gran1My Gran is outstanding, but she’s not really a cook. She’s 94 years old, and still kicking away death or even suggestions that she’s too old for anything.

When I try to list the things she taught me, I find myself not thinking of domestic tasks, but about afternoons wandering her garden in Ivanhoe, squishing overripe Napoleon Cherries under my feet. She told us we couldn’t eat them, but now I know they are quite edible, but you need to cook them. Carla, her Italian neighbour would lean over the fence at some point, I would climb the step ladder that perennially resided there, she would pinch my cheeks and hand over a plate of tiramisu (which I adored) or a bag of rock-hard almond biscotti (which I didn’t). We would go inside, and I would sit with Gran in the sun-room, while we ate Carla’s treats and she told me about her latest trip – The silk road, Orient express, a barge down the Nile, meeting the Dalai Lama. Princes and cruise ships in Italy, trains and houseboats in Canada. She nearly died of altitude sickness in Lima, food poisoning in Burma, was hijacked in Israel, pushed out of China for being nosy and nearly blown up in Pakistan. But none of this stopped her. Every year, she would save each penny – living on tinned sardines and condensed tomato soup, so she could afford another lavish trip. The only reason she doesn’t travel now is that she cannot get travel insurance. But no, she doesn’t cook.


Last week, I witnessed 12 Sub-continent women recreate Grandmaternal history on a plate as they shared their recipes. At some moments in the day I was jealous. Cooking is a pastime I treasure, but it did not come to me from my Gran. The cooks I watched conveyed their stories as they worked. They remembered standing on chairs to watch Granny stirring the pots, sitting on mats crushing spices with a mortar and pestle, gathering around the table to knead dough, then being part of the team that presented the males with this incredible creation. Food, but not just food, secret family recipes moulded into artistic sustinence, with the ability to warm hearts, spread smiles, sate souls and dry cheeks. It’s not really something I was involved in as a child, and hearing the tales, watching their blushing cheeks and shining eyes, it was hard not to wonder why I got ripped off. She could have at least helped me bake me some cookies…

mumtaz-entryI discussed it with one of the other attendees – a girl from India (Delhi), who was working the friday shift to bring a little foodie news to Dubai’s Bollywood radio. We wondered why so many western women had a similar hole in their upbringings, were never taught how to cook by the matriarchs of the family. Apart from being a little younger and prettier, she was just like me – a modern woman, working, living and playing in similar ways to me. But she remembered her Granny teaching her how to cook. It shows, that despite the fact that many believe our world is becoming more homogenized, cultures still value the role of women very differently – some still regard domestics as a primary role for women (whether they work or not), and the fine technique of this is something that is passed down. Or at least has been to Gen Y. But I do wonder if today’s five year olds will still agree when they are my age?

While discussing, I blamed World War II, the lack of male presence and the need for women to take up other forms of work, but also by the impact of the depression, when food was simply a fuel to fend off starvation. But possibly there’s much more to it than that. Scarcity is hardly a rare occurance in India, and other parts of the world famous for the quality of their home cooking. Our values, of money, time and art, have changed. (Check out the Daily Mail’s article) And it’s not only the war that did it. Fashions have changed faster since the 1920s than they have in history, and it’s not just about dresses – it’s the way we live, and choose to present ourselves. And cooking has not been the only thing to go. Hands up who knows how to cross-stitch. It is now more important for a woman to be well educated, well travelled, busy, fit, and of course, pretty – that will never change. As for the kitchen, well, there’s always restaurants and frozen dinners.

mumtaz-honey chicken

As the winner of Mumtaz Mahal’s competition stood up and accepted her award, she cried – just a little. The winning corresponded with the anniversary of her Grandmother’s death. The recipe was true to Manudevi (granny), and what she would have prepared the family for a typical breakfast in Delhi. It had two curries, pickles, chutney, poori pastries and a bunch of other stuff. When I went to Gran’s I got two Weetbix with warm milk. If I was lucky, she had orange juice.

But I won’t hold it against her, just like Tom Junod couldn’t in this piece for the Esquire blog. Gran has always given me plenty to feast on, and she has good taste. I just can’t put her gifts in my belly.


You can find the three winning recipes on my recipe listings here:

Delhi Breakfast

Paneer Pakeeza

Fish Curry

And, in appreciation of my matriarchs, I am adding my own family recipe. Don’t laugh – it’s adored by me and my kids, even my gourmet husband.

Granny’s Tuna Curry


I also came across this article from Time Online in my searching for reasons why modern women don’t cook (didn’t find any reasons, just lots of opinions on whether they should or shouldn’t, could or couldn’t, will or won’t) – A modern cook’s conflicted relationship with his mother. Worth a read.




Mumtaz Mahal is an Indian Restaurant in the rickety yet totally charming Arabian Courtyard Hotel in Bur Dubai. They run competitions throughout the year for home chefs, including the Biryani Competition, which is also a doozy. The restaurant itself has a luxurious and yet homey feel, and the competitions reflect their desire to bring indian home cooking to the table. They also have dancing and live music most nights – it’s a hoot, and shouldn’t be missed. I’ve also added it to my Top 5 Restaurants in Dubai to take your guests.  

ph +971 4 351 9111 



5 thoughts on “Grandma’s Recipes”

  1. "While discussing, I blamed World War II, the lack of male presence and the need for women to take up other forms of work, followed closely by the depression" ?????Assuming you mean WW1, would you take back emancipation etc, this is called progress.

  2. Hi Rupert – so glad I have you – whatever would I do without your help? I was referring to the order I blamed events for changing our values. My grandmother was born in 1918 (she is 94 now), so her teaching of her children and later, me, had nothing whatsoever to do with World War I. I am sure WWI had great effects on women and their roles, but I cannot comment on those because I never knew my great grandmother. My grandmother had to become a Chiropodist when her husband left to join the war effort, where he later died. My mother had to cook the family meals while Gran tended corns and bunions in the same sun-room I mentioned above.And no, I would not take back progress – as you can read, I adore my Grandmother, and treasure the knowledge she has passed down, despite the fact that it contains little in the region of domestic skills – and quite possibly BECAUSE of it. But that does not mean that I believe that the women involved in the competition I talk of missed out on knowing and learning from their own grandmothers. They learned in other ways – who's to say if it's better or worse – I can only comment on my own experience. It's hard not to ponder different cultures and their upbringings when you are the only Australian (and westerner) in a room full of Indian and Bangladeshi women of a similar age, who had entirely different experiences with their kin. Bu thank you for your comment – I will reword so it is a little clearer.

  3. Oh this must have quite a brilliant experience. Its very funny that even we didn't grow up learning any cooking. On the hindsight, I think that must have been a boon really as I picked up the threads of cooking from everywhere. Though both my grandmums unlike yours(blame it on Granny!) were always cooking, churning out elaborate dishes. Cooking was an art for them and the only way to be appreciated in the family as they hadn't even finished schooling and getting married as early as when they were 12 years old! Yes, really! And ending up becoming a mother at 13 years old followed by 12 children thereafter!!!But now a few moments do come back as random flashbacks – and I have been trying to read up as much or talk to older people in the family regarding the dishes they cooked – and am trying to trace out a few of those moments (one such post was the traditional Rice Pudding that you've read). I don't know whether this is the exact recipe that my Grandma would have followed but somehow I'm trying to match the taste!!!Again a fabulous write up and I'm bookmarking this for sure:)

  4. All hail to your granny – how astonishing. I think you must have got your love of travel from her. Mine Gran never left the town she was born in! However she made fantastic chips! Glad you are now an annual fixture on the judges panel – they couldn't choose a better person.

  5. Hi Sarah,I suggest you start using Forkly’s a social network for rating restaurant dishes. It’s like twitter for foodies!It’s an easy way to check out what dishes are people eating in your area & to easily recommend the dishes you love & discover new dishes!Also, it could be a food diary for everything you try. Here is an example of a profile:’s really fun! It is becoming popular in the Middle East, especially UAE (Dubai & Abu Dhabi). It is worth checking out. And they have tools for bloggers like you: is their iPhone app to get started: keep up the great work with your blog! =D

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