Christmas in India


I have been so busy working with the publishers and food stylists for my latest book ‘Fifty Shades of Ghee’, that I have neglected my writing in this forum. And while I nervously wait for the glossy press run of my sordid stories of fat in the kitchen, I find solace in planning my Chrismukkah réveillon dinner. The fusion of Christianity’s Christmas, for my parents; and Judaism’s Hanukkah, for me. I have written before, it is tradition in my household to eat foie gras during this dinner, and although I look forward to the rich, buttery and delicate lobes all year, this year, I am determined to eat modestly – returning to the humble roots of my very first réveillon.

The réveillon, derived from the French ‘wakening’, first began in my household after traveling to the Seychelles. I was invited to midnight mass on Christmas Eve by a Creole lady who I met cleaning my room at the North Island Lodge. After attending mass with her family, we returned to a dimly lit village for a very late dinner. It was an unpretentious affair with a simple menu: grilled fish, sweet bread and fruit. However simple, with all the subtleties of French cuisine, paired with the exotic and piquant flavours of South Asia, the menu somehow echoed the grand assortment of people I had met in the Seychelles. I immediately took the tradition home, but over the years my menu deviated from being inspired by the people I had met that year in my travels, to become an excuse to splurge on foie gras, lobster and Armand de Brignac.

This year, I have spent a lot of time in Southern India, researching my book. And while it is true that even across the Himalyan barrier India has sent to the west, many culinary gifts, like ghee, they are often difficult to pair with Chrismukkah staples. However, some dishes are very well suited to Indian tempering, like latke and glazed ham. For my latke this year, I am including dried pomegranate seeds, coriander, ginger and green chilli, taking inspiration from aloo ka paratha, a potato filled flat bread. I will serve them with a sharp green mango chutney. Similarly, my glazed ham will be basted with coconut nectar and freshly tapped toddy, palm jaggery and mango puree, all of which are plentiful in the South.

Of course, the place settings will be equally unassuming: mismatched up-cycled jars for drinks, banana leaf place mats that will also double as plates, and no cutlery (aside from a vintage rusty knife to carve the ham), just as I had eaten in Kerala. Taking further inspiration from the region, the Chrismukkah festival will also be a ‘dry day’, with sneaky gin and tonics served out of teapots and Kingfisher beer bottles wrapped in newspaper placed under the table.

What are some of your Christmas traditions?

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Thanks to Jon Arden for making his beautiful photo available under creative commons.