She packs some plain rotis without ghee, along with dry vegetables, and heads to a construction site along with her husband. This woman is just another construction worker in the city of Mumbai, and this is just another day for her, but she is relaxed at the thought of her kids being taken care of by Mumbai Mobile Creches (MMC), a non-profit.
She is far away from her home, from her culture and her roots. But life has brought her here and even if she dreams of her village, visiting it seems like a distant dream. However, last month, she was transported to her village for just a little while, all thanks to MMC. The non-profit brought 14 migrant women together, to cook their favourite dish from their home state.
Speaking to The Better India, Shiny Verghese, the Health coordinator of MMC said, “MMC has been working for children of migrant construction workers for the last four decades. We have children from over 15 different states of India reflecting the regional diversity of the construction workers community.
Although our programmes are designed to meet the needs of these vulnerable children, we believe in connecting with the family and the community for the holistic development of children.
Since food is an aspect that women associate with irrespective of caste, state, religion, we considered the idea of bringing their food memories alive and capture the wonderful culinary heritage through a compilation of treasured recipes.”
So in July, all the mothers came together to the kitchen in the MMC day-care centre, to cook the dishes of their home states, for their children and themselves. Aapal, Ambadi Bhaji and Jowar Bhakri from Telangana, Chola daler Halwa from West Bengal, Dhirde from Maharashtra, Edasa and Khurmi from Chhattisgarh, Huggi from Karnataka, Gulgula and Uthu from Jharkhand, Jaau from Orissa, Kheer Puri from Bihar, Litti and Thekua from UP and Patishaapta from Assam, were some of the dishes that were prepared.
A unique initiative in itself, this day would immediately transport these women back in time and bring alive the memories they treasured. Speaking to TBI, Tulsa Surase, from Orissa, said,
“When I tasted it for the first time, I was surprised as to how such an amazing recipe could be prepared with just three ingredients.
I have seven children, and they get to taste it when we go to our village.”
It was incredible how a simple day of cooking, brought back happy childhood memories. Most of these women had helped their mothers prepare the dishes as children, or savoured them when a loving hand had fed them.
Today, as wives and mothers who also have to work all day, in construction sites or as domestic help, they neither have the time nor the resources to cook such delicious dishes.
“Dhirde reminds me of my grandmother, and I miss her a lot now that we are in Mumbai and seldom get to see her.
My grandmother used to prepare it in the morning before we reached her house in our native place so that we could eat it as soon as we arrived,” says Jyotsna Surase from Maharashtra.
Monica Lakman, from Telangana, echoes Jyotsna’s thoughts. “I learned to cook Ambadi Bhaji from my grandmother, and my husband thinks I make the best Ambadi Bhaji he has ever eaten in his life. I enjoy making it for my family.”
It is a well-known fact that a familiar smell or taste can trigger special memories in people. For thousands of women like Tulsa, Jyotsna and Monica, even one meal from their hometown is a thing of the past, as they go about their fast-paced lives in Mumbai.
However, small initiatives like these may reignite the essence of life within them.
“Most of the women who accompany their spouses to a construction site, leave behind the secrets of their regional cuisine and their stories often remain untold or unwritten.
We wanted to also capture the migrant perspective through the documentation of regional recipes and highlight the importance of the traditions in preserving and celebrating the cultural identity of each migrant family,” Shiny told TBI.
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Now, MMC plans to document all the recipes and publish them as an e-book on their website. They hope that the recipes—some of which are still popular, while some have been forgotten—will find a large audience who will keep them alive.
“We hope that the recipes reach a large audience and they can help people understand a migrant’s perspective and encourage them to try these recipes in their homes,” says Shiny.
As Indian cuisine continues to evolve, it is crucial that we preserve these lesser-known recipes, and encourage such initiatives which have the potential to bring them back to life.
Here is one recipe from by Jyoti Thackeray:
Ingredients (for 4-5 servings)
3 medium colocasia leaves
6 sprigs of coriander leaves
6 spinach leaves (palak)
6 sprigs of fenugreek leaves (methi)
10 green chillies
3 small red onions
1 small tomato
3 teaspoons red chilli powder
3 teaspoons turmeric powder
3 teaspoons cumin seeds
1/3 cup rice flour
1/2 cup wheat flour
1/4 cup chickpea flour (besan)
Salt to taste
1. Roughly chop all leaves with their stems. Put them aside in a large bowl. Chop the green
chillies, onion, and tomato and add to the bowl. Add salt to taste.
2. Fill pan about one centimetre deep with oil. While the oil is heating, add all the three flours,
chickpea, wheat, and rice to the leaves and vegetables. Add the red chilli powder, turmeric
powder, and the cumin. Mix together all the ingredients to make a dough. (Add a bit of water
if the dough does not come together.)
3. Separate the dough into 20 small balls. Flatten them with your palms so that they are about
4-5 centimetres wide.
4. Fry each side in hot oil until golden brown, about 7-8 minutes. Serve hot.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)