Travelling by Plate when you can’t go home

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.

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  1. Beautiful read Binny. Om Shanti Om. I am very sorry to hear about your nani but I’m sure she would be super proud of you creating her dishes at home. I too spent all my childhood summers with my nani and nana in Devon and learnt to cook everything Indian. Set me up well for uni!

    Posted 5.1.20 Reply
  2. Priya wrote:

    This sounds like a fabulous way to be closer to your Nani at this time Binny. I loved visiting my Nani and nana too, they were in Leicester while we lived up in Preston. We’d go down on holidays and they would get so much joy! My Nani used to make the best dhaar, we used to call it “Leicester Ba dhaar” because no matter how much my mum tried, it would never taste the same as hers!
    I’m glad you’re finding comfort through food at this difficult time, and I hope it’s bringing back some wonderful memories xx

    Posted 5.1.20 Reply
  3. Neha wrote:

    Binny a beautiful post. Memories are just so important and these are some great ones. A nice post to look back on too. I love sarago however my child hood favourites are potato chops and crab curry.

    Posted 5.1.20 Reply
    • What a beautiful post, Binny. So sorry for your loss, and sending love to you and your family. I completely agree – food memories can be so powerfully connect us to our loved ones, and a special way to remember and honour them. All the best.. X

      Posted 5.1.20 Reply
  4. kerry wrote:

    Awww Binny, I feel for you. Your Nani sounds amazing and I am sorry for your loss. This food looks amazing! Apple pie is one for me. My Grandad, who I adored, used to cook the best apple pie. It was the only thing he could cook! It makes me go back to watching him and my Nan, dance in their tiny kitchen to old Frank Sinatra songs, while I sat perched on the table. Happy Happy memories

    Posted 5.1.20 Reply
  5. Om Shanti Om. This is a beautiful way to keep the memory of your nani alive. Mine has to Raingan na Ravaiya cooked by my Baa, steaming hot with basmati rice. Takes me back to when I used to live with her as a child.

    Posted 5.1.20 Reply
  6. So sorry again about your granny…may she Rest In Peace xx

    Your memories are so beautiful and it is nice that you can reminisce and connect with home through your favourite dish. I haven’t tried cooking saragva but I enjoy eating them so will give your recipe a try!

    Posted 5.1.20 Reply
  7. Binny,sorry to hear about your nani may she rest in peace…it was indeed a beautiful post full of fond memories of your nani….she has gone to a better world dear

    Posted 5.1.20 Reply
  8. Emma wrote:

    So sorry for your loss – food is a great way to bring back wonderful memories.
    Em x

    Posted 5.3.20 Reply
  9. Sorry to hear your sad news Binny. I am sure your nani would be touched that you are remembering and honouring her in this special way.

    Posted 5.3.20 Reply
  10. Emmalene wrote:

    Oh Binny, I’m so sorry to hear your news, but glad that you are able to remember her through these amazing dishes and feel a step closer to your Kenyan family x

    Posted 5.3.20 Reply
  11. Such a poignant piece Binny – my heart goes out to you

    Posted 5.3.20 Reply
  12. I’m so sorry for your loss lovely, she will be so proud of you!

    Posted 5.4.20 Reply
  13. Such a lovely recipe Binny. I’m sorry to hear about your Nani but it sounds as though she led a happy life and it’s so nice that you’ll have all of her recipes to remember her by, not to mention all the cherished memories you must have.

    Posted 5.6.20 Reply
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