Mistress of Spices

Mistress of Spices
The book cover of Bhogal's latest,

Proudly inauthentic recipes from an immigrant kitchen

Amit Dixit
November 28 , 2020
01 Min Read

Ravinder Bhogal is an immigrant twice over. Her grandfather moved to Kenya from his native Punjab in the 1940s in search of better prospects. When Bhogal was seven, her family moved to England. Her memories of the small jikoni (Swahili for kitchen) in Nairobi—full of women bustling about, working their magic with their pots and pans and melange of masalas, speaking in a variety of inherited tongues—are sharply etched, and steeped in the aching twang of nostalgia. Bhogal is a former journalist who started writing about food, eventually moving into private catering and then opening her own restaurant in London’s Marylebone, thus fulfilling a long- nurtured dream. 

Of course, it’s called 'jikoni'. A good cookbook is like a cosy hearth, which you turn to for inspiration and warmth. Bhogal embraces her culinary influences, modifying traditional recipes to ingredients available in the new land, and welcomes hitherto alien dishes into the family fold. But she makes them her own. The stodgy British kedgeree, for instance, metamorphoses into pea and mint- stuffed fishcakes served with a curry hollandaise, essentially relaying the same flavour. 


Who would have thought? 

It’s also a deeply personal book, laced with private memories. Every recipe is accompanied by a delicious nugget of history or a sharp observation, if not a full-course tale. The recipes themselves are part home cook, part cheffy, everything from pork scratchings to pomegranate quail and tahini ice cream.

Bhogal writes with felicity: “Our recipes displayed a rebellious spirit, lawless concoctions that drew their influences from one nation and then another. We took the traditions of our ancestors and their regional home cooking and overlaid them with the reality of our new home and whatever its various food markets, delis, canteens and multicultural supermarkets had to offer on any given day. This is what I suppose could be loosely termed ‘immigrant cuisine’, proudly inauthentic recipes that span geography, ethnicity and history.” This is a cookbook you can actually read. 

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