The aroma of slowly simmering fish curry, cooked in a mann chatti (clay pot) and tempered with red chillies, curry leaves, and mustard seeds, filled up my home at mealtime. But to devour this dish, we had to wait till the next afternoon. Having rested overnight in the clay pot, the fish would soak in the sapid flavours of chilli, fenugreek, and tamarind. Slowly, these flavours mellowed and merged to turn it into a succulent and luscious work of art in a pot. Simply divine!
The clay pot was an essential part of my favourite food memories. It was not just another pot we cooked in. It lent the food a special flavour; its own pinch of earthy magic. When I came up with the idea of starting a magazine that documented food and the culture that surrounds it, I couldn’t think of another name for it. Clay Pot came naturally to me and it was with a sense of loss that I christened the magazine so. When my husband and I moved to Prague from India, one of the things that we couldn’t carry with us was the clay pot. Now, even though we make fish curry almost every other day, the magic flavour the clay pot lends it is missing.
Even the theme for the inaugural issue came about quite organically. The name of the magazine was brimming with it — memory, of food once eaten, once cooked or once shared. Reminiscing the good times we once had is always a bittersweet feeling. Sometimes happy and comforting, and sometimes sad as the moment has already been lived. Every bite we have taken and every taste we have savoured now lives only in our memories. The attempt was to compile, through this issue, as many such personal narratives that revolved around a strong memory of food. And, honestly, I was quite overwhelmed by what came my way.
On hearing the theme memory, most of us gravitate towards our homes and the food that our mothers and grandmothers cooked. The same is true in our issue; grandmas from around the world are the stars this time around. In a way, grandmothers lead the process of cultural initiation in most families as the first brush with our histories begin or are connected to the food they cook. In A Mouthful Of Memoirs, I speak to filmmaker Jonas Pariente, the brain behind Grandma’s Project, a UNESCO-approved documentary series that compiles short films of grandmothers from around the world cooking and sharing a recipe, while being filmed by their grandchildren. Being half-Egyptian and half-Polish, Pariente noticed that the food he was fed as a child played a crucial role in the transmission of heritage from either side of his family. The project is a perfect example of how much our personal histories and the food we eat are intertwined and how they feed into each other.
In Breaking Bread With Grandma, Flora Refosco writes about how every loaf of bread is unique as it takes on the personality of those who bake it, and, in Lost In Translation, Monisha Cardoso talks about why even with recorded recipes, we may not be able to recreate our grandmothers’ masterpieces.
Parents also feature throughout this issue — sometimes remembered fondly for their caring ways and at others for their eccentricities, like in Terri Gilson’s Edie K’s Many Food Atrocities. Christine Leong introduces us to a whole new style of cooking from Malaysia called agak-agak in The Art Of Immaculate Imperfection, which we all will recognise as something that is practiced in kitchens across the world, but had remained unnamed till now. Lakshmi Krishnakumar talks about Finding Love In Kozhikode’s Food Streets, as Gilson nurses a lost love in her poem The Pierogi Party.
A piece that I am quite excited about and proud to share with you all is London-based photographer Tanya Houghton’s photo-series A Migrant’s Tale. Sitting perfectly with our theme, Tanya recreates a series of photographs that represent 10 young migrants’ idea of home shaped by their food memories. This immensely personal, yet evocative piece is sure to trigger a discussion about identity and migration in the wake of the refugee crisis that the world is living through now.
In short, the first issue of Clay Pot is filled with a bunch of heartwarming personal narratives that give us a taste of food from over the world and the emotions it carries with it. Although the effort has been to allow for diverse perspectives, we were limited by both scale and resources to attract such talent. You will notice that a large number of stories come from Asia, especially India. However, in this issue, we have managed to bring to you food memories from India, Burma, Malaysia, Vietnam, France, Italy, Croatia, Brazil, and Canada. Moving forward, if luck and hard work are on our side, Clay Pot will attract a wider range of voices and a larger following of engaged readers.
So here’s presenting a fresh take on food, narrated by a few fresh voices. I hope you enjoy this feast and come out of it fully satiated, yet asking for more.