Decoding The Baniya Legacy Of Delhi

Decoding The Baniya Legacy Of Delhi
Makhane ki kheer. Credit: Shutterstock

Chef Gunjan Goela talks about her new book and the culture she grew up with

Antara Chatterjee
May 12 , 2023
06 Min Read

Well-known celebrity chef Gunjan Goela recently held a book discussion event in Delhi celebrating her book Baniya Legacy of Old Delhi – Culture & Cuisine. We spoke to the Chef about how it felt growing up in the Baniya community of Delhi and how it impacted her food approach over the years.

How and when did you conceive the idea of the book?


I have always been intrigued by the Baniya community's rich heritage, but when I visited bookstores, I realized how little documentation existed on this topic. As a member of the Baniya community myself, I felt compelled to rectify this situation and decided to document our heritage for future generations. While researching and writing the book, I discovered many fascinating facts that even I wasn't aware of. I thoroughly enjoyed working with families in the community and learning about their experiences and traditions. I hope that my work will contribute to a greater understanding of our community's contributions to Old Delhi's economy and society.

How deeply rooted are you to your baniya heritage today when you cook anything?

My maternal and paternal sides have always been a part of this vibrant community, and I feel strongly connected to its traditions and values. Cooking has always been a big part of my life. My parents and grandparents used to prepare traditional Baniya dishes with such love and care, and I still remember the flavours and aromas of those dishes. The food I cook is very much in line with Baniya cuisine, with its unique blend of spices and textures. 

Any fond memories growing up involving cooking and food?

Growing up, one of my fondest memories involving food was our annual family picnics. My mother and grandmother would bring a kerosene stove and carry a big basket of fresh vegetables & fruits. So much so that even the samosas were fried on the side to be served as a hot snack with tea, and of course, the pakori pulao, the family's signature dish, was cooked at the picnic spot with the whole family and children. During these picnics, my mother would involve all the kids, teaching us how to cook and showing us how to peel, chop, or serve. The home-cooked parathas with achaar were among the top favourites of the family members. There were a variety of mithais from our favourite spots, Kanwarji or Ghantewale. During winters, It would usually be Moong Dal Halwa and Baalushahi. We would all work together to prepare and enjoy the food at Qutub Minar. 

How much has the community evolved in terms of its newer generations?

In the past, eating out was not a common practice among the Baniya community because they were pure vegetarians who preferred freshly cooked food from their own kitchens. However, with the newer generations, there has been a shift in mindset. Young people today are travel enthusiasts, and they have been exposed to all kinds of food from around the world. Travel has resulted in their venturing out of different types of cuisines in their own kitchens. Despite this shift, the Baniya community still holds its roots close to its heart. Cooking remains an integral part of their culture and heritage, passed down from generation to generation.

From left: Manjit Gill, Rita Ganguly, Muzaffar Ali, Gunjan Goela, Pushpesh Pant and Swapna Liddle

How much do you think travelling informs your cooking?

Travel has always been a great way to discover new foods and flavours. It's a way of evolving and opening up to different cultures and cuisines. When you travel, you experience other ingredients, spices, and cooking techniques which you may not have encountered before. And for me, that has been a great inspiration in my cooking. Nowadays, it's more important than ever to travel and discover what's happening outside of your own world. It allows you to broaden your horizons and see things from different perspectives. And when it comes to cooking, this exposure to different cultures can bring so much richness and diversity to the table.

Where are the best places in the world where you've had some great food and would recommend it?

My taste buds were truly tantalized when I visited Singapore, Hong Kong and Italy. These three countries hold a special place in my heart when it comes to great food. The Asian food in Hong Kong was completely different from what we are used to having in India. It was so flavourful and aromatic! And the local Spanish cuisine at San Sebastian, Spain was simply divine, especially because of their focus on organic sourcing. But the one that completely took my breath away was the regional Singaporean food. The flavours were so unique and diverse that I couldn't help but fall in love with it! 

How much do you see the future generation taking an interest in promoting your culture and cuisine?

I strongly believe that future generations will take great interest in promoting our culture and cuisine. Centuries ago, our community was not given enough exposure or education, but the younger generation is now more aware and conscious about their background and lineage. They are more open-minded, receptive to diverse cultures, and eager to learn and share their knowledge. Thanks to the internet, we now have platforms to discuss and showcase our unique heritage and cuisine through television, online & offline conferences etc., which has such a rich history and philosophy. I am confident that anyone who experiences our distinct flavours will be proud to be a part of this wonderful cuisine.

What is your favourite dish to cook, and any recipe from your heritage that you would like to share?

My favourite dish to cook is Makhane ki kheer! As a baniya, it is mandatory to have a sweet tooth, and I love carrying forward this legacy. The kheer is not only delicious but also very light and healthy, as makhanas are full of calcium and are considered sacred food in many places. 

Makhane Ki Kheer:

Boil 1 kilogram of milk in a pan and add 15-20 grams of crushed makhanas. Keep cooking on low heat, stirring intermittently so that it doesn't stick to the bottom until the makhanas and milk become creamier. Once you are happy with the consistency, add three tablespoons of sugar and two tablespoons of chopped almonds. You can customize the quantities to your preferences.

RELATED: Chef Tarun Sibal’s Culinary Expedition

ALSO READ: I Believe I Can Be Compared To Gordon Ramsay On Steroids: Dharshan Munidasa 

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