A food festival at The Park, Chennai from Jan 20-22, 2006 showcasing vegetarian recipes from Cooking at Home with Pedatha. Pedatha came for the event and was delighted to see Jigyasa & Pratibha cooking the meals with their own hands, as well as interacting with the guests about the food and its specialty. Read on to see a review in The Ritz & some letters.
Fehmida Zakeer does a hearty interview with Pedatha & the author-duo which was featured in The Ritz Magazine, February issue titled “Cooking with Pedatha”.
HERE IS A TRANSCRIPT OF THE INTERVIEW:
The aromatic flavors of traditional foods do not emanate as frequently from kitchens nowadays as it did in the past. But when it does, it captures the mind and palates of discerning taste buds to become a never-to-be forgotten experience. Tasting flavors at the Andhra Vegetarian Food Festival at The Park was one such occasion which connoisseurs of food will not forget in a hurry. The Festival unveiled a sumptuous spread of food inspired by the recipes of Pedatha, a culinary genius whose recipes have exchanged hands across borders.
“As the eldest it was my responsibility to look after my brothers and sisters. In addition I was also entrusted with looking after guests, making sure they are comfortable and well fed. And guests we had plenty, who dropped in frequently” says Mrs. Subhadra Rau Parigi fondly called Pedatha (short form of Pedda Atthaya, Telugu version of father’s sister), first daughter of former President of India, Bharat Ratna Dr. V.V.Giri. “I just love cooking and feeding people…” she begins and gets interrupted by her sister-in-law Dr. Mohini Giri who says indulgently, “We never had to cook anything at home. She always cooked and fed us, she never allowed us to enter the kitchen.” An early memory of cooking a meal for Mahatma Gandhiji stirred memories of India before Independence. “I cooked a simple meal for Gandhiji when he visited our house, upma, it was appreciated by all. My grandfather loved to say that I cook well. During those days there was no distinction between north and south. All were just Indians.”
Labour of love:
During conferences and workshops, she was often responsible for ensuring that good food was served to delegates. “I remember the All India Women’s Conference held annually, food was prepared according to my recipes; if there were 2000 delegates at least 800 would come up to me later for recipes.”
“It was a hobby for me to dictate recipes to anyone who asked for it.” This hobby had her nephew’s wife Jigyasa Giri often jotting down recipes on pieces of paper whenever they met. Jigyasa comments “When I made these dishes my husband would be all praise and comment that it evoked childhood memories. My friend Dr. Prathiba Jain and I compiled many recipes during our periodic visits to Pedatha’s house. The original plan was to take copies and distribute them among family members since her recipes are much sought after. But when my husband saw the compilation he remarked that it had the potential of appealing to all those interested in making nutritious and tasty food.” And that triggered a journey of love. A journey that involved choosing unique recipes, formatting them and getting the book published exactly the way they wanted it to be, the whole process taking almost two and half years to complete. “Dr. Pratibha and I wanted to ensure that Pedatha’s presence is felt in each leaf of the book. We wanted the book to be a tribute to women of Pedatha’s generation” continues Jigyasa.
Cooking at home with Pedatha contains not only recipes but also nuggets of information culled from Mrs. Rau’s long years of culinary experience. The tips with each recipe evoke a feeling a having your grandmother sitting in your kitchen giving tidbits of advice on fine tuning a dish for that extra special flavor.
That vegetables have the power to heal is a fact women of Pedatha’s generation knew all along, now being increasingly corroborated by scientific research. “I never take medicines for ordinary coughs, colds, stomach upsets. Coriander leaves, Karuveppila to give simple examples, have great medicinal powers. Do you know that tender shoots of banana plant can help get rid of stones? Even an ordinary rasam prepared without any exotic ingredients can soothe an irritated stomach.”
Many of her recipes trace their roots to traditional methods of preparing dishes. “I have experimented with traditional methods and introduced innovations in some recipes. Nothing major, substituting a vegetable here and there or introducing a spice to liven up a dish; every woman does this during the course of cooking to meet different tastes of her family. Nowadays women do not find time to prepare elaborate meals for their families. But rustling up a simple meal is easy enough and I am happy to see the renewed interest in cooking dishes of a bygone era.”
“I never offered snacks or biscuits to my guests, I always gave food prepared in my kitchen and they used to be spellbound,” she chuckles. Citing Vangi Baath as her favorite food she says good food does not know any boundaries. “People all over the world love tasty food whatever cuisine it belongs to.”
Granny knows best:
“There is no substitute for grandmother’s advice” says Pedatha. “It is really something to be valued. Be it cooking tips or home remedies, granny’s wisdom is tempered with love and experience and should not be shrugged off.”
“It is not position, status or money; it is happiness that counts in our lives. We should try to be happy and that is the secret of life” is Pedatha’s advice. And with that sound advice ringing in my ears I say good bye to this octogenarian Great-Grandmother who makes it a point to envelope all those who meet her with love and affection.
(As appeared in The Ritz Magazine, Feb 2006)