Food as identity

Nalini Naidu’s new book on Fiji-Indian cuisine is much more than recipes, writes SALMA SHAH

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Nalini Naidu’s Annapurna: Gastronomic Delights from My Fiji Indian Childhood is a trip down memory lane for anyone with a link to Fiji.
The e-book is a light read, but loaded with opportunities to fondly recall the Fiji Indian experience from a culinary perspective. Nalini provides recipes as well – and those who are familiar with sub continental cooking – the source of Fiji Indian cuisine – will be struck by the key differences between the two cuisines. While both evolved separately, one can’t help but notice the crucial differences in the two cuisines – while recipes from India can have a lengthy list of ingredients – the Fiji Indian recipes tend to have to have more spartan constituents. However, this does not mean that there is any lack of flavour or depth of complexity and tastes in the Fiji Indian dishes.

But, stories tie one to a time and place, and as one reads Nalini’s recipes, one is reminded of one’s childhood in Fiji. From recalling the piquancy of the tej patta frying in ghee with other spices for a goat curry, to the anticipation of Diwali because one knew that there would be barfis and larki mitthai to indulge in, Nalini’s work is a loving tribute to a Fiji Indian legacy.
It is clear from Nalini’s book that there is a generations-long affection for good food. Recipes passed from relatives and friends, and incorporated into what is uniquely Fiji Indian cuisine finds its way into the pages. And when reviewing the recipes, it strikes a chord that while most Fiji Indians cooked foods using these same ingredients – the same dish tasted quite different in each household.

This is not a point made by Nalini – although one is quite confident that with her love of cooking, Nalini would most likely have a wonderful “hand” and that all her dishes would taste delicious. Readers are encouraged to not just try the recipes in this book if they haven’t already done so, but also to ponder the complex history of the Fiji Indian people.
Fiji Indian cuisine is unique in the sense that it arose from a particular socio-political climate and history. People of Indian origin, taken from their homeland – whether by free will or coercion, came together in an island called Fiji and under extreme conditions of the girmitiya past, allowed their cuisine to evolve and flourish.
Together with their island brothers, they co-created what is distinctly a Fijian experience.  The foods and recipes outlined in Nalini’s work carry the richness of this experience. One hopes that Nalini can follow her first act with a second – where she discusses the cooking rites, rituals, festivals and practices of all her nanis, kakis, fuas and aunties – as they lovingly pounded the masala or ground garlic on the sil. These are the stories of Fiji Indians – brought to life through the food they prepared.

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