‘When I cook, I feel connected to mom’ | Condé Nast Traveller IndiaMay 8, 2021
Photo courtesy: Renu Dalal
For most of us, Tarla Dalal is the beaming face on the cover of cookbooks and television shows. The homemaker with a signature bob and mischievous smile was a godsend to Indian mothers in the 90s. When stuck for tiffin or party meal ideas, one would simply browse through her cookbooks or catch an episode to be inspired. Armed with easy kitchen hacks (heat up puris in a toaster to save time when you have guests) and simple cooking techniques (pressure cook a condensed milk can for instant caramel), Dalal charmed her way into the hearts of young mothers and new brides across the country.
The home cook shot to fame in the late 60s, when she began cooking classes for young women out of her Mumbai home. So popular were the classes that it was said that if one wanted to marry their daughter into a good family, training with Dalal was a must. As were her cookbooks—she authored more than 100—that were translated from English into Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi, Bengali, Dutch and even Russian. Everyone wanted a piece of this Padma Shri award winner when she was alive. But what was it like growing up with Tarla Dalal? On Mother’s Day, chef and cookbook author Renu Dalal, her daughter, recounts.
‘The cooking classes were a family affair’
Even though she was a career woman at a time when many sat at home and raised their kids, mom always found the time to be there for us. Mom was a perfectionist and wanted everything just right for her classes. So the classes were always a family affair—we all had to chip in to help. I would set up each station, dad would photocopy the notes she wanted to give out, my brothers would help with any last-minute errands that needed to be done before her class. Mom was always buzzing around, full of energy just before a session—we even came up with a name for her: TPTD—Tension Packed Tarla Dalal! After the classes, she was able to relax, and we loved it because we always ate the leftovers. Spinach and baked beans pizza was one of my favourites.
‘Friends would look forward to my birthday’
Friends, parents, teachers and me of course—everyone looked forward to my birthday because that was the day mom pulled out all the stops. She had a book in which she jotted down all her menus—she never repeated the menu! Right from the cake to the sandwiches, to baked Alaska, the entire spread was put together by her single-handedly.
‘She taught me to travel with an open mind’
When we would travel as a family, mom was always keen on trying new dishes and flavours. She would eat a dish and try and decode how it was made. The minute we came back from a vacation, she’d be in the kitchen, trying to recreate what we tasted, while adding her own spin to the dishes. We were always encouraged to try out new dishes with her and expand our culinary horizons. I’m an adventurous eater thanks to her—she trained me all my life.
‘A front-row seat to Tarla Dalal’s genius’
Mom introduced many Indian households to Mexican, Italian and Thai cuisines. She made it accessible to India much before any of it was trendy. By using ingredients that were easily available to Indian households, Mom creatively translated international dishes for Indian audiences. Growing up with her in the house, it was never a dull moment. We had front-row tickets to her genius and were often roped in for her experiments. She penned cookbooks on women’s health, toddler food, tiffin ideas. Where do you think those ideas were tested first?
‘She groomed me for a life of food’
Today, it’s no surprise that I’ve followed in her footsteps by writing cookbooks and bringing joy and happiness to those around me via food. I absolutely love to teach. When I write recipes and cook, I feel connected to mom. She groomed me for a life of food.