On Mother's Day, 7 Memories Of 'Maa Ke Haath Ka Khana'
Image Credit: The power that our mom's cooking holds on our imaginations, emotions and memories is undeniable.

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Rajma-chawal, kadhi, tinda, tamarind rice... we may all have different preferences when it comes to naming a specific dish we loved from our mothers' kitchens. But underlying these varied dishes, there is a unifying thread or theme: often, these are everyday meals, so tailormade for our tastebuds that even haute cuisine rarely comes close to matching the sheer sense of comfort and homecoming they offer. Or maybe it is our tastes that were shaped by the dish. Whichever is the case, the power that our mom's cooking holds on our imaginations, emotions and memories is undeniable. On Mother's Day, seven personalities tell us about the food memory concerning their moms that they hold dearest. Read on...

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni | Telebhaja: 

"A dish I remember fondly from my childhood in Kolkata is pakora, which in Bengali we called telebhaja: golden besan fritters with chopped onions and chillies in the batter, deep fried in a large wok. My mother used to make them on rainy afternoons, and we ate them hot, right from the platter where she strained and deposited them. There were never any leftovers. Now I make pakora for my husband and two sons, and they love it just as much. In my home, too, there are no leftovers, only the sweet memory of my mother wafting through the house long after we've finished eating."

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is the author of The Palace Of Illusions, The Last Queen, Mistress Of Spices and many other bestsellers.


Guneet Monga Kapoor | Rajma: 

"My mother-in-law, Sudesh Rani Kapoor has been like a mother to me ever since I got married recently. She loves cooking, she loves making food, and doesn't let anybody else do it. For her, it's a passion at another level.

When I met (my husband's) family for the first time, in October 2021, it was a Monday. Mom was on a vrat. But she made sure to make an insane amount of food for me. She made their special palak papdi chaat. Her rajma and sarson baingan is world-best. Considering she was fasting and yet did so much to welcome her new daughter-in-law, it was incredible.

I have had rajma from various places around the world and I always thought that the one at my own house was very nice...because we are Punjabi Sikhs. But my mom-in-law's rajma is the best! There's this new thing where my friends, before coming home, will call her in advance and say, "Aap rajma bana do, toh hum aa jayenge." Her sarson baingan is rather a new thing for me and I love it. So every time I go to Delhi, this is my staple."

Guneet Monga Kapoor is the producer of several acclaimed films, most recently, the Oscar winning documentary short The Elephant Whisperers.


Krish Ashok | Bisibelebaath:

"One particularly poignant food memory of mine is my mother’s bisibelebaath

It was a working mother’s functional recipe, not the romanticised Indian uncleji fever dream where everything is made from scratch, and pressure cookers and refrigerators are not used. She had a bank job and three children to take care of. She cut the vegetables the previous night and refrigerated them. It was cooked in one shot in a pressure cooker and not in the multi-step, time-consuming traditional process. 

The dish I remember from my childhood was the perfect special occasion dish. While it was a carb-bomb, it still managed to sneak in a healthy portion of vegetables that were cooked well enough to be completely integrated into the mushy texture of the rice and dal. Cause you know as kids, we never liked to eat any vegetable that did not look like potato. 

The highlight of the dish were the expensive, freezer-stored cashews roasted in ghee. Half of them would disappear into our mouths in the short window of time between their roasting and their mixing into the dish. And finally there was the boondi: crispy fried, spicy, ball-bearing sized drops of gram flour that provided the crunch element to what is otherwise an overall mushy texture. 

Kids love the dish because it’s soft and ghee-drenched. Mothers love the dish because it’s easy to make at large scale in one go and also manages to get kids to eat vegetables they would never otherwise touch!"

Krish Ashok is the author of the bestselling Masala Lab: The Science of Indian Cooking.


Ranveer Brar | Tinda:

A food memory that I closely associate with my mom is her quest to feed me tinda (apple gourd). I have seen her try everything: from roasting it to making it into a paratha, or keema, or even cooking it with vadi. I have tasted perhaps 40 recipes of tinda, because I think she was just obsessed with feeding me that vegetable. And I used to hate it! Today, it's one of my favourite vegetables, mostly because of her efforts; she tried so much. My favourite recipe would be the stuffed tinda that she would make in a gravy. That's possibly my fondest memory of my mom's food.

Ranveer Brar is a celebrity chef, Masterchef India judge, author, restaurateur and actor.


Maria Goretti | Chow:

There was this one dish mum used to make for us regularly and we totally loved it. She called it Chow. Basically, it was spaghetti and a whole lot of vegetables. She would also put in ham and bacon, then grate cheese over it, and roll the spaghetti in butter. She would add ketchup too. I remember that in terms of vegetables there would be peas, carrots, French beans, potatoes etc. She'd toss it all together and serve it hot right onto our plates. Ah! I used to just devour it. I have tried making the dish so many times and it never, ever tastes like my mum's Chow.

Maria Goretti is a popular anchor, author, actor and chef.


Sanjeev Kapoor | Punjabi Pakoda Kadhi:

My favourite recipe (of my mom's) would be the Punjabi Pakoda Kadhi. Not only because it is delicious and no one can make it like my mom, but also because it was very special and we would have it as a celebration.

Now if you ask me why it was a celebration, the answer to it will be a little nuanced. First of all, the Punjabi Pakoda Kadhi has two parts to it: one is the pakoda while the other is the kadhi. Pakoda by itself was not something one would have. You would have it during special occasions... for instance when guests would arrive, or if it would be raining etc. But then for kadhi, these pakodas would inevitably be made. So that would be the chance when we could have the pakodas alone or with the kadhi.

Kadhi was also special because it was served with rice. Now rice for me was a celebration because we would have it only once a week... on Sundays; the rest of the week we would have roti/chapati. Rice was also something that would be made on special occasions or with Punjabi Pakoda Kadhi.

So apart from the delicious dish it is, the Punjabi Pakoda Kadhi cooked by my mom evokes social memories: of pakodas (twice the amount) and of rice. People might wonder what's so special about rice, but when you don't get it every day, it becomes nothing less than a celebration.

Sanjeev Kapoor is a celebrity chef, entrepreneur and television personality.


Rakesh Raghunathan | Puliyodharai:

When I think of food memories associated with my mother, it would be the tamarind rice or puliyodharai as we call it in Tamil. It's a very happy memory because ever since I was a child, she has been giving me tamarind rice. Making tamarind rice is not that easy. It has to have the perfect mix of the spice powder, the tamarind paste and the rice has to be perfectly cooked, the oil used and the peanuts... there are so many things that go into it.

For me, it is also a fond memory because anywhere we would travel, by car or by overnight train, she would always pack this tamarind rice or puliyodharai for us, since it keeps well. She still does when I travel abroad for work. She would add some vattal (sun-dried crisps), and some yoghurt too. 

Train journeys for me, even today, are incomplete without tamarind rice... Home is Kodaikanal, which is a hill station about 500 km from Chennai. And every visit that we made here, we'd pack puliyodharai for the ride on the Pandian Express, the train we took from Chennai to Kodaikanal Road. 

A mouthful of this takes me back to my childhood. You know food has this ability to connect the dots and take you on a nostalgia trip. It is very special; precisely the reason why I call my blog Puliyogare Travels.

Rakesh Raghunathan is a food historian, chef and show host.