From India To Singapore, Here’s How This MasterChef Finalist Is Sharing Her Culture Through Food
Why does mum’s food taste best? I’m sure anyone would agree that their mother’s cooking is finer than any Michelin-starred restaurant could ever be. It might be one of the greatest mysteries on earth, but a good reason could be the age-old tradition of passing down cooking secrets from mother to daughter.
Growing up in India, home chef Priya Barve ate most of her meals at home. As a result of this, she spent a lot of time in the kitchen watching her mother and grandmother prepare traditional Marathi cuisine.
That, she tells us, probably sparked her initial interest in food and cooking – she still holds memories of those days close to her heart:
When my mom used to make chapatis, she would always leave a small piece of dough for me to roll out, so the first thing I cooked was a coiled piece of dough!
The catalyst for her love of cooking, however, was her marriage to Aniruddha – also a food-enthusiast – and their subsequent move to Hong Kong. “[Moving to Hong Kong] exposed us to a lot of new cuisines, and that’s how the passion started growing,” she explains.
Cultivating her cooking skills, Priya has dedicated a lot of time to her trade:
Like with any skill, practice is the most important thing. And since we enjoy cooking, practising it is always fun. But we do research a lot when it comes to recipes and techniques and our sources are endless! Youtube videos, Pinterest, recipe books, blogs, and so on – it’s best to keep an open mind when it comes to food.
Hopping aboard the dining car
The Bombay Howrah Mail (now the Mumbai Howrah Mail) is the name of a superfast express train that runs between Howrah Junction and Mumbai CST in India. It is also the inspiration for Priya’s BonAppetour dining experience, The Bombay Howrah Dining Car.
The superfast train was a common childhood link for Priya and her husband Aniruddha. The couple now reside in Singapore, but back then, Priya would “travel on the train to Nagpur to visit my paternal grandparents, while Aniruddha and his family would travel all the way to Kolkata.”
Although the pair did not actually meet on the train, this idea brought them together and connected them with their homes back in India. This is an experience that Priya wants her dinner guests to enjoy as well.
Going pro with a home restaurant
Passion turned into profession for Priya and her husband as the couple decided to open up their own home restaurant in Singapore. Commercialising her interest and skill in cooking was something Priya and Aniruddha had long considered.
Although opening a restaurant seemed to be the obvious answer, the practicalities of such a project reared their ugly head, and it became evident that this venture would be too expensive. They ended up finding a better way:
I began to research innovative ideas on food, and stumbled across the concept of supper clubs in Europe. I loved the idea of hosting people at home because it felt more unique as an experience than going to a restaurant. And that’s how I started developing the concept for our home restaurant.
Thus, the Bombay Howrah Dining Car was born on BonAppetour. The aim of the dining experience was not only to make delicious delicacies, but to introduce guests to the history and stories behind two cities close to our hosts hearts: Mumbai and Kolkata. India’s cultural variations are also represented through the chosen dishes of this dining experience, with a focus on the Maharashtrian and Bengali communities.
Inviting the world into their home has so far been a rewarding experience for the couple, who Priya admits aren’t necessarily very outgoing. The first few times were especially nerve-wracking, but eventually they got comfortable hosting guests, and even enjoyed it:
At first we were quite nervous about having people over […] But meeting people has been one of the most rewarding parts of our experience. We also love when our guests compliment us about our food and creativity – it pushes us to continue to improve with every dinner we host.
Bringing the MasterChef experience home
Priya takes great pride in hosting dinner parties in her Singapore home. From printing off little menus for her guests, to relaying the story behind each dish they are eating, she tells us that success lies in these little gestures.
This is something our BonAppetour hostess picked up during her time on Masterchef Asia 2015 on Lifetime, where she took part as a contestant. Priya got to connect with other foodies and learn from them in this once-in-a-lifetime experience. There, she learned how to be more conscientious in the kitchen
“[The most important lesson I picked up was] food presentation, or plating,” she says. “Indian food is meant for communal eating, and therefore I’d never really thought about presentation as such. As long as you garnish a dish with coriander, coconut or nuts, it was fine.”
But the moment you have to think about serving for one person, plating is really something you have to think about. I would almost say for some dishes you work the dish back from how you might plate it, because then you start to think of other elements that will be needed to complete the dish.
Priya is not only looking to share yummy fare, but she is also sharing a part of herself. A love of food is a common thread that links vastly different communities around the globe, and she wants her guests to feel connected to her past in South Asia by tasting her childhood-inspired dishes.
The Bombay Howrah Dining Car is the perfect passage to India, and it starts in Singapore. All aboard!
Priya’s favorite recipe
Since I have a sweet tooth, I enjoy making desserts the most. One of our favourite dishes is a steamed yoghurt and condensed milk pudding.
- The recipe is basically equal cups of yoghurt and condensed milk with ½ tsp of vanilla essence.
- Whip the mixture till smooth and then pour into containers of your choice.
- Place it in a large flat pan with water that comes up halfway to the containers.
- Cover and steam for around 15-20 mins.
- Insert a skewer to check that the pudding is firm, let it cool and then chill for a couple of hours.
Simple and absolutely delicious!