It was early on a Monday morning, 27 April 2020 to be exact, when I got the message saying that my beloved Nani was no longer with us. A message that took me by surprise and one I had always dreaded to receive. I had to call my mum straight away and have her confirm that it was true whilst I burst into tears on the phone.
What went through me after was feelings of shock and disbelief and then when the reality hit that due to the current global pandemic I couldn’t just get on the next flight and go home to Kenya and be with my family, utter devastation hit me. I felt heartbroken, frustrated, angry, sad and helpless.
Growing up in Kenya, I would spend every school holiday at my nana and nani’s house, as we lived in a different city at the time. I treasure them dearly and I am their only granddaughter and they would love spending time with me as much as I did with them.
Early mornings my nana would set me some sort of homework to do and then late mornings would be spent in the kitchen watching my nani prepare lunch. Usually it was a wholesome traditional Gujarati meal with rotli, a shaak (curry), rice, dal, papad, salad, raw onions, green chillis, a variety of pickles and some fruit, usually either papaya, mango or melon. She would tell me various stories or update me on what was going on in the community whilst making fun of my Gujarati pronunciations.
I would love eating everything she made and she was an amazing cook. When I moved away from home to go to university in Cardiff, Manchester and then eventually settled in London, I’d often try and replicate some of the shaak’s she made. It made me feel closer to home. My mum would update her on what I’d attempted to make and it would make her happy.
So, during this time, whilst I have been mourning and grieving my nani from afar, I have turned to all the food that reminds me of her to help me at least mentally travel home by plate and my favourite dish of all is Saragva (Indian Drumsticks) in Kadhi.
It’s rather like coming across an old photograph or hearing a familiar song on the radio – there’s a certain nostalgia and comfort in eating the foods from your childhood that makes it feel a little like being home again.
For me, whenever I am homesick, every mouthful of those drumsticks filled with that sublime kadhi instantly transports me to the dining table at my nana and nani’s house and brings back so many wonderful memories.
Food was one of my nani’s many ways of showing how deeply she loved and cared for our family, and boy was she a feeder. There have been so many precious moments our family has spent dining together at their house. It’s provided us opportunities to laugh, share, and to bond with one another. It’s also offered us moments to learn and grow as a family.
This week while I’ve had time to think and reflect I’ve thought of all of the life lessons she taught me throughout my youth. She’s taught me the importance of enjoying every moment, loving deeply, laughing often, being resilient, standing up for myself, to inspire and serve others, give generously but take sparingly and most important of all, to cherish every single moment, big or small.
I’d love to know if there is any particular food that brings a wave of memories back to you. For me, there’s a warm sort of comfort in knowing that if I ever want to take a trip back to my childhood and picture my nani cooking up a storm in the kitchen, all I have to do is make Saragva, and all those memories will come flooding right back.