I am craving comfort food today. Comfort food for me is sweet corn chicken soup (Indian-Chinese) style. It always reminds me of the great times I had when I lived in Bombay, especially running into a shady little joint called the Hing Dragon or an establishment of a similar name and reputation in the pouring rain and ordering Kung Pao chicken and sweet corn chicken soup. When I’m feeling low, it always makes me feel warm and reminds me of those days in Bombay.
I’ve been quite silent recently for a number of reasons. You can say its been writers’ block of sorts. You see, I recently lost my hero, my inspiration – my grandfather. If you met my grandfather you could not tell that he was 87, suffering from renal failure and on an array of medication. He was strong, mentally sharp, had a wicked sense of humour, creative, cunning as a fox and most importantly had the emotional and mental strength of an Ox. Growing up, I remember hanging out with him, going to buy the latest gadgets, exploring the wonders of the internet and just learning to be curious and ask questions. He taught me to love music, encouraged me to pursue it from a young age and inspired me in many ways.
My grandfather came from an orthodox brahmin family in Tamil Nadu. Despite the family pressures in the 1940’s, he married outside his community. My grandmother was a beautiful, intelligent and creative woman. However since she was an outsider, it took her a long time to be accepted into the family. My grandfather stood by her, had his own family and did well for himself over his lifetime. He lost the love of his life, my grandmother in 1996 which left him quite empty, but he picked up his life and moved on very quickly immersing himself in new gadgets, technology and philosophy. He was an engineer so his love for gadgets, especially dismantling and reassembling them never went away. He had lost the woman whom he fought for all his life. It was a love story written in Bollywood.
I grew up with my grandparents and learnt a lot from them. Till today, I cannot eat okra unless it’s made how my grandmother used to make it. I love Carnatic classical music because my grandfather and I used to learn it together. They had a huge impact and influence on my life. However the one thing I was never able to say to either of them or to have the conversation in person was about who I was. I guess when my grandmother died I had no clue myself! In 2009 when J and I were going to have our civil partnership, my parents made a decision as a family to keep the news from my grandfather as he was unwell and we didn’t want to upset him further. However after the celebrations, my mother was keen that he was able to share in the joy and sat him down and explained the situation to him. Needless to say, he was initially very upset, locked himself in his room for the day and did not talk to anyone. We were all very worried as his health was quite poor and we didn’t want to aggravate the situation. Then, that evening he came out of his room and said to my mother ‘I know how difficult it was for me to find love and be with the person I loved. I don’t want my grandson to go through the same thing. Tell him I love him’. That was it for me, that just said it all about tolerance, acceptance, love and family. After that incident, J and I went to visit him and he was just fantastic. He took us aside and gave us a little envelope with some money and said, ‘Here is something small for you to start your lives together.’ Over the next three years, he and J became very close, exchanging emails and talking on the phone. We even took J’s family over to meet him and he was an incredible host.
I have tears in my eyes as I write this piece as I wish I could have had a conversation with him about who I was when he was alive. We never spoke about it, it was unsaid, but I knew he loved me and he loved J and was in full support of our relationship together. Apparently, he even told my sister and my cousin’s wife, ‘You girls better have kids soon, or the boys will over take you and adopt’. This was an 87 year old man with an informed, liberal, tolerant world view that I think so many people in this world would benefit from. I am devastated by his passing. It was his love, his teaching and his inspiration that will stay with me for the rest of my life. I sat up with him the whole night before he died. He was unconscious and I don’t know if he could hear me, but I spoke to him and said I was sorry that I never had a chance to talk to him and thanked him for his love and support and all the time as I spoke, he squeezed my hand gently. Whether it was involuntary or not, I think he connected with me as I spoke.
I can only wish that when I am his age, I have the wisdom, the strength and the courage to embrace the unknown and stand by the people I love and care about. Here is a picture of where we laid his ashes to rest in the beautiful waters of the Kaveri River in South India. He was a friend, philosopher, guide and an inspiration to generations.
Now for some sweet corn chicken soup! You see I can’t get it here in London as the variety here is not Indian-Chinese, its London-Chinese and that does not appeal to me. So after years of experimenting, here is my answer to my cravings.
Sweet Corn Chicken Soup
For 2 portions
(Very large portions as I tend to eat way more than I need! You can always freeze it and reheat when you want)
You will need:
400 gms chicken cut into little cubes
250 gms of corn (one of those tins of corn will do)
2 pints of chicken stock
1 white onion diced
4 cloves of garlic finely chopped
1 cm ginger finely chopped
1 green chilly finely chopped
1 tablespoon pepper corns pounded into a fine powder (use fresh pepper corns for a delicious taste)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons of flour
1 egg beaten well
2 Tablespoons oil
Salt to taste
Heat the oil in a large pot till its hot. Add the garlic, onion, chilly, ginger and crushed pepper and fry for about 10 mins on a medium flame. Increase the heat and add in the chicken and seal it on all sides, this is really important so you have juicy chicken bits and not the dry overcooked chicken that you generally get in soups. Add the corn once the chicken is sealed.
Add in the flour and coat the mixture well. Add the chicken stock and let it come to a boil, reduce heat and let it simmer for about 15 mins. Beat your egg well in a bowl. This is my favorite part. Take a ladle and stir the soup well creating a kind of whirlpool action. Don’t get too violent or you may spill the hot soup on yourself. While the soup is hot and moving in the pot pour the beaten egg into it in a thin stream. What helps if you pour the egg on the back of a spoon and let it drip straight into the soup. If you cant handle all that drama, just pour slowly in a single stream into the hot soup. It should scramble as soon as it hits the soup. Add in your soy sauce and the seasoning and voila your soup is ready to serve!