Jikoni: Proudly Inauthentic Recipes from an Immigrant Kitchen is the latest cookbook from Jikoni restaurant’s Ravinder Bhogal. We take a look at this gorgeous new volume of recipes and how it marries eclectic cultures, ingredients and flavours, in a colourful and enticing manner.
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Identity is a complex and evolving thing. For those of us who are a product of disparate cultural experiences, upbringings, traditions and stimuli, always being a hybrid of many countries and people whilst simultaneously belonging to none of them, finding our own, true, personal identity is a lifetime exercise in excavation and construction. When we are younger, we seek to place ourselves into one box or another, trying on our parental heritage only to be constantly reminded that it doesn’t fit. We then reach out to grasp the many strands of popular culture, pick apart and analyse the references of school peers, and try to find ourselves in the relatively homogenous population of canonical literature, to no avail. Nothing fits. Nothing is us. Our cultural identity can’t be easily linked to one flag, nation or tongue. The question “Where are you from” sparks an immediate internal struggle and no answer feels wholly right. It’s only later that we come realise that we’re not one cultural identity, we’re many. A hodgepodge of different languages, traditions, views and histories; a patchwork of teeth-kisses and hand gestures, passed down unwittingly through generations; a chutnification of histories, heritage and self-hood. And that’s okay.
But why are we going on about this in the preface to a cookbook review? Well, because it’s relevant to understanding Ravinder Bhogal’s second book, Jikoni: Proudly Inauthentic Recipes from an Immigrant Kitchen.
Fashion journalist and stylist turned food critic and chef, Ravinder Bohgal, was born in Kenya to Indian parents, before moving to London at the age of seven. A reluctant kitchen hand to her mother and female relatives at first, it was only when she moved to England that she found a new appreciation for cooking as not just as a task assigned to her in order to keep her familial tribe fed, but as a way of savouring and connecting with her multifaceted identity. The “jikoni” (“kitchen” in Kiswahili) became a “sanctuary” and “the happy stability of mealtimes – from breakfast to the very last titbit before bedtime – was just the tonic for an uprooted family.” Ravinder continues in her ‘Introduction’,
“You could say that it was cooking that liberated me. In fact having a kitchen of one’s own could be considered, in the Virginia Woolf mode, a matter of personal freedom. Growing up in a patriarchal Punjabi family as daughter number four was at times stifling. I chafed at the constraints of what was permissible (embroidery, crochet, cooking for family, the oompah of the creaking harmonium at prayer ceremonies) and what was verboten (discos, climbing trees, boys, and dreaming of cooking for anyone other than your future husband and children). Cooking is a highly skilled and often selfless endeavour, especially when it is women who are doing the feeding. As I watched my grandmother, mother, aunts and sisters join the cult of domesticity, I felt restless and inwardly rebelled at the drudgery of it all. At the same time, I found solace in cookery books and cookery shows – powerful female role models like Madhur Jaffrey and Nigella Lawson gave me the faith that cookery could be a career prospect, rather than just a feminine duty.”
In 2016, she opened Jikoni, quickly securing an award-winning reputation as a no borders melting pot for cuisines of various cultures. Clove Smoked Venison Samosas; Herbs and Jaggery Fox Nuts; Skate with Lime Pickle Brown Butter; Tempura Samphire and Nori; Lamb and Aubergine Fatteh; and Banana Cake with Miso Butterscotch and Ovaltine Kulfi, all happily coexist together on one menu, with each dish offering a unique and delicious patois of flavours.
Jikoni: Proudly Inauthentic Recipes from an Immigrant Kitchen is an extension and celebration of this very practice – the amalgamation and vindication of identities and connections through that most appealing of instruments, the stomach.
Jikoni: Proudly Inauthentic Recipes from an Immigrant Kitchen
Let’s talk about the cover. Bright and colourful, it’s an instant eye-catcher that pops on a shelf next to more demurely adorned cookbooks. Vibrant depictions of migratory birds with routes links to India, Africa and the UK – the Ring-necked Parakeet, Red-rumped Swallow and Indian Golden Oriole – adorn the front cover, illustrating the path taken by Ravinder’s own family. Culinary fruits, spices and foliage commonly used in Asian and African cooking frame the bold red title, imprinted on a dusty coral pink painted wall. It’s not overly subtle, but why should it be.
The ‘Introduction’ is a little bit of a shock to the system if you’re expecting a simple introductory chapter. It reads more like an excerpt from a magical realism novel, exoticising a lost land through a nostalgic lens. There are a few classic Rushdie-esque motifs and poetic tropes that are at first a tad hard to swallow, but once you realise there is genuine feeling behind the words and the intention goes beyond mere highfalutin prose, you’re soon charmed by Ravinder’s struggle to be her own person, her drive to succeed and her proven ability to create a welcoming jikoni for all.
The rest of the cookbook is divided into: ‘Naashta: Breakfast & Brunch’; ‘Kazuri: Small and Beautiful Snacks and Nibbles’, ‘M’boga na Saladi: Vegetables and Salads’; ‘Samaki: Fish & Selfish’; ‘Kuku na Nyama: Poultry and Meat’; ‘Tamu Tamu: Sweet Things and Desserts’. Each chapter has its own little intro and is peppered with odes to ingredients such as the humble egg as well as stories of Ravinder’s past that illustrate the powerful relationship between food, people, place and identity. The recipes themselves are set out with an opening paragraph explaining the dish whilst adding a few helpful tips, followed by a list of ingredients and an easy-to-follow set of instructions. Gorgeous, full-colour photography accompanies each recipe, beautifully capturing the experiential essence of the dishes.
Like her restaurant, Jikoni, the book is partially inspired by African and Indian flavours and dishes but not limited or constricted by tradition or a set palate. Everything that Ravinder has ever come into contact with is up for grabs and thrown together the gusto, freedom and rebelliousness of a chef traversing the borders between multiple cultures. Kimchi Parathas? Why not? Prawn Toast Scotch Eggs with Banana Ketchup? Heck to the yes. Spicy Scrag End Pie? Get in our belly. This continues through to her mouthwatering and extensive 43 page desserts section, where simple, fresh dishes like Guava Kulfi with Chilli Salt and Negroni Jelly with Orange Granita and Citrus Salad sit beside her indulgent, boozy caffeinated take on Rasgullas (sweet milk-and-cheese Bengali dumplings poached in sugar syrup), an festive centrepiece, the Edible Christmas Wreath.
For those unfamiliar with certain ingredients and dishes can rest easy thanks to the inclusion of a helpful ‘Ingredients’ glossary at the back. Whilst many of the ingredients listed in recipes can be found at supermarkets and independent shops, there are a few that (in some parts of the country) may need to be ordered online or substituted. Most of Ravinder’s recipes involve multiple components being made separately before they come together in one dish. Don’t let that put you off though as her notes are sound, fun to read and simple to follow. That being said, Jikoni: Proudly Inauthentic Recipes from an Immigrant Kitchen is definitely not a cookbook for a complete novice.
After initially being a little put off by the tone, we’ve come to warm to Ravinder’s open style of writing and fearless experimentation. We love the fact that equal importance has been given to each chapter, with everything from ‘Vegetables and Salads’ to ‘Poultry and Meat’ given a similar amount of pages, meaning that veggie and vegan options abound.
Her deft use of spices, mastery of what we can only think to describe as ‘post-fusion’, and ability to entice the reader until salivation demands they try out her recipes, is a winning formula. Jikoni: Proudly Inauthentic Recipes from an Immigrant Kitchen is the perfect cookbook for something who has a good understanding of spice but who is open to changing the very way they think about flavour combinations. Beautiful, easy to follow and unique – this is a cookbook that’s well worth stepping out of your comfort zone for.