Dehra Dun is my parents hometown. We would visit every summer when we had vacations. It was the place of grandparents and cousins and being pampered. And oh, the food! One of the most beautiful memories in my life is of the smell of Basmati rice cooking at my maternal grandparents house. It is a huge place with four bedrooms, a floor that is always cool even in the summer and the kitchen is almost at the center of it so when rice cooks the aroma fills the whole house inviting everyone to lunch. At home in Chennai we had Basmati only on special occasions because it was very expensive. But in Dehra Dun, the mother ship for Basmati lovers, we were spoiled. Every afternoon we had rice with dal, subzi, salad, raita and one or many of the pickles and chutneys from my nani’s collection. Sadly, pickling is a skill she did not pass on to my mom and I miss her pickles everyday. When I got married, she gave me – among other things – a huge can of my favorite mango and asafoetida pickle (how she remembered my favorite despite having so many grandchildren I will never know). But I wasn’t able to carry all of it to the US. So I took some in a smaller bottle and left the rest with my mom. When she died a year and a half later and I was still in the US, I saved the last two spoons of pickle for as long as I could to let her taste live with me just a little longer.
Every morning Nani made prasad for her pooja and after her pooja was done, we got to eat it. My mother is a working woman so while she does pooja every morning she can’t make prasad every day. So nani’s goodies were specialties for me – roth, atte ka halwa and gulgule – the last one being my favorite. I think the memory of that childhood taste of warm and soft flour and jaggery and bananas melting in my mouth is the reason for my love of banana nut muffins, banana bread and banana pancakes.
How do I list the awesome food we ate in Dehra Dun? And what was my favorite? Was it the samosas and jalebis from Tiwari for breakfast or the lolly ice creams in the afternoon? Or may be it was the tikki chat from the thelawala? Or may be it was not really the food but the family that has made the food tastier. I don’t know. But I know that sitting out in the verandah and eating a simple meal of palak saag and roti or bhindi and roti with aunts and uncles and cousins at my paternal grandparents house I was happy. And if we could follow that up with “chocolate” mithai or bal mithai or a juicy mango or some luscious litchis and the 5 paisa anardana goli, well that was just the perfect bonus.