A for Asparagus, B for Broccoli: Why Bandra Ke Bachhe Need To Learn the ABC of Indian Veggies

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A for Asparagus, B for Broccoli: Why Bandra Ke Bachhe Need To Learn the ABC of Indian Veggies

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

“W

hat is this?” screams my 10-year-old nephew, spitting his food back onto the plate one fine day. “Why is this broccoli white and why does it taste so bad?” he demands to know.

“It’s cauliflower,” I say.

“It’s not broccoli?” he asks quizzical, his face still puckered from the ghastly betrayal of his tastebuds.

When my eyes return from their involuntary rolling, I realise who the culprit is for this Bandra kid’s scant knowledge of the most common vegetable in the Indian food chain. You see, my nephew is familiar only with the alphabet that his American school has taught him – A for Asparagus, B for Broccoli, and C for Celery. In 2019, even vegetables have hierarchies.

While the proletariat “palak” and “methi” draw a blank from him, his eyes lit up with joyful recognition at the mention of rocket, kale, and arugula. His basic schooling of veggies happened at the nearest Subway, where he peered through the glass separating him from the iceberg lettuce, olives, and jalapeno, not to forget the cherry tomatoes. I cannot even begin to imagine what his reaction would be to a snake gourd, the ubiquitous parval, or even the earthy yam. This is a kid who wholeheartedly believes that drumsticks are accessories used for musical instruments.

At this point, Bandra is to Mumbai what civility is to Indian politics. But Bandra is the heart of the city of Mumbai. Yet, she is different from the rest of the city. She has a lavish air. Her social persona thrives on a superiority complex, her lingo is organic and always on Keto, and her coffee is without fail, decaf. When the rest of Mumbai goes on vacation, Bandra vacays.  

So while it is endearing to watch Bandra kids like my nephew, suspiciously sink their teeth into a luscious dabeli, it is alarming to think of what they are missing. You haven’t lived in Mumbai if you haven’t dug into a plate of sizzling tava pulao with loads of cauliflower, carrot, beans, and potatoes. Everytime I see my darling nephew eat yet another exotic veggie, I so badly want to warn him that “baingan bharta” will not taste quite the same when you call it aubergine.

In fact, my regular vendor has the best nickname for these Bandra veggies: He calls them “angrezi sabzi”. At his stall, there is a small space earmarked for these exotic veggies, which in no way can claim any competition to the expansive spread of gavar phalli, tendli, suran, kachalu, karela, tinde, papdi, hara dhania, dudhi. I can imagine my poor nephew scrunching up his face somewhere on 16th Road just at the mere mention of these strange names.

Her social persona thrives on a superiority complex, her lingo is organic and always on Keto, and her coffee is without fail, decaf.

It’s not that my kitchen does not welcome Bandra veggies: Red bell peppers, lemongrass, baby corn, chinese cabbage and bok choy do make frequent trips home. But just as our kids sing the national anthem and know what our national sport is (it’s supposedly hockey, not cricket), they need to be updated with our native veggies as well. Not one to lose hope before putting up a decent struggle, I’ve already strategised a plan for my nephew: I will introduce the young lad to a game I often played with my son. I whole-heartedly attribute my son’s impeccable vocabulary of “bhajipala” to the “What’s on your plate?” game I indulged him in during his growing up years. It goes like this: I would load up his plate with fresh greens, bhindi, beans, cauliflower, and give him a treat of a tomato every time he pointed correctly to the veggies I called out.  

It’s been 15 years since those days of DIY veggie homeschooling my son and merely thinking about them brings a smile to my proud mama’s face. Not too far away from where I sit reminiscing, my 24-year-old son is in the middle of one of his random cooking moods in our kitchen.

“Mom?” my son’s voice breaks my reverie.

He stands over me with a clutch of ginger in his hand.

“This is garlic, right?”

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