Ramadan had started and I decided to find the nearest Egyptian/Arab deli. My expectations were humble. I just wanted to get my hands on a few cans of fava beans (ful) and dried dates. Over the years ful has become a fixture of my suhoor around midnight or as late/early as dawn to guarantee my energy levels wouldn’t plummet over the course of the fasting day. The dates are to break my fast on as is traditional.
My upbringing in Madras in the late 1980s and 90s led me to picnics in the beautiful country that dotted Enid Blyton’s books – just as it did many children of my generation and the generations before me. The Famous Five and The Secret Seven offered a generous serving of scones, marmalade, pears, fresh cream, crumpets and whatnot… And like any self-respecting EB-reading child, I nurtured a not-so-secret yearning to eat scones at tea one day.
When I finally tried them, surprisingly later in life, at a charming café in Madras, I was utterly disappointed. Perhaps it was the weight of all that expectation, perhaps I wasn’t a scone person, I could never figure out which.
Scones disappointed me, but I kept looking for food in my books. As I grew up and my taste took a turn towards writers closer to home, and to cultures similar to mine, I not only enjoyed local tastes in my mouth as I savoured the words that leapt out of the pages, but also actual dishes. That’s when it hit me: food, just like books, was political; perhaps that’s why we vacillate from wanting books banned to foods banned, once every few months here.