A culi­nary jour­ney

Sunday Herald Life - - FOOD & DRINK - By Su­mayya Us­mani

AS the Scot­tish sun­shine gives way to darker, more dra­matic skies, a crisp autumnal breeze fills my senses with fresh mem­o­ries that have been made in Scot­land: of pick­ing bram­bles from wild bushes while crunch­ing leaves on the grass, roast­ing freshly plucked fruits with spice, and slow-cook­ing gamey stews. But no mat­ter how ex­cit­ing these new ex­pe­ri­ences may be, old rec­ol­lec­tions of home in Pak­istan are al­ways there. Some­thing about this time makes me miss Karachi the most, no mat­ter where I am. And this time of year – a time of ap­proach­ing cel­e­bra­tion, fes­tiv­ity and to­geth­er­ness, makes me crave fam­ily.

The bounty of a Scot­tish au­tumn is mes­meris­ing – rich aubergine hues of sweet drip­ping plums, sul­try el­der­ber­ries are find­ing their way into my kitchen this au­tumn here. But when I think back of a child­hood in south­ern Pak­istan, which re­volved around two ma­jor sea­sons (sum­mer and win­ter), I re­mem­ber the essence of saf­fron and car­damom fill­ing my senses, as win­ter ap­proached and fes­tiv­i­ties beck­oned.

Pak­ista­nis take huge joy in cel­e­brat­ing by shar­ing good food with oth­ers all year around, but most of all, dur­ing the win­ter months. Each event is cel­e­brated with a daawat (mighty feast): be it a birth, a mar­riage or a fes­ti­val, ta­bles are lav­ishly adorned with slow-cooked meats, se­lec­tions of breads, aro­matic rice and the rich­est of desserts, all served fam­ily-style. Prob­a­bly the great­est en­ter­tain­ments for most South Asians are wed­dings – and food al­ways takes cen­tre-stage. I dreaded win­ter wed­dings in Karachi when I was a com­plain­ing teenager. But as I grew up, they be­gan to charm me as I was lured by the in­tox­i­cat­ing aro­mas of deep red roses and jas­mine, the en­chant­ment of glit­ter­ing fairly lights and, most of all, the food. The smoky aroma of bar­be­cued ke­babs, the the­atrics of fresh puris be­ing thrown into hot oil, deygs (large steel cook­ing pots) filled with spiced biryani or kunna gosht (goat shank stew) ...

These fes­tiv­i­ties be­gan with late-night henna cel­e­bra­tions (mehndi): din­ner would be served near mid­night and the feast­ing car­ried on through­out the night. I al­ways found my­self drawn to the freshly made taftaan (saf­fron and car­damom en­riched bread) and jalebis, and my great­est plea­sure would be stay­ing up late, chat­ting to friends and drink­ing Kashimiri pink chai topped with pis­ta­chio, salt and al­monds. Fes­tiv­i­ties would usu­ally end with a break­fast of halva, puri and spicy pota­toes.

Dur­ing these fes­tive times, one tra­di­tion close to my heart is the prac­tice of the niyaz, where we feed the poor on cer­tain fes­ti­val days, or as I re­mem­ber it, even when a fam­ily cel­e­brates a happy oc­ca­sion. I re­mem­ber spend­ing morn­ings with my nani (ma­ter­nal grand­mother), pre­par­ing large caul­drons of biryani, kitchra or ni­hari – meat-heavy dishes bulked up with lentils, bar­ley and oats to cre­ate an all en­com­pass­ing meal, to share with those who usu­ally eat lit­tle meat. We would then take the food to be dis­trib­uted at the Sufi saint shrine near my house where peo­ple tra­di­tion­ally gath­ered, or dis­trib­ute it through nearby vil­lages. There is no feel­ing as sat­is­fy­ing for the soul as feed­ing some­one who needs food, es­pe­cially those who suf­fer bit­ter weather con­di­tions, spars hot food and most of all, lit­tle to cel­e­brate. Shar­ing food al­ways bought a gen­uine smile to faces.

So as a cold win­ter beck­ons, it will be a time wel­comed no mat­ter where you are, as the an­tic­i­pa­tion of fes­tiv­ity. As I sit in Scot­land at the be­gin­ning of the change of sea­sons, look­ing for­ward to spend­ing the hol­i­days with fam­ily back home, I know that no mat­ter where I may be, there is a uni­ver­sal sense of grat­i­tude, gen­eros­ity and abun­dant hospitality at the eve of win­ter. So much to look for­ward to, but es­pe­cially time with fam­ily, over boun­ti­ful plat­ters of home cook­ing, laugh­ter and to­geth­er­ness, cel­e­brat­ing the flavours of the sea­son. Su­mayya Us­mani co-presents BBC Ra­dio Scot­land’s Kitchen Cafe. Her books, Sum­mers Un­der The Tamarind Tree and Moun­tain Berries And Desert Spice are out now, pub­lished by Frances Lin­coln Visit sumayyaus­mani.com Twit­ter @SumayyaUs­mani

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