Mung khichdi with butter and kadhi. Photograph by Anurag Banerjee
I was born in Bogota, Colombia, and spent my formative years in Mexico, Guatemala and the Philippines. My father, who worked with the United Nations, would travel a lot with my mother Raihana in tow, and the onus of feeding my siblings would fall on me. Every time they travelled, my mother would stock up the freezer with a lot of food that only needed re-heating, and I’d only have to make rice for the three of us. When I was about 11, we were in the Philippines, and like everyone else there, we ended up eating a lot of rice.
A lot of my cooking has been influenced by my mother, and I have fond memories of helping her prepare meals in the kitchen. But if there’s something that I loved as a child and do so even now, it has to be the khichdi that my mother would make using split green mung (with chilta) and rice. She’d serve it with dahi ki kadhi, but there was a specific way that she made it, which gave it that specific flavour. People sometimes put methi seeds (fenugreek), onion, jeera (cumin), garlic… – my mother didn’t do any of that. Mum would serve the khichdi piping hot and add a blob of butter, and we’d spoon the kadhi on top.
Chef Irfan Pabaney at The Sassy Spoon, Nariman Point. Photograph by Anurag Banerjee
I never really tried making the khichdi until last year. This was for an event called Food with Benefits. I learnt to make it by simply watching her cook, and finally understood how it’s done. All the participating chefs were cooking something they were fond of. I made the khichdi as one of the courses, because, for me, that’s the definition of comfort food. My staff here (at The Sassy Spoon) went through several rounds of tastings, and I’d keep telling them “No, it doesn’t taste like how my mum would make it. Try again”. We tried it five to six times, because if it wasn’t tasting just like my mum’s – it wasn’t correct! We did finally nail the recipe and I served it with fried bhindi and everyone enjoyed it, and we added dollops of butter to it just as my siblings and I did as kids.
Chef Irfan Pabaney is co-owner at The Sassy Spoon (Nariman Point and Bandra), in Mumbai