Cook’s tour

Mala Gole’s award-nominated book about Hyderabadi cuisine is a tasty treat, says Dan Carrier

Thursday, 23rd June — By Dan Carrier

Hyderbad_A memory of taste_Mala Gole

Elizabeth Adams’ illustration of the Faluknama Palace; inset: Mala Gole

IT was the end of a long and tiring journey. The family was excited to be in their new home in the Indian city of Hyderabad after travelling 1,500 miles. Now they needed a warming and comforting meal followed a cosy bed.

Mala Gole was five years old, and her father was starting a a new job. They left their home in Jamshedpur, west Bengal, to relocate and build a new life in a new city in southern India. And it is a memory of one of the first meals the youngster ate that has prompted an acclaimed cook book.

Mala, who lives in Tufnell Park, has penned Hyderabad: A Memory Of Taste, offering exploration of food that shaped her childhood. She has been nominated for a Gourmand Award – a competition set up in 1995 by Spanish kitchen maestro Edouard Cointreau. It honours books and other media that celebrate regional food culture – and Mala’s revealing tour of the cuisine of her childhood has made the final cut.

After her mother had found a home for them to live in, she asked around friends for someone to employ around the house. She was introduced to the hero of Mala’s story, a cook called Sharifabee. It was a decision that set in motion a flavour-filled childhood that lingers on more than 40 years later.

“The Banajara Hills is where we spent all our years in Hyderabad and had the privilege of employing the best cook in the world – Sharifabee,” she writes. “She loved my brother and me like her own children and cooked each meal with passion.

“She took great pride in feeding us well, introducing us to what became our great love, Hyderabadi cuisine. Today, my mother and I take the same pride I cooking for our families.”

Mala moved to London in 1992 and began to teach herself to cook, attempting to recreate tastes that had enthralled her as she grew up, learn new skills and approaches in the kitchen, and share and enjoy the proceeds of her work. Working as a management consultant and acting as the secretary to the council that runs the Friends of Kenwood, cooking is not a paid occupation for Mala – rather a passion that represents home, family, friends, nourishment and pleasure.

“It involved phone calls to my mother in Delhi, who is a great cook,” she recalled.

This also meant recalling Sharifee’s stand-out dishes. “Friends who had tasted my cooking asked me to teach them how to cook my version of Indian food, so I gave a few lessons on food from various parts of India,” she said.

This led on to her considering the cuisine of Hyderabad – her work offers an insight into the types of meals you may eat at a Hyderabadi dinner table at breakfast, lunch and supper – and takes the aspiring Hyderabadi cook through meat, seafood, eggs, lentils and vegetable, rice and biryanis, salads and chutneys as well as something sweet to complete it.

Mala includes advice on making your own spice blends – a guide that will give you a better understanding of what each brings to the dish. To have the mix of tastes explained makes a change from being told to shake a liberal dose of garam masala.

While her book focuses on the cuisine of the area, she was not originally from the southern city known for its tech industries. Born in New Delhi, her early childhood was spent in Jamshedpur – home to the famous Tata steelworks.

“My father worked for Dunlop,” she recalls. “He was posted to Hyderabad in 1971, which began the time that the book is about.” While her father searched for a place to settle, they stayed at a guest house, recovering from a three-day train journey. “I can still remember the taste of the first mouthful of chicken biryani I had there,” she writes.

Even at a young age, she was aware of the change in her diet when she settled in to her new home. “The food of Hyderabad was completely different to that of Jamshedpur,” she said. “Every part of India has its own distinct cuisine and in Hyderabad, there are two: one in the Moghul tradition, and the other the local cuisine from before the arrival of the Moghuls. My book has food from the former, as that is what Sharifabee cooked. ”

And this distinct tradition within Hyderabad remains today.

“I was surprised to learn that my Hyderabad friends still fall into two categories, divided by the two cuisines,” she says. “Things I cook regularly are ‘special-day’ dishes for some of them.”

As well as an insight into the influence of food on a person, a celebration of what makes memories, and hunger inducing recipes, Mala’s words are accompanied by illustrations by the artist Elizabeth Adams. Her work features landmarks associated with the city, ranging from palaces, markets, tombs, forts and side streets.

Elizabeth’s renderings give a sense of the backdrop. “When I follow a recipe from a book or magazine, the results do not always look as good as in the accompanying photo, which sometimes can be disappointing,” she admits. “I decided I wouldn’t have food pictures, so everyone could create their own plate. I would have pictures to evoke Hyderabad.”

The recipes chosen have cultural resonance for Mala. “Food helps define an identity,” she says. “However, this can sometimes be illusory. The ‘Chinese’ food we eat here is probably unrecognisable to most of the Chinese in China. “Similarly, Indian dishes here (balti, chicken tikka masala) would not be recognised by name in India, and in some cases not by taste either.”

And living in London means Mala has plenty to explore.

“I enjoy non-travel food tourism every bit as much as actual travel,” she adds. “We are fortunate to have food from all around the world available.”

Hyderabad: A Memory of Taste. By Mala Gole. Illustrated by Elizabeth Adams, Leiston Press, £25

Related Articles