My mother and then my sister have and remain my biggest source and muse when it comes to traditional and inspirational Indian cooking. However, my journey would not be complete without the inspiration and guidance from Mrs.Mishra. I think I could take the credit for spreading the word around in the South East Wales about the talent of this simple but wonderful person. Many had been treated at her home with some mouth watering vegetarian meals, but it was not till I inspired her to take part in what became very popular evenings at the India Centre in Cardiff, called ‘Banao aur Khao’ that her incredible dishes got the praise and recognition they deserve.
Mrs.M was a hidden jewel in her family. Like in so many Indian homes, wives often stay in the shadows of their husbands, so did Mrs.M, till I felt she had so much to offer to the Indian community in our area and people need to laste her dishes. It was she who made it possible for me to venture the ‘Banao aur Khao’ evenings. These evenings gave the rightful status to Mrs.M, of a brilliant cook in our community. It was this association which I exploited to learn from a self taught cook. She is the only one, in my experience, who cooks same dal in five or six different styles and people actually praise her dal over and above some very nicely cooked novelty non-vegetarian dishes made by her husband. I actually feel sorry for my friend Dr.M who in his own rights is an excellent cook, but his dishes often are dwarfed in comparison to Mrs.M’s vegetarian dishes.
Mrs.M hails from an upper middle class family in Bihar and married as expected into an upper middle class family just before coming to the UK. Like so many other youngsters she was cosseted by the army of Bawarchis (cooks) and servants before marriage. In one of her teaching sessions, narrating her story of earlier years in the UK, she remembers, on her maiden trip back to India her father asked her ‘How many servants has Dr.M employed for you?’ Her father must have been horrified to learn that she had to learn not only to cook, but to clean, wash and in fact do everything herself!
Mrs.M started attempting to cook only after her marriage and coming to the UK. Her style is very much Bihari and Eastern UPite, but she doesn’t hesitate to adapt and learn dishes from other regions and countries. Not only is she great at making main dishes but she has created many lovely snacks, using vegetables which are not even seen in India, like Brussel sprouts. She can pickle almost anything or converts surplus fruits from one’s garden into finger licking jelly. Once roaming in our garden she saw a crab apple tree loaded with fruit which would have really gone to waste. She asked me to bring a carrier bag and two days later these were converted into jars of jelly.
In the next few weeks I would like to introduce some of her dishes for people to try the wonders of Bihari vegetarian dishes which I would suggest are second to none and only available in Bihar or a Bihari home. If you haven’t been there than I don’t believe you would have tasted it. Well worth trying I would say!