I’m Shirley and I love cooking. Perhaps more than cooking I love it when people eat my food and enjoy it.
Mummy was German and my dad, Bengali. My mother hated cooking, which may have been to her advantage since I grew up in a joint family. For those who don’t understand what a ‘joint family’ or to be specific a ‘hindu undivided joint family’ means – it is basically where all the family members from grand parents, to married uncles, unmarried aunts and lived-in maids all live under one roof. This also means that there is normally only one kitchen, the joint kitchen for the whole family.
Cooking in any family generally tends to be a busy affair. The same process taking place in a joint family kitchen took on another dimension. One person was in charge of lighting the open fires, another person, perhaps a maid working only during the day, would be busy chopping and shredding veggies (all per strict instructions from my Nanny), and another person would be getting all the ingredients ready close to the fire in preparation for the cooking session. Once the fires began to burn fully the cooking started and carried on non-stop till all the dishes were done. By that time the fires would have all but died out. The heat was intense especially since there wasn’t any extraction system and in the middle of the Kolkata summer one had to admire the cook’s ability to withstand the heat. Open kitchen doors or windows were little consolation to those who were cooking.
My earliest cooking memories are from that large kitchen in the joint family in Bengal where dishes were prepared fresh daily. My grandmother, or Nanny as we lovingly called her, was very much in charge of what vegetables and fish were to be bought in the local bazaar and how the cook had to prepare the dishes. All hell would break lose if the cook produced something other than what was specifically ordered by Nanny:) Other than the kitchen in the home front there were always the street vendors selling all sorts of goodies, most of which we weren’t allowed to eat in case it gave us a tummy bug. In addition were all the memories from other street food vendors in specific areas of Kolkata where showmanship, the flavours of all the spice mixing and the clanging sound of a stainless steel ladle on a metal tawa or hot plate made one salivate. We never acknowledged the time you had to wait in the que for your plate of chaat. Our focus never veered away from the food.
Once I left Kolkata all those sounds and smells were replaced by German Leberwurst (German liver sausage), Linsen suppe (Lentil soup, my German grandma’s speciality) and so on. The honing of my culinary skills (if I might call it that) actually started in the Steigenberger Hotelberufsfachschule (Bavaria). A world famous catering school situated in the middle of the spa town of Bad Reichenhall. One year in Reichenhall was followed by a 2-year apprenticeship in Hotel Hafen Hamburg, in Hamburg. After this followed a period of stay in New York followed by all sorts of interesting jobs. After completing a BSc (Hons) degree in Environmental Studies from the University of Hertfordshire, I found myself temping in many kitchens in the UK. The sounds and smells of those street food eateries in Kolkata (which I thought, I had forgotten since I was so westernised) began to resurface with greater frequency. Every time I temped in a new canteen or some place similar, I was surprised at how limited the vegetarian options were. Chilli beans and Lasagna and the same salad mix. That’s it! I thought, surely the chef’s would be interested in finding out more about the variety that actually existed in the big world out there. I was only to be disappointed. So, the idea to set up my own little eatery to reproduce some of those foods that were sitting in my memory bank grew.
That brings me nicely to my trailer ‘ura Street Food’ where this is exactly what I try to achieve, all within the scope of a basket full of rules and regulations and the fluctuations in the weather, which by the way does have an impact on my Kati roll dough:) I also showcase some of my own creations.
So, if you are ever in Machynlleth on a Wednesday, why not sample the delights of the day. And if you can’t make up your mind, I am always at hand to help out with my handy advice and friendly chat.
See you soon and happy eating