Bombay (and the other big cities in India) is filled with immigrants from villages. These people leave their villages because of a lack of employment. They lead very hard lives, work long hours, live in small spaces, and if they’re lucky meet their families once a year. They work as domestic help, drivers, guards and factory workers.
They bring their food habits with them.Their food has simple flavours and is made with fresh, seasonal vegetables. They don’t waste anything and a lot of their food is vegetables or parts of vegetables that we have no idea are edible.
Ratna didi used to work with me as a cook. Her family is from Karnataka, she grew up in Calcutta and lived in Orissa after she got married. I don’t know which state influenced her cooking but they probably all did. She was widowed very young and had three little girls to bring up. She used to work as a cook in a factory canteen and makes amazing snack food – her samosas and pakoras were divine. She also cooked great everyday north Indian food. My favourites were the food her mother taught her to make – the Andhrite macchi ka khatta (sour fish curry), charu (or rasam) and best of all her chutneys. A large plate of rice, little bit of dal, maybe a fried fish and chutney. Utter bliss.
(Chutney made with the peel of the Ridge Gourd)
Recipe Contribution – Ratna
2 ridge gourds (tori)
¼ cup sesame seeds (til)
½ teaspoon cumin seeds (zeera)
2 cloves of garlic (lasan)
2 dry red chillies, broken into smaller pieces
1 stalk curry leaves (approximately 15 leaves)
1/2 a tablespoon of vegetable oil
Salt to taste
Soak the sesame seeds in water for about 10-15 minutes. Drain.
Cut the gnarly skin off the tori with thick sections. Cut off the soft inside skin and put aside.
Heat the oil in a wok or frying pan.
Add the cumin seeds. When they start going brown, add the garlic and then almost immediately the red chillies. As it starts getting darker add the curry leaves.
Give it a stir and then the tori peels. Stir for a minute and then the sesame seeds.
Sprinkle a little water to keep it moist and then cover and cook for about 10 minutes.
Take off the lid and cook till the water has evaporated and the oil has separated.
Cool and then put into a food processor and blend with a tablespoon of water.
Add salt and juice from the lime.