Sweet migrant memories

Sweet migrant memories

The e-book (MMC cookbook.pages on Mumbai Mobile crèche site) has 15 recipes of wholesome food collated from interactions with construction site workers from villages across the country.

WHOLESOME ‘Ambadi bhaji’ ingredients. Photos by Author

Collaborating on food is not new, but when people from all over the country, with their stories, culture, language and cuisine, meet at the place of their work — the construction sites, a storm is cooked up for all to savour. “What is even more intriguing is that the children, who attend our daycare centres, are seen to be partial to a particular kind of food over others. This prompted us to come out with an e-book of recipes from the world of construction sites,” Dr Shiny Varghese, a health coordinator with the NGO, Mumbai Mobile Creches (MMC), explains. 

One common sight today in every city is construction work. Migrant labourers who come to the cities from all parts of the country in search of a livelihood, leave their homes and their safe zones, culture and local cuisine and while in cities, crave for the same.



Litti is rustic and traditional and easy to put together. 



Festive spread

“During festivals or holidays, they celebrate it in their own unique way by preparing their own special food items, trying to relive their culture in cities with their children. And on the construction sites, where a small area is allocated to the workers to live, it’s intriguing to see different food items being prepared on a festival day. Same festival, but different food, and this is what prompted us to come out with the e-recipe book — Food Memories of Migrant Women,’’ explains Shiny.

The children of migrant labourers live on the construction sites and are left to fend for themselves while the parents are at work. And to provide a protective environment for children of this force, the idea of nurseries on the site of constructions came to social worker Meera Mahadevan who, along with other like-minded people, decided to ‘construct’ a non-profit organisation known as Mobile Crèches, way back in 1969 in Delhi. Right from newborn kids to children up to the age of 14 years, get the benefit of safe, healthy daytime care where they also get healthy food and medical facilities. The success of this project paved the way to replicate it in other parts of the country.

The Mumbai branch of mobile crèche MMC was set up in 1972, and so far, the crèche has served more than 1,00,000 children over 270 sites in Mumbai, Navi Mumbai and Thane.

Anuradha Rajan, the CEO of MMC, explained, “This year also, teachers at our centres collaborated with parents and local schools to ensure the enrollment of 231 children in formal schools from our centres. Besides regular activities, our nutrition programme was strengthened to ensure that food with high calorific value could be provided. This was also helped by the launch of our e-series of recipes which helped bring alive the richness of regional cuisine represented at the sites.’’



Cholar Daler Halwa
Cholar Daler halwa.

Cooked with warmth

The e-book has a poignant narration from 15 women, all from different states, and stories related to their recipes. Radha Devi, a homemaker from the Basti district of Uttar Pradesh, prepares litti and eats it with her family of sons, grandsons and husband, bringing back her home to Mumbai. The stuffed fritter, made from roasted gram flour, is the winter food even in Jharkhand and Bihar. She says, “We have a small land in our village where we grow rice, wheat and peas. Litti doesn’t get spoilt even after three-four days, and is the best food to pack when we travel from our village to Mumbai.”

Gulabsa Tehdul Sheikh from Murshidabad West Bengal, migrated to Mumbai only last year. And she loves cooking cholar daler halwa. For Gulabsa and her family, the halwa reminds them of family get-togethers at Shab-e-Barat, celebrated as the night of fortune and forgiveness. “On this day, Muslims prepare desserts according to their local cuisine. “The halwa, made from chickpeas, sugar and coconut, reminds me of the time spent with my siblings when we feed the needy and together we all pray,” Gulabsa says.

Monica Laxman of Mehboobnagar Telangana, who is very fond of ambadi (sorrel leaves/pundi soppu) bhaji, which is very easily available and is eaten everyday with jowar roti, says, “I learnt it from my grandmother and my husband thinks I make the best ambadi bhaji.’’

The e-book (MMC cookbook.pages on Mumbai Mobile crèche site) has 15 recipes of wholesome food from villages across the country. There are recipes of aapal, dhirdi, huggi, edasa, gulgula, jau, kheer puri, khurmi, uthu, pathisapta, champurache vadi and theku. Many of us city dwellers may not even have heard of these food items.