A celebration of food

Food is the heart and soul of every desi wedding. In his show, ‘Shubh Vivah’, Chef Ajay Chopra explores the fascinating world of wedding fare, writes Shilpi Madan

Ajay Chopra

He works magic with his hands in the kitchen, whipping up gourmet delights to leave you stunned, both on and off the telly. Chef Ajay Chopra is a culinary force of nature, charting a lip-smacking journey with Shubh Vivah on Living Foodz. He whips up mean magic as he sojourns India to relish the best traditional preparations, sacred recipes, and lesser-known ingredients specific to weddings.

Celebrating with food

The show is in its third season, hinged on the ethos of celebrating Indian wedding traditions knitting families in togetherness. Food is the intrinsic soul of all Indian gatherings, especially moments of celebration. Says Chef Ajay, “I think Indian weddings involve food in a big way. Haldi functions happen before the wedding, paan ke patte is used for nazar, supari is dipped in haldi or kumkum. Rice and grains are used aplenty, both in rituals and giveaways. Indian weddings celebrate the concept of two families coming together.”

He further adds, “Shaping a lavish menu of Indian delicacies to be enjoyed collectively is the perfect way to cement this concept, and bring everyone even closer on the big day. Also, Indian weddings are colourful extravaganzas. I always believe that food is first eaten by the eyes. The hues and textures of Indian cuisine can be played up using natural ingredients and methods to add to the sensory spread.”

Prod him to share a leaf from his extensive travels, on the most polarised aspects of the food for Shubh Vivah and he replies, “If you look at a Punjabi or a Rajwada wedding, there is an array of dishes: they actually call it a chappan bhog or ekattis bhog, where there are up to 56 or 31 dishes on the menu. Then you also have the Bhils and the northeastern Assamese weddings where food is a simple affair with simple chicken curry with rice and roti. In some northeastern weddings, people simply enjoy delicious soups, thenthuk and hot tea.”

Of course, watching his weight while preparing the best of the recipes as he researched for the show with the team was a big challenge unto itself. But being surrounded by delicious food is in itself the biggest challenge for a chef. “My thought process, as a chef, has expanded as I have gained tremendous insights,” shares Ajay. “As an Indian, I know my food but diving into the depths of tribes and cultures, dialects and different food has been absolutely amazing. When you watch the episodes, you learn that India is unified by flavours and cultures.”

Ajay is quick to share three curious customs and traditions regarding traditional foods at weddings. “The post-wedding Punjabi tradition of the bridal couple pulling out rings from a bowl of milk was known to me earlier. However, I did not know about guneh, which is basically long, deep-fried maida-fingers. The bride and groom have to practically turn into a wolverine and lift these treats. This is a fun custom to tease the newlyweds. In Gujarati weddings, the bride has to touch seven suparis with her toes seven times before she enters the house. In Kashmiri weddings, a brand new kitchen is made and a chef is appointed before the customs and ceremonies begin.”

Desi wonders

He champions fugiyas, singar ki mithai and khaja in sweet somethings and kanji vada, mangodi ki sabzi, Sindhi tomato kadhi in his pick of savouries. But the Punjabi guneh wins hands down as his evergreen favourite.

What has been that one unusual ingredient that he has discovered during the making of the third season? “Kadak nath, which is actually black chicken, is very expensive and not readily available. As a result, the chicken is often black-dyed and sold. But the Bhils have been eating it for years. So my biggest learning has been that we, as a country, have been unable to soak up our traditions, dishes and ingredients fully, that has actually been around for ages.”

He adds, “We look forward to international cuisines whereas there is tremendous diversity, range of flavours and uncommon ingredients in Indian cuisines, customs, traditions... to imbibe. There is so much to soak up about Indian food and traditions, that maybe one lifetime is less.” 

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