Sumayya Usmani takes you on a tour of Pakistan’s cultural, culinary landscapes

Published: July 25, 2016
Sumayya Usmani’s new book was launched at ArtChowk Gallery on Saturday. PHOTO: FILE

Sumayya Usmani’s new book was launched at ArtChowk Gallery on Saturday. PHOTO: FILE

KARACHI: No matter which part of the world you find yourself in, there is nothing else that brings the same comfort as food from home.

With Sumayya Usmani’s new book ‘Summers Under the Tamarind Tree: Recipes and Memories from Pakistan’, you will be able to take a tour of Pakistan’s cultural and culinary landscapes.

“Pakistan’s story stood out because I didn’t stick to just food. I related every recipe to a story from home, to Pakistan’s situation,” shared Usmani, while speaking at the launch ceremony of her book at ArtChowk Gallery on Saturday evening. The event was hosted by ArtChowk partner Laila Odho Premjee.

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As far as cookbooks go, Usmani’s book is quite unconventional in its approach. It swings to and fro from recipes to nostalgic stories, yet the author’s stream of consciousness is a consistent and vivid celebration of the diversity and heritage of Pakistani cuisine.

Previously a lawyer by profession, Usmani is an internationally published food writer and culinary teacher based in Glasgow, Scotland, but born and raised in Pakistan.

A Karachi girl who grew up to chronicle the culinary habits of Pakistan in the United Kingdom (UK), Usmani took her inspiration from childhood observations and memories centered around cooking, feeding and eating with the women of her family.

“When I moved to the UK, I used to remember my Nani’s garden very fondly, where I played with my cousins. Specifically, a huge tamarind tree in the garden,” Usmani told Premjee. “Tamarind challenges the senses and the mind. The taste – it stood out in my memories.”

The author’s mother, Kausar Usmani, told The Express Tribune about her daughter’s love for cooking. “Even before she knew how to make a delicious cauldron of Sindhi Biryani, she loved spending time in the kitchen with me and her grandmother: observing, unconsciously storing it all at the back of her mind,” she said.

Usmani’s prose celebrates home-cooking. “Home-cooks have the advantage of not being bogged down the way chefs are. You have a free creative licence. Chefs have restricted creative licence,” she shared.

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With over a 100 recipes, ‘Summers Under the Tamarind Tree’ includes Pakistani flavours of an exotically ancient, yet contemporary palate, said Premjee, adding that it covers the layers of border cuisine and influences from the various civilisations existing in the region throughout history. It even has beautiful pictures from the author’s personal collection, she said.

“The pictures give a raw Pakistani feel. I wanted the reader to relate and think, ‘Oh I know that place or I’ve been there’, while going over the book,” said Usmani.

The book aims to show Pakistan under a positive light, in addition to serving as a basic cultural and heritage guide for Pakistanis living abroad. “It was challenging to write it all down since I have always been so used to the ‘andaza’ (estimation) cooking concept,” admitted Usmani. Every culture uses the ‘andaza’ concept but Pakistani cuisine has so many spices that it may come across as a bit complicated, she added.

The recipes are simple. The average cook will not have a problem, although a novice may find recipes such as Prawn Biryani complicated. However, it’s more about being time consuming than a complicated method, she clarified.

“This book should be every man and woman’s best friend. Everyone should keep a copy in their kitchen,” urged Premjee.

“One thing I feel we have in Pakistan is that we don’t share recipes. I mean, will you take it to your grave?” said Usmani, stressing on the need to share knowledge with our children and friends to keep our culture and heritage alive.

Pakistani cuisine remains largely unexplored, Usmani believed. She is currently working on her next book titled, ‘Mountain Berries and Desert Spice: Sweet Inspirations from Hunza Valley through the Arabian Sea’. It is a 70-recipe-story on the desert culture of Pakistan, she shared.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 26th, 2016.

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