mama was quite interested in cooking. He would often make dishes or bring food that reminded him of Delhi or would ask my didu to make it. Sometimes it would be a ‘collab’ between mother and son.

I was introduced to quite a few food items during this period. The bhutta for example . I don’t remember it being as juicy as the one I had yesterday. The corn used to be harder and didu would toast it on the gas hob and then add salt and lime on it. What I had yesterday was probably American sweet corn.

Some of the dishes didu made then and which were new to me were chirer pulao (the Bengali version of poha), kolar kofta (koftas made with unripe banana). Then there were the gajar ka halwa and coolfi that they possibly made together using  the Nestle Milkmaid cookbook that mama got after responding to a direct marketing ad in the papers. He’d also introduced me to Karachi Halwa from the sweet shops at Esplanade as something he had enjoyed as a kid in Delhi. What was not there to enjoy in this nutty stick jaw I thought. I’d still binge on them today if I could!

There was the Maggi recipe book that we got after collecting Maggi packs and mailed them to an address. Not knowing then that this was a way of creating a database.

I was a big chicken Maggi fan. Loved the capsicum flavour too. Maggi noodles had been introduced in India a few months back and had been sampled in our school. I was excited as there was finally something in India which was as ‘cutting edge’ as the food items I was used to abroad were.

Among the recipes in the book was a sort of egg drop Maggi recipe and I remember making that. Under my mama’s supervision as I was not allowed to handle the stove at such a young age. That was possibly the beginning of my experimenting in the kitchen. Something I continue to do till date.

Salli chutney na mushroom bake

Take the office dabba I made for K. I had a bad back and K said she would to take a couple of bananas to office for lunch. I jumped up when I heard this. This can’t be the lunch dabba coming from the FinelyChopped Kitchen. I went to the kitchen, opened the fridge, and saw a pack of mushrooms in it and a small tub of hand pounded green chutney that we had brought back from Gallops after our Parsi new year lunch there. I rinsed the mushrooms and sliced them. Put them in a baking tray, smeared them with the green chutney, added some wood pressed coconut oil, sprinkled salt and then for ‘good fats,’ added sesame seeds and walnuts and then for some ‘good love,’ I crumbled in some Irish matured cheddar. Grilled it in the oven for 20 min at 170 c and lunch was ready in time and I put them into a lunch box and sprinkled some salli and some more cheese and gave it to K just as she was leaving and Jamesh Bong Lived To Cook Another Day!
K later told that lunch was ‘kickass’ and she ate it without even heating it.

Last evening’s bhutta snack took me back to my grandmom’s kitchen of the early 1980s.
Today’s salli chutney dingra made me wonder if my innate desire to experiment in the kitchen was born back then too.

What do you think? Are their childhood experiences that have subliminally shaped how you look at food today? Or cook it? Would love to know, if it is so.

K was working from home the next day and I made hummus and boiled
egg salad sourdough open sandwich for her and for GeeGee (with salli)
who had just returned from college. The two ladies were on work calls
while us boys loafed 😂😂😂

Share this Article