Anjum's Kitchen and Kin
When Anjum Anand thinks of family food, she remembers a childhood of “walking through the door and smelling what was for dinner.” While the dishes changed, the cuisine didn’t; “It was always Indian”, she says, as that was her parents’ birthplace. Today, as the creator of The Spice Tailor range of authentic Indian street food kits, sauces, pastes and more, Anjum is introducing the diversity of Indian food to the world, but as a child, it was simply part of their everyday ritual.
“We were never asked what we wanted to eat, there was no pattern to it; my mother cooked whatever she felt was the right thing to cook and every evening we would sit and eat together.”
That’s not to say her parents weren’t adventurous eaters. While Anjum was born in England, when she was four, her family moved to Geneva for 10 years. There, she remembers, their weekends centred around food-filled outings. “My father loved food,” she says, “so every weekend we would get in the car and drive somewhere, whether it was in Switzerland or over the border to France. If he heard there was a really good fish restaurant somewhere, he would make us drive hours to get there.”
Anjum’s parents also loved entertaining and she credits helping her mother cater for dinner parties with giving her confidence in the kitchen.
“I was the only one of the three children who went into the kitchen voluntarily to help my mother,” she recalls, “so I definitely loved cooking.”
Anjum’s job was to help prepare the samosas – sometimes 80 at a time. “I remember sitting in the kitchen patiently rolling them for mum to fry,” she describes, “and then when they were served, she would say, ‘Anjum made those’ and even though all I really did was roll them, I would beam with pride.”
While Anjum’s parents stuck closely to the traditional cuisine of their home country, as a second generation immigrant, she takes a more flexible approach to Indian cuisine.
“I weave Indian food into my summer salads and I make more soups – something they don’t do a lot of in India.”
Anjum has also been influenced by those early days in Europe and recalls taking a trout with almonds she tried on one of her father’s weekend jaunts and fusing it with a fish dish from Bengal that includes white poppy seeds – “It was beautiful,” she remembers, adding, “My parents’ cooking wasn’t so influenced by the European food, but I think the intermingling of cuisines is more me.”
Anjum has her own young family now and as third generation immigrants, her children are at even greater risk of losing the connection with their family’s country of origin. However, Anjum sees food as an essential tie. “They eat Indian more than any other cuisine, and I think that’s because I want them to feel close to their culture. And also they taste a lot of my Spice Tailor products, I’ll try new recipes on them, it’s a bit of fun, but it keeps them close to Indian food.”
Another way they stay close to Indian culture is via regular trips there. On these visits, Anjum has noticed that while more restaurants are offering food from other regions and countries, most people’s cooking still reflects that of their home region.
“(In India), you still learn to cook from your mother and she learnt from her mother or mother-in-law, so you stick with that,” she describes. “Also, it’s only recently that they have had supermarkets and refrigeration, allowing you to bring in ingredients from another region. Before, you would eat whatever was freshly harvested.”
One of the benefits of this is, Anjum explains, “Because people ate their own regional food for so long, they didn’t intermingle into one generic cuisine. So you have this really complex cuisine, which came about from different influences and colonisers, and people are really proud of their heritage.”
This complexity might surprise Australians who are used to eating the same handful of Indian dishes from their local takeaway. But this is a misconception Anjum is working to overcome.
“I think it’s amazing!” she effuses, “I’ve been cooking for 18 years as a career and I still discover new dishes. It’s the kind of cuisine where you could eat something new every day.”
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