… Life on a plate Akram Khan
My heart is Indian but my stomach is Japanese, says the dancer and choreographer
by my father for four months When five or six months old I was taken to Bangladesh or so to be presented to his family, while my mother stayed in Wimbledon, quite traumatised. I’m not sure how I was fed. When I went back to Bangladesh as a boy, I remember being unable to cope with the powdered milk there.
as a little boy was to taste things and this My mother says my strongest curiosity caused great problems – I’d clean stones of mud with my tongue and I’d eat worms. But my earliest actual memory is of sitting in a pram, sticking my tongue out to catch snowflakes and being very excited by their temperature and tastelessness.
in the garage, practising dance I missed school for a year and each day I would hide moves. My parents were horrified when they found out, but then accepted dance was something I had to do. So I studied Kathak under the guru Sri Pratap Pawar. He was a wonderful cook; his speciality was dal soup and he’d say, “As a dancer you need to understand the process of cooking.” It was his way of encouraging me to be patient.
, being treated like I’d been touring the world with Peter Brook’s Mahabharata royalty for 18 months. Then I got home, hit normal life and couldn’t tolerate it. I was 15 and my father said, “Come and work evenings in my (Indian) restaurant.” But he hated my waitering – how I’d prance around – and many customers thought it embarrassing or just weird that I’d twirl when clearing their plates.
at De Montfort I needed to make money while studying contemporary dance University so worked as a pizza delivery boy, which really put me off pizza. I shared my kitchen with students who never tidied up. I’d spend all my time cleaning before cooking, then be so exhausted I’d resort to tinned food and boiled eggs.
partly because I returned to live with my parents until I never really learned to cook, I was 31 and married my first wife. It was financially easier and also my mother is a fantastic cook, almost as good as my father; she’s best at chicken biryani and he at lamb biryani. Last year, my second wife and I had our dream marble kitchen built, but we still eat most evenings at my parents, who live on the next road.
my second wife (in 2012), The first time I saw green on my plate was after marrying who is Japanese. She’d serve me individual vegetables, saying, “You must understand the taste of this broccoli.” I became obsessed with green and with sashimi, which I had compared to biting into a live cow. The quality of Japanese food never makes my body work hard to digest it. I have an Indian heart but a Japanese stomach. Akram Khan’s Giselle with the English National Ballet is at Sadler’s Wells, London EC1 from 20-23 September
‘When I was a waiter, customers thought it weird that I’d twirl when clearing plates’