Atul Kochhar in Last Bites
The master of modern Indian cuisine checks out with a childhood feast
My last meal would be exactly like the meals I used to have with my brother, Vikas, and sisters Indu and Seema, in our childhood home in Jamshedpur. We’d cook together. Our father, Raj Kochhar, was in the catering business, and our grandfather was a baker, so we all helped with everything – cooking was in our veins.
I’d have red kidney-bean stew (rajma masala), the way my mother, Sudesh, always makes it. It’s the most comforting anytime dish to have with rice or bread, some mango pickle and a side of potatoes with okra. Indians like to bite a raw green chilli with their meal, so we’d have some of those, and some black pepper poppadoms. To drink, we’d make Punjabi mattha – buttermilk with a pinch of salt and ground cumin.
We’d lay a makeshift table on the bed in one of our rooms, with a sheet to sit on (purple or magenta with big, bold patterns: we grew up in the funky 1980s) and newspaper in the middle to put all the food on, so we wouldn’t have anything to clean up.
It would be a riot, just like it was then. We had a big dining table in the room next door, but this was how we always ate, especially when our parents weren’t around. I can just see my mum and dad walking through the door, surprised and a little angry that we were on the bed again!
We’d have Bollywood radio playing on a battery-powered transistor, and old-style lanterns too – at that time there were often power failures, so we were always prepared. We’d eat at about 8pm, listening to the one programme we never missed: Binaca Geet Mala with DJ Ameen Sayani. We loved him! He’d crack a few jokes and tell you who’d been up to what in Bollywood then play some tunes – we’d always wait with bated breath to hear what was number one.
We’d have fresh mangoes for dessert. We would wash them and then put them in a clean jute bag plunged in the cold-water tank so they were nice and chilled – mangoes have to be eaten chilled, so the flavour really pops out. You should never cut a mango – they have to be sucked. If they were small and juicy, Vikas and I would probably have a competition to see who could eat the most.
Look online for Atul’s red bean stew recipe