Niloufer Ichaporia King lives in a house with three kitchens. She prowls through at least six farmers markets a week in search of unusual greens, roots and seeds, traditional food plants from every immigrant culture in the Bay Area. King is an anthropologist, a kitchen botanist, a one-of-a-kind cook, and a writer. A Parsi from Bombay living in San Francisco – that’s Niloufer Ichaporia King.
As a UC Berkeley graduate student in anthropology, King wrote her thesis about Cost Plus, an import store that sold antique Parsi sari borders. King began conservation efforts of her culture as she watched its traditional crafts and textiles being sold on the shelves of discount design stores.
King is a woman of many missions. She tends and feeds her community, preserving Parsi culture through its food, and passing on her love of greens and the huge array of food plants she thinks most Americans are unaware of. “What we need to do is make more vegetable excitement. I’ve always seen the great drama on the plate as coming from vegetables rather than the animal involved. What I really want to do is make exotic things seem familiar and then just put a little bit of spin on the familiar and make it exotic.”
‘My Bombay Kitchen’
It was the occasion of King’s mother, Shireen Ichaporia’s, 90th birthday that made King sit down and begin to really collect and organize her recipes and stories into a book. The book is riveting; the glossary alone reads like a travelogue of India and the subtropical world. Her recipes open a whole new world for cooks. And with these dishes, one is creating a meal while also taking part in a small act of preservation. Carlo Petrini, the founder of Slow Food in Italy, said that preserving a traditional cheese is as important as preserving a 16th-century building. So it is with King, a kind of Parsi Sheherazade, who never really cooked until she left India and came to America, and then felt compelled to cook, chronicle and preserve the food of her home.
My Bombay Kitchen: Modern and Traditional Parsi Cooking is an intriguing and unusual family story and the story of a culture that is struggling to maintain itself. In two or three generations, this culture will be down in numbers to the size of what is considered a tribe. Cook this book. Go to your farmers market and look for some vegetable excitement. Cook a green or toast a seed you never have tried. Talk to the farmer. Ask them to tell you how to prepare it, and if the food has healthful properties. You never know the stories and delights that might be held there at that table piled high with mysterious leaves. You know the motto of the Kitchen Sisters: Talk to strangers. Especially strangers bearing produce.
Read more about Niloufer, and get some of her recipes via npr.org here.
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