The Krupa of all Dabeli Dhokla’s in Melbourne

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Her name translating to grace, knows how to invigorate the taste buds.

The lockdown saga takes me to Gujarat today, where the spicy, tangy memories of chutney spark a whole new curiosity for my taste buds. The home cook genius continues with our six-part series – so does our flirting with food. My love for food has turned me into a food writer during the 2020 lockdowns and for our next home cook chef, it has given her the time to rediscover her traditional sweets.

Krupa Vachhani has been in Melbourne for 13 years and is currently working as a family day-care educator. She is married and grateful to have two beautiful children keeping her days filled with parenting duties.

Krupa is originally from Rajkot in Gujarat, which is well known for its quintessential Kathiyawadi cuisine – a spicy cuisine from the western part of India. Every dish is a blend of flavours: sweet, sour and spicy. For Krupa, cooking is an art that leads to creation. It is an extension of her storytelling.

I have said that food intrigues memories. I am happy to discover Krupa agrees with me. The altruistic act of cooking brings back experiences and a whole range of wonderful memories, from good family time to travel to sharing food with friends. Cooking for others is nurturing and it gives her a tremendous amount of joy and self-esteem. Cooking nutritious dishes really promotes wellbeing, growth and closeness with relationships. Krupa couldn’t agree more with this.

Before we go further about Krupa, let us take a pause and introduce you to the ‘Indian Food Australia’…

Magnificent Six Foodies of Melbourne

Affair with food by home grown foodies

Inviting you to meet the 6 upcoming talents of the Facebook group ‘Indian Food Australia” making their debut -G’day India talks to them about their food and love for food.

COVID, from the lockdowns to the COVID-normal post-lockdown, has changed everybody’s lives. Businesses, from art to media, felt the brunt of it; everyone just stopped. It was an unattractive proposition and there was this palpable sense of loss in the air. But it was amazing to see resilience in people. It was as if everyone was in sync with each other and a huge race came to a sudden halt, giving time to ponder.

There was no warning, nothing, as if someone has pushed a temporary halt button with a never-ending expiration date for this mad race we called life. For many, a career change was forced, and for many it was a redemption.

In March, the editor of The Indian Weekly and G’day India decided to do just that by bringing the community closer to fill the void. A foodie group called ‘Indian Food Australia’ was formed on Facebook by Gurbir Sethi, a confessed foodie who wanted to keep the community engaged during this isolation – and also because every morning, the only question that would sizzle after breakfast in his household was “What’s for lunch?”

Ten months on, Indian Food Australia has grown to 4.7k members. It’s a strictly private group but we have seen exciting culinary triumphs from some cooks. They turn at least three to four people away on a daily basis because they can smell their honesty about food. It’s a no-nonsense group of likeminded people who worship food.

But then there are six out of these 4.7K members who have repeatedly shown persistence and consistence with their great talents for the love of food. Call it their calling, as for them 2020 has been one giant leap for them to re-invent themselves. So here are their stories. I hope you enjoy reading about them as I certainly enjoyed writing about them.

The class of 2020 is full of tasty, sassy storytellers – and food connects them with their families and friends. Blending their mothers’ techniques with modern antiquities, our six home grown foodies are precious jewels. From medicinal purposes to the five love languages of food, they flirt with food on daily basis in their kitchen, teasing us with photos to the point that we are drooling on Facebook.

We have learned one thing during this pandemic: we are certainly excited for food and foodies, and we won’t stop writing about it – life is too short for that. Gurbir Sethi started the group for his wife, Manjit Sethi, because he wanted to create a place for her gastronomical affairs – an affair that he is proud to associate with. And with that, I conclude with a quote (or more a question) by the man himself, Gurbir Sethi: “Do we eat to live or live to eat?”

This is our story for bringing you the Magnificent six, now let’s take you back to Krupa’s story….

Krupa puts a lot of emphasis on presentation. To her, it is very exciting, as it heightens anticipation for her family. It adds glamour to her plate of food, as a plain plate of food is more appealing when it’s dressed with a touch of Krupa’s style. It’s just not her family; even she waits eagerly for that crunch, that expression of absolution.

According to Krupa, food presentation is the key to pulling all five senses into the experience of eating. As we know, love has five languages – so does food. Both food and love add music to the symphony of life. The five love languages for food are SOUND, SIGHT, FEEL, TOUCH AND SMELL. I repeatedly hear from others (such as these fabulous home cooks) that everyone is already living and breathing food with their eyes before it even hits the tongue – the brain is already salivating.

Krupa was most influenced as a foodie when she got exposed to food of different ethnicities around the globe and saw how food impacts our health and lives. She’s an eager learner about different ingredients and spices. She experiments not only with trying different dishes in her kitchen, but also through reading.

The one edible ingredient that Krupa cannot live without is rock salt; according to her, it is the ultimate seasoning, and it enhances the flavour of any food. She suggests that without it, everything tastes bland.

As we continue further, Krupa talks about her fondest and earliest memories of food; the day she fell in love with food was when she was only six years old. It was the first-time kneading dough for chapatti. Something in that kneading proved not only educational, but totally captivating – seeing how water worked itself into the flour to make the dough smoother and tighter. She still remembers the smell of the flour; the smell of fresh half-cooked chapatti triggers her memories.

Her mom used to make hot chapatti when she got back from school, each one puffing up into a golden ball. Her mother used to apply ghee and sprinkle jaggery before rolling them up nicely. Krupa excitedly says, “That’s one of the yummiest things I’ve ever eaten.”

As glorious as one can get, Krupa exclaims that “Happiness is home-made!” This philosophy has motivated her to cook and share her food on the ‘Indian Food Australia’ Facebook group. Krupa explains that her passion for cooking and healthy eating motivates her to cook every day; it’s so liberating to know that one can satisfy themselves that way. Learning to share food on a social platform not only creatively inspires others, but it’s a self-inspiration as well. Food is best enjoyed when shared with the community, bringing that joy and success with friends and the community. Moreover, Krupa wants the tradition of cooking to be alive and not dormant for the young ones.

The one dish she inspires to cook over and over again is the dabeli dhokla, which is a beautiful fusion of boiled potatoes with a special dabeli masala, adjusting this snack mixture in a bun and serving it with tamarind chutney, garlic and red chillies. The dhokla brings out the tangy and spicy flavours. It is a very well-known Gujarati street food. Her friend’s continuous temptation for dabeli dhokla inspires her to cook often.

Of course, this is all glorified with her mother’s techniques for kneading dough and chopping vegetables.

While it is great to be a home cook, I ask her if she sees this hobby one day turning into a business. Krupa is unsure of a business; however, one day she would like to voluntarily cook for community meals, perhaps a soup kitchen.

When Krupa was put on the spot for her most memorable dish, she says it’s churma ladoo, originating from Rajasthan, which is basically a sweet prepared from jaggery, ghee (clarified butter) and wheat flour.

Lockdown has definitely given us the time, focus and determination to try something out of our comfort zone that would never have been possible before. I see this as a testament to 2020, in which food and books were the saving grace. So, for all the tests and tribulations, I can only think of a famous Kathiyawadi quote: “Sweet words are not always true, true words are not always sweet.”

By Nandita Chakraborty