I’m Shirley and I love cooking. Perhaps more than cooking, I love serving.
Mummy was German and my dad, Bengali. Mummy hated cooking, which may have been to her advantage since I grew up in an Indian joint family. For those who don’t understand the concept of a ‘joint family’, or to be specific a ‘hindu undivided joint family’ .. it is basically where all the family members from grand parents, to married uncles, unmarried aunts including lived-in maids, all live under one roof! It is very much like a fish market busy from sun-up to sun down and beyond. Such a family 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 the day shift, would be busy chopping and shredding veggies (all per Nanny’s strict instructions), 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 properly the cooking would commence and carry on non-stop till all the dishes were done. By that time the fires would have all but died out. There was never any chance to re-heat the food either.
The heat in the kitchen was intense especially since there wasn’t any built-in extraction system. In the middle of the Kolkata summer one had to admire the cook’s ability to withstand such heat. Open kitchen doors or windows were little consolation to those who were cooking.
My earliest cooking memories from that large kitchen in the joint family in Bengal were dishes that 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, flavours of all the spice mixing and the clanging sound of a stainless steel ladle on a metal tawa (hot plate) made one salivate. We never complained about the time we had to wait in the queue for our plate of some street food delight. In fact, the longer the queue or the crowd, the more you could rely on the food being superb. The inhabitants of this populous metropolis sometimes have their preferred stall holders they have supported for years. And they wouldn’t think twice about driving across to those stalls at the other end of the city!
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 Steigenberger Hotelberufsfachschule (Bavaria). This is a world famous catering school located 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 a 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 always disappointed. So, I thought, if I ever had the money I’d should like to buy a catering trailer and have a go.
That brings me nicely to my catering trailer ‘ura Street Food’ where this is exactly what I tried to achieve, all within the scope of a basket full of rules and regulations and the fluctuations of our wonderful Welsh weather. I also showcased some of my own creations.
Then came the Pandemic and I was struggling to find a way to make a living. Soon I realised that there wasn’t any point in dragging the trailer into town as there wasn’t anybody in town to buy the food! I started pre-orders and deliveries, albeit in a much reduced capacity. Summer time when the weather is favourable, I have set up (last year) on the pavement at my former pitch with a limited number of items.
If you want to order at the moment, you will have to check THIS WEEKS’ MENU page and pre-order.
See you soon and happy eating