On my table this year… 2021

What do the people who feed us — farmers, fishermen, entrepreneurs — want 2021 to taste like? Their new year resolutions comprise new habits, old aspirations, and large helping of lockdown learnings

A love-hate affair with fries

Monisha Mohan, partner, Fresh & Fine, fish and meat hub, Thiruvananthapuram

Every year I make a resolution to eat better and stay healthy. But being a foodie that is a tall order for me, especially when it comes to non-vegetarian food. I am unstoppable when it comes to seafood, beef and chicken. Although cooking is not my forte, I enjoy going on food trails. I hail from Alappuzha district, which is rich in fish wealth, thanks to its backwaters, and some of the best seafood joints. The toddy shops serve yummy fish dishes and I plan to check out a few in the new year. Now that we [she and her partner Soumya SK] are in this business, it has become all the more difficult to give up on fish and meat! We even have plans to include ready-to-cook items at our shop.

Nevertheless, I will give a try, and cut down on beef items and fried dishes in 2021. I am also looking at including more vegetarian items. In fact, a few years ago I had gone for a meal replacement shake and was able to reduce weight. I am hoping to restart it in 2021 and include salads and greens in my diet. Becoming a vegetarian is a dream, which, again, seems difficult for the time being!

As told to Athira M

Onward to the good old days

M Suman, fisherman, Pulicat

“The pandemic took us back to our roots. When faced with financial and food shortage, we started thinking what our ancestors would have done at times such as these,” he says. Initially, during lockdown, fishermen went to sea just to meet their food requirements.

They also learned to cook simple meals. “We usually cook only once a day — for dinner. For breakfast, we soak rice from the previous night in water and have this pazhayadhu (old rice) for breakfast,” he explains. “If there is fish curry left from dinner, we simmer it till it becomes thick; this goes well with pazhayadhu.” To save on chilli powder, oil, and other ingredients that go into a curry, Suman says that he simply boiled fish with salt and ate it with rice. “I know of people who — when there was no salt at home — used seawater to boil fish. The result was delicious,” he says.

Suman hopes to follow these food habits in the new year as well. “I felt fitter and healthier thanks to what I ate this year: for one kilogram of rice, we had two kilograms of fish to go on the side,” he says.

In pre-pandemic times, he remembers how they would catch, for instance, ten tonnes of fish, sell two, and send the rest to be processed as dry fish. “We exported a lot; sent fish to neighbouring States; there was lots of wastage,” he says. “We now know where we went wrong; my resolution for 2021 is to encourage younger fishermen to continue the simple food practices of 2020; practices that saved them from a catastrophe. I hope we remember them for life.”

As told to Akila Kannadasan

Lessons to remember

Madhav Handique, farmer, Lakhimpur

As farmers, our attention is mostly focussed on a good crop and harvest. Working with that one goal made me look away from what my family and I have been eating. We eat almost everything from our own fields, but like everyone else our diet too underwent a change over the years. We also started relying on bread, ate fried stuff more easily and almost forgotten our native food and cooking processes.

As a farming family, like all others our mother and father used to forage a lot of green. Everything had a purpose and every meal was planned. I somehow lost touch with it. But the lockdown, and the fact that we had no access to markets, did not make us hanker for any of ingredient.

We had good meals and my grandchildren seemed to enjoy the chutneys and curries made over fire wood. Their enthusiasm made me realise our busy lives had taken all that away from us and my grandchildren. It was like we discovered something new while it was there for us, only we had to look at it. That is what I want to continue into the new year.

The next generation is learning it now. My daughters in law were surprised at how dishes can be made with no or less oil, and still be so amazingly tasty. I discuss ingredients and recipes with my sisters who are based in Guwahati and Sikkim, and am making sure my sons are learning some of it.

We have continued to eat the lockdown way, and I must say it is playing a great role in controlling my diabetes. We must take care of our ancient food practices and pass it on to our children.

As told to Prabalika M Borah

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