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2 Friends & a ‘Community Cookbook’ Revive Centuries-Old Family Recipes From Across India

Food writers Anisha Rachel Oommen and Aysha Tanya have compiled ‘A Kitchen of One's Own’, a community cookbook that documents heirloom family recipes from across India.

2 Friends & a ‘Community Cookbook’ Revive Centuries-Old Family Recipes From Across India

In Zarine Mohideen’s home, any family gathering is almost incomplete without unearthing a secret recipe and cooking it with much fervour in an attempt to get the consistencies and flavours just right. 

Known by the name Thakkadi, this dish, explains the Indian writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area, comprises tender meat cooked with dumplings into a gravy-like consistency. The 200-year-old recipe, she notes, was born in Tirunelveli and included fist-sized dumplings made with rice flour and flecks of coconut. Today its modern successor focuses on smaller portions. 

Did you find this anecdote interesting? 

You’ll be amazed to know that this is one of the several stories and heritage recipes that have been compiled into a book ‘A Kitchen of One’s Own’ by friends and colleagues Aysha Tanya and Anisha Rachel Oommen.

Food writers by profession, the duo were engaged in individual ventures before kick-starting their endeavour Goya in 2016. It happened whilst they were working at a food magazine in Bengaluru, as Anisha recounts. 

“A majority of food publications at the time focused on restaurants and there was very little talk of home cooking. We wanted to create a project that would document this aspect of cooking and Goya was our way of doing just this,” says Anisha. 

The digital archive collaborates with photographers, writers, and brands in the F&B space and invites just about anyone to share their stories related to food. 

‘A Kitchen of One’s Own’ is the physical manifestation of the digital collection of recipes and was published in 2022.  

A Kitchen of One's Own, compiled by Aysha and Anisha
A Kitchen of One’s Own, compiled by Aysha and Anisha, Picture credits: Anisha

A culinary treasure trove 

As Anisha explains, the authors of the vast series of recipes are not just writers, but people who come from various backgrounds and expertise — “economists, marine biologists, conservationists, historians. diplomats, authors, entrepreneurs, lawyers, chefs, home cooks, and brewers”. 

How did the idea of transitioning from a digital archive of recipes to a physical book come into play? The large traffic of requests from readers since the inception of Goya, Anisha explains. 

“There is something irreplaceable about having a beautiful, tangible edition of your favourite stories, to touch and feel, to thumb through and keep by your bedside or on your kitchen shelf,” she notes, adding that there was an instrumental third involved in making this dream come true. 

“In early 2022, Shruti Taneja of Nivaala — a venture that designs recipe journals — came to us with the idea of collaborating to create a book that would feature Goya’s recipes and Nivaala’s journal,” she says. 

Shruti, she adds, had started Nivaala following the passing away of her mother. 

“The incident made her realise that not only had she lost her mother, but also all the recipes that represented her family. She did not want others to go through the same, and thus had started recipe books as a way of highlighting recipes along with illustrations that had been passed on from generation to generation,” says Anisha, adding that they loved the idea and decided to go ahead. 

The cookbook is a compilation of recipes from across India by different writers
The cookbook is a compilation of recipes from across India by different writers, Picture credits: Anisha

Once the idea was set in motion, the trio began finalising the 40-odd recipes that would finally make it to ‘A Kitchen of One’s Own’. But the task was daunting nevertheless. 

“It was like asking us to choose a favourite child. We had to go through six years of stories and recipes we had collected, commissioned, edited, and tested to shortlist for the final list. It forced us to pause our daily grind and take a beat to reflect on the work we’ve done,” notes Anisha. 

In 2022, the culinary labour of love was ready to hit shelves. 

Shruti Taneja, founder of Nivaala, a venture that designs recipe journals
Shruti Taneja, Picture credits: Anisha

What are you in for in the culinary book?

Heirloom recipes that have been meticulously handed down through generations,” says Anisha. 

“These include Puli Fry — a beloved Anglo-Indian meat fry that tastes better the day after; wintry namkeen chai from Dehradun — made with yak milk and mutton fat, Assamese lokri (a dish made from the residue of milk solids); Rajasthani kanji vada (a Marwari delicacy made with moong dal); the stews of Nagaland; Kerala mutton stew and meen varuthathu (a Kerala style fish fry); the date and fenugreek chutney of Himalayan origins; and thum ki roti made with tender green garlic shoots,” adds Anisha. 

Anisha and Aysha, two food writers who have compiled A Kitchen of One's Own
Anisha and Aysha, Picture credits: Anisha

“Many of these recipes,” she adds, “have been preserved only in oral tradition, and are being documented for the first time in print. The simplest but most delicious recipe is probably the mavin gojju — a sweet and sour raw mango condiment that elevates the simplest of meals.”

A Kitchen of One’s Own is no ordinary recipe book. 

“It is a part cookbook, part-recipe journal, that aims to celebrate the reader’s own family recipes. The reader can add their own well-loved recipes to the collection, making it a thoughtful gift to pass down through generations,” says Anisha.  

Today anyone who possesses the cookbook can browse through Halasina Kadabu — steamed jackfruit dumplings best eaten alongside a cup of filter coffee; Sobai Jwng Dau — a chicken curry from the Bodo community; and Ilish Macher Matha diye Pui Shaak — a Bengali recipe for a fish head with Malabar spinach.

Recounting the challenges they encountered through the route of self-publishing, Aysha says, “All the efforts of design, layout, marketing, fund-raising, editing, and testing, fell squarely on us. We crowdfunded the book, one of the first such campaigns in India, and we relied entirely on our community to support us. It was equal parts a terrifying and incredibly fulfilling experience,” says Aysha. 

The recipe book features heirloom recipes that pass from generation to generation
The recipe book features heirloom recipes that pass from generation to generation, Picture credits: Anisha

However, the duo say it was satisfying to watch in real-time how their community’s faith in them translated to action when they managed to raise “Rs 10 lakh for the cause”.

As Aysha notes, “So often, as entrepreneurs, we move from one crisis to the next and don’t take a breath to cheer each other on; to see the work we’re doing brings us so much joy but also to see what we’ve been able to accomplish.” 

(Edited by Divya Sethu)

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