My life in food: Nish Kumar talks about cooking in lockdown and eating off car hoods
I come from a very greedy family. It’s just kind of a constant obsession, like, what are we going to eat? Where are we going to eat? What time are we going to eat? It’s kind of a long and continuous problem. To some extent it’s also in my blood, as my grandfather ran curry restaurants in Leicester in the 80s. So food, especially Indian food, runs deep in my family.
I didn’t realize until I was a bit older that it’s not normal to eat okra constantly. When I come home, my mother dry-fries okra. It’s really my idea of comfort food.
Prawns taste different in Kerala. It’s because you eat them right after they’ve been snatched from the ocean. My grandmother lived and died in Kerala, so we often went to visit her when I was a child. It’s largely coastal so you have access to some amazing fish – there’s a Malabar fish curry that I associate with being in Kerala. Things like vegetable or lamb stew and dosa are quite the taste of my childhood.
I’m not a very good cook, but I learned a bit during confinement. I can now make a chicken curry which is only a partial insult to my heritage as opposed to a total insult – that’s about the best I can say. It is difficult because everything is transmitted by an oral tradition. If you ask my grandmother how much garam masala to use in a recipe, she will simply say “enough”.
Once I ate out of the trunk of a car. There is a very famous restaurant behind the Taj Mahal Palace hotel in Mumbai called Bademiya. [It started as a street food stall], cook Indian seekh kebabs, tandoori chicken… and it became a kind of phenomenon. The first time I went there was probably in 2004. People were queuing on the street and the meal was served by a guy who came out, opened the trunk of my cousin’s car and went there. put a Coke bottle on it to make a flat surface — and we ate it. The skewers are amazing.
Japanese food is fantastic. I had a great meal in a small town where four guys from the crew [of TV show Joel & Nish vs the World] and I was trying to find a place to eat. We ended up in a small kind of canteen, where the guy didn’t speak English and we didn’t speak Japanese. Somehow, between us, we managed to order a load of beers and karaage – Japanese fried chicken. It was so delicious.
I love a dumpling. They are so comforting. I went to the Darjeeling Express, to Asma Khan in London. Darjeeling is such an interesting part of India [and] at Darjeeling Express, they do chicken momos which are basically Indian dim sum, and they are delicious. I love dim sum; I love pierogi, Polish dumplings; I appreciate each nation’s feedback on them.
Mexican cold seafood soup is a truly amazing and unique thing. We stayed in a little town called Urique, and there was a restaurant run by this old woman who made cold seafood soup, served in some kind of stone bowl. It’s one of those things that sometimes flickers on the screen swirling and changing channels in my brain. It was flavored with lots of cilantro and it packed a real punch. I have never eaten anything like this in my life.
I’m a mistakenly adventurous eater. I eat anything – the more basic the place, the better. The places that look most like a one in five on that green health sticker rating they slap on UK restaurants often give you the most delicious food. So I’ve had very good experiences eating street food — but when it goes bad, it goes really bad.
Nish’s UK and Ireland tour, Your Power, Your Control, begins February 2022. nishkumar.co.uk
Published in National Geographic Traveler Food Issue 14 (Winter 2021)
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