Wednesday 17 June 2015


It begins with my mother. Food always begins
with my mother. It tires me when people ask
if I can cook a curry.
As if all we eat is curry.
As if a country the size of a continent
could ever, only, would ever, only,
feed itself on curry.

I began to hate that word long years
ago. When it boxed my mother in.
When there was never room to explain
she is Parsi. Zoroastrian. A portraitist
describing food on a plate
the way she carves paint onto canvas.
Her palette is sometimes pastel, and
sometimes oil; a mix of ochre (mustard or rai);
coriander for greens: peas, lime, okra, French beans;
purple aubergines.

Eggs for any day, any possible way:
her grandmother (and my grandmother)
both believed in butter.
Generations of Julia Child doppelgangers.
Girlhood was for sali, salty potato matchsticks;
sev mamra, rice puff popping,
chocolate ice cream for Sunday mornings.

Now, on special occasions, or just for love,
hours of building biryani, sifting, sieving daal,
and preparing every roti.
Pomfret if she can find it, lightly fried with salt and pepper.
And on the side, cachumber.
Cachuber? (Here the rare parental disagreement.)
Every birthday garlanded with a carefully burned
white palace of semolina, milk, sugar, petals,
raisins. She calls it rava or ravo, depending.

A small tribe, the Parsis, in a vast civilisation;
in a country swimming in flavour, they make their meals
as moreish as my father's people do. The bedouin
desert tribes still thrum beneath the meat
that hangs off girded steel.
You have to garment your fingers
to really taste your food, and share a single thali
without disturbing the portions.

When I was a boy, he begins, but the memory is too much
for a cold November day in England.
I remember, he tries again, his fingers curling,
savouring mutton as it melts, paya, haleem,
falooda with chiku, thick buffalo cream.
It is May when he speaks, gulmohar season.
In the heat, scarlet tiger claws watch the drip of mango
run down his chin - King Alphonso, the best -
and bursting her stays, sitaphul - Custard Queen of apples.

Quinoa is recommended to the girl with the wolf
disease: mashed avocado, maca, kale, apple cider vinegar.
Cacao helps to sweeten spinach, chia, goji,
but even as I juice and blend, my heart belongs
somewhere else, with someone else's palate.

In her conservatory, she tends bougainvillea and hibiscus,
coaxing Indus valley plants to befriend their cooler companions.
And up from her kitchen, magic weaves her spell.
Food never tastes as well
as when my mother makes it.

(c) Shaista Tayabali
a dverse poetry prompt


Anonymous said...

Beautiful! There are things my mother made that I never learned to make like she did before she died. Gravy, why can't I make good gravy? Hers was the best. And fried chicken, my favorite. I enjoyed your walk down memory lane, which sent me down my own. Peace, Linda

Anonymous said...

this poem was a feast of words !

X said...

Wow. I want to be invited over to try your mothers food. Sounds delicious -- and new flavors I am not used to. I think we all go through those times too of boxing our parents in.

Shaista said...

My mother's gravy is delicious! All the secrets at her fingertips and all that patience!

Shaista said...

Thank you! Wasn't it a great poetry prompt?! There's so much that can be written on the subject of food...

Shaista said...

Her food is delicious - and her secret is patience. Something I feel I sorely lack in the kitchen!! Glad you enjoyed her palette/palate.

Sanaa Rizvi said...

Delectable write :D

Grace said...

This is superbly written with all the details and spice only you, your mother and your family can make ~ I admire women who preserve and keep on the tradition of cooking from their native motherland ~ I really enjoyed this and thanks for sharing ~

Anonymous said...

I LOVE curry--and was only introduced to quinoa last year. Marvelous food in your poem, and lovely writing as well.

Katie Mia Frederick said...

The culture of food is one that sticks to ribs
of nationalism.. flags fly high over
meals served special.. every
village has a menu of
humans served so
well and no
not the
Good Book
THAT too.. IS A SCI-

Sherry Blue Sky said...

What a fantastically rich poem, one can savor all the scents and juices, and picture the occasions when the dishes were lovely........your mom sounds like she is as much of an artist with food as she is at her easel.

Sumana Roy said...

what a delicious poem Shaista...heavenly taste in each line :)

brudberg said...

I simply adore the richness of the food culture.. So many tastes I never have grown up with or never cooked. A mother's food like that is divine..

perveenart said...

Darling, thank you. I'm touched!!!! Ahhhhh ;)

Badger’sWoodCoco said...

BRILLIANT in all ways: BRAVO!

Anonymous said...

My mother wasn't much of a cook, but my Grandma was. I remember homemade pizza, in particular, because she always let us choose and help with the toppings.

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