Wednesday 12 January 2022



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, 

feed itself on curry.


I began to chafe at that word, long ago. 

When it boxed my mother in. When there was never 

room to explain she is Parsi. Zoroastrian. 

A portraitist, arranging food on a plate, the way 

she carves paint onto canvas. 


Her palette is sometimes pastel, sometimes oil, 

a mix of ochre, mustard, turmeric or rai, 

coriander for greens: peas, lime, okra, French beans; 

purple aubergines. Eggs for any day,

any possible way.


Her grandmother, and mine,

both believed in butter. Their girlhoods

were for sali: salty potato matchsticks; 

sev mamra: puffy rice popping; and ice

cream cones, for cool 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 

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 swooning in flavour, they make their 

meals as moreish as my father's people did. 

The Bedouin desert tribes still thrum within 

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, sitaphal – 

Custard Apple Queen.


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 elsewhere, on someone else's palate.


In her conservatory, she tends to bougainvillea 

and hibiscus, coaxing Indus valley plants 

to befriend their European compatriots. 

And up from her kitchen, magic weaves 

her spell. Food never tastes so well

as when my mother makes it.

Shaista Tayabali 

food prompt, at dverse poets 



Sherry Blue Sky said...

Oh, wow, a culinary and photographic feast, so rich with love and caring. It is not surprising to me that your mother pours such time and care into her meals - and her gardening - for she has nurtured her human family so well. What a beautiful post this is! I hope you read it to her.

sarah said...

I love this blend of food and family and love. Good food really 8s an art form.

Vaccinius said...

Ai was set back 🌹 by your beautiful devotion here. Soul has with taste to do, and will and want dependent on, and certainly culture and motherhood is important, and your words are such beautiful recommendations. Thank you. ❤️

Vaccinius said...

By the way; you are good at painting! (ref. header picture on the blog).

Callsign Santa said...

What a wonderful, exotic experience your poetry has brought me — it reminds me so much of some memories of Azerbaijan, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, countries where I have lived, and the people and food I met and tasted. I remember visiting a small Zoroastrian temple on the outskirts of Baku, Azerbaijan, and being invited for tea and food by a kindly couple living nearby. and remember to a wonderful Persian family I knew in Bahrain, who made such wonderful food. Your poem was so evocative, bursting with flavours and culture.

Shaista said...

Mum has read this poem :) It is actually going to be the opening poem in my latest collection xx

Shaista said...

Thankyou so much for admiring the illustration but it’s not by me - it’s by Maia Chavez Larkin.

Shaista said...

Thank you @ain! You’ve traveled to further flung places than I have, and although Zoroastrians all over the world hold on to the old traditions, it would be so lovely to visit the original ‘homeland’. Or as close to it as I can get, considering a thousand years have passed since the Persian empire began to change…

Ingrid said...

This is mesmerising, Shaista - as much so as the foods you describe!

'As if

a country the size of a continent, could ever, only,

feed itself on curry.'

You really went on to demonstrate how this is so much not the case :-)

Sanaa Rizvi said...

This is absolutely stunning! I especially resonate with; "You have to garment your fingers to really taste your food, and share a single thali without disturbing the portions."

Shaista said...

You can tell that the curry stereotype really got to me?!! So much so that I think this may be the longest of my poems 😂

Shaista said...

Ah thank you Sanaa - can’t remember the last time I ate from a thali!!

Lalua Rahsiad said...

Mom is so loveable, warm and inspiring. Whenever I think of my momma in heaven, I always think of your mother. Miss her and miss u too ❤��

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