In Delhi, there are Andhra restaurants, Kashmiri restaurants, even Naga restaurants but no restaurants of the Mathur/Kayasth community, which is why many Delhiites are not even aware that the cuisine exists. That is something that has piqued Anoothi Vishal’s pride. This food journalist belongs to the Mathur community. As she describes it, “All Mathurs are Kayasths but all Kayasths are not Mathurs”. She tells us of her childhood, when, instead of begging her mother to cook her favourite dish, she’d beg her father! And Rajeev Rishi would always oblige, especially on Sundays, the traditional day when many Mathur men enter the kitchen. Meat cookery was her father’s domain. “And my mother too cooks meat of course. In our community, you’d have to be in dire straits indeed to sit down to a vegetarian meal!”
Anoothi Vishal, her father Rajeev Rishi and her aunt Minoo Rishi have put together food festivals in several hotels in North India purely to showcase their cuisine to those who are unfamiliar with it. It is a passion with the three partners, all of whom have held on to their day jobs. So successful have their festivals been that they have formed a company called Kayastha Khatirdari (firstname.lastname@example.org). They do party catering, wedding counters and food festivals in hotels. They will even do one or two signature dishes in large quantities providing you give them advance notice. You can visit their website www.indiafoodandtravelguide.com
Anoothi explains: “The community has surnames like Saxena and Srivastava in UP, besides of course Mathur. UP may be the stronghold of the community in North India, but there are Kayasths in Patiala, Madhya Pradesh, Kota and Bikaner in Rajasthan, as well as in a sprinkling of towns and cities in many other parts of the country. It’s our cuisine that is so special.” She tell us that because of their traditional occupation, that of writers to the royal court in the times of the Mughals, they were exposed to the cuisine of the Muslims. All Kayasths are avowed meat eaters. That too, mutton is their preferred meat, with fish being a second and chicken relegated to an extremely unfavourable position in the echelon.
The second special factor about the Kayastha community is their vegetarian cookery: they understand the genre instinctively and cook vegetables, besan quenelles and lentils with as much flair as they cook meat. The third characteristic of Kayasth cooking is their love for mock meat, unique in India. Thus, a Kayasth housewife will labour for hours over something as seemingly inconsequential as shaping lentils or soya into cubes to approximate the appearance of mutton botis!
Three people who are not trained chefs, who cook for the pure pleasure of showcasing their cuisine, are capable of producing tasty food exactly as grandma used to make it. Or should that be grandpa?