KOCHI: The lockdown made many hit the kitchen with renewed vigour and find new appreciation for masalas, utensils and gadgets lying unused stuffed far inside our kitchen cabinets. With nowhere to go and nothing to do, we polished our culinary skills and elevated our cooking and baking skills to become our own versions of masterchefs.While most of us struggled with what ‘new to cook’, Anwesh Pokkuluri, a 26-year-old Telugu youngster carefully planned and chose a new dish to cook for dinner daily from every state and Union Territory of India! He calls his culinary mission – ‘Bharat Manthan’ and describes it as “reconditioning the idea of India through gut”.
For someone who had “cooked only a handful of times following mom’s instructions to make dal and fries,” Anwesh, an IIT Madras graduate started with simple things such as rava dosa and methi paratha. Encouraged with the way these turned out, and obsessed with “making lists”, he decided to try his hand at dishes from other states.
Why cooking? Anwesh, who quit his job in data science in Bengaluru, currently lives at home with his parents and teaches maths to intermediate students in a school, says: “School was shut down indefinitely in March. Covid-19 was all everyone had on their minds, and I was no different – mindlessly looking at new information every hour,” says Anwesh.
Feeling scared with the uncertainty, he decided to “redirect some energy back into the body by choosing to cook!” He smiles and shares: “It was a good option in many ways — learn an important skill, add structure to the day, share some of mom’s workload, and fill some of the mind space with recipes.” “It soon turned into a fun exercise, talking with friends from different parts of the country, and sharing pictures and recipes. Importantly, it calmed my nerves. It was like a mindfulness practice every day focusing on colours, sizes, shapes, flavours, aromas, textures,” recollects he.
Were ingredients easily available in the lockdown? Anwesh says, he picked dishes which had ingredients available at home. “I geeked out a bit, categorising the dishes into dal/curry/bread/dessert etc. making sure I distributed deep frying/pan frying/steaming/pressure cooking as evenly as possible,” comments he. He took help from his mother in using a blender, mortar and pestle, adding salt, etc. “As I approached completion of my cooking project, the idea of completeness weighed heavily on my mind.
I used this as an opportunity to study the reorganization of states, the dominant groups in each region. I expanded the project to include dishes from communities such as Parsis, Jews, Syrian Christians etc, studying about the advent of different religions in India,” he shares. Studying the diversity of food in India also brought up a chance to look at usage of different spices, lentils, how the local agriculture options and practices influence the ingredients used, when a practice is a choice and when not, adds he.
What’s next? “It brings joy and a kind of emptiness simultaneously with the completion of the project for now, but I will do another round choosing dishes representative of more groups, and also cook non-vegetarian food.”All this cooking is fine, but who did all the washing and cleaning up later, we ask him. “My mom and I shared the duties,” he says sheepishly.
South India: Rava Dosa
West India: Sabudana Khichadi
North India: Methi Paratha
East India: Luchi
Central India: Poha
North East India: Veg Momos
Muslim: Meethi Seviyan
Marwari: Gatte ka Pulao
Sindhi: Aloo Tuk
Anglo-Indian: Mulligatawny Soup
Jewish: Aloo Makala