On repeat

When I like something, I like it and like it and like it till I can’t bear to look at it. Or listen to it. Or eat it. My brother could tell you how many times I can listen to the same song. In a row, in constant repeat. We grew up sharing a bedroom and Simon and Garfunkel must haunt him still.

My taste in music changed. House changed, climate changed. But that old habit, I kept.

When D and I were dating, we used to go to a hole-in-the-wall Tibetan momo place in Calcutta. It had light bulbs so dim you could barely see the food, or indeed, each other. These dim bulbs were red, they bathed everything in an eerie red light. No matter what food you ordered, it came with a red glow. Red momos, red noodles, red faces, red teeth. The food was served on red plastic plates. (This wasn’t the light; the plates were really red). There was also a red chilli paste on the side, which you couldn’t tell since it was the same shade as the plate. This little momo joint was next to a government hospital in front of which metal stretchers clanged constantly, wheeling in a steady stream of ailing. The road was divided into two smells: momo and medicine.

We loved the momos. We ate it obsessively for months. Every other day. Sometimes, every day. Till the thought of momos started making me feel slightly nauseous. Then we stopped. A few years later, a friend dragged me there, and the sweet man who used to serve us enquired about D. ‘Dada? Bhalo?’ he asked gingerly. Is Dada well? He shuffled, unsure if our relationship had survived those torrid months of red-hued momo lunches. Steamed, deep-fried and pan-fried, with a side of clear soup. It had, I assured him.

You’re thinking I’m headed towards a momo recipe, aren’t you? She’s going to ask us to make a momo any minute now, you fear. But no. I’m headed nowhere near a momo. I’m going left. I’m going off the road, down the dirt-track. I’m going to Rhubarb.

Rhubarb is where it’s at right now. I’m repeating rhubarb like it’s going out of season. Oh, hang on – it is going out of season. But before it does, do me a favour, do you a favour, and get your hands on some rrrrhubarb. I sang that, yes. I’m writing to music. (I’ll tell you about that too in a minute)

So, get the rhubarb, the ru-ru-rhubarb, because I made the most sensational rhubarb pickle a few days ago that you cannot not make. It’s not pickled rhubarb, mind you. It’s an achaar, a very Indian pickle; tangy, garlicky, spiced with turmeric and mustard seeds, kicked by chillies, screaming good. It also has the most un-Indian ways: I’ve smeared it in a ciabatta stuffed with avocado and bacon, piled it on polenta, stirred it into mayonnaise for a magnificent dip. I can’t sell it any more – just go get some rhubarb!

And listen to some Mulatu Astatke while you’re at it; that’s the music I’m writing to. Ethiopian jazz, terribly good. Listen to this, and listen to this. Mulatu’s my man, and he’s on repeat like rhubarb. He goes well with this pickle too; neither pulls any punches.

Indian Rhubarb Pickle

This was Ma’s idea. We were talking about rhubarb, and my rhubarb soup, and it’s green-mango-like tanginess, when she said: Ah, achaar! And there you have it.


2 rhubarb stalks, trimmed of leaves, cut in small pieces
4 cloves of garlic, peeled, sliced thin
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
1 level tsp turmeric
1 level tsp paprika
1/2 tsp asafoedita (optional)
1-2 red chillies, sliced
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 quarter of a lemon

Heat oil. Lower the heat and add the asafoedita (if using) and the mustard seeds. As soon as the mustard start spluttering, add the fenugreek seeds.
Add the rhubarb, then the garlic. Sprinkle in the turmeric, paprika and a very generous amount of salt. Add three tsp of sugar. Stir. Cover and cook for 2-3 minutes.

Open lid, it should be a nice saucy-mushy consistency now, with bits of rhubarb smothered in.
Add the chillies, squeeze in the lemon. Stir well. Taste; add more salt and sugar as required.
Cook for another minute to get the right pickle-consistency if needed.
Take it off the heat, and let it cool completely.
Transfer to a clean, dry jar. Store in the fridge.

27 thoughts on “On repeat

  1. I am with you on the repeat. Specially when many years later, hearing a repeated song, on the first strum and it rushes in your being along with all those emotions… Ah! Small joys of life..

  2. Rhubarb ketchup sounds very interesting, Ksenia!
    This pickle, I'm obsessed with – I hope it works for you too, if you try it πŸ™‚

  3. So true, Fiona! Songs bring back such crystal clear memories for me. I can see my old room, the exact way the sun slanted in, where I'd be sitting. Or a friend's room, a road trip. Small joys, indeed.

  4. You reminded me of a tiny restaurant in Shillong. Similar situation, except yellow light, very dim, so dark. I questioned myself several times, if I ate the right dish LOL! I still miss momos from there with super spicy red chili paste and a plain soup more like stock! DELICIOUS. Didn't care for the ambiance much.

  5. I should've revisited the momo place on our last trip to Kolkata, and taken some pictures. Next time!
    If you like dumplings, you'll love momos, Emma xx

  6. I have such fond memories of Shillong, Kankana.
    And yes, to the stock-like soup! There's nothing like a plate of hot momos at a hill-station. I remember one such meal enroute to Gangtok – the best momos I've ever had.

  7. That pickle looks awesome! How I'd love to try some!

    I have been reading a lot of foodie memoirs lately and, I must say, your foodie posts can give them tough competition. You write beautifully about everything, including food. Ever thought of writing a book? Loved your description of the momo place in this post. I could see everything so clearly in my mind. πŸ™‚

  8. Thought you'd be interested in these foodie memoirs too. Stuff that I have read and liked lately.

    Monsoon Diary, The Language Of Baklava, My Berlin Kitchen, My Homemade Life, The Dirty Life, Eating India, The Hour Of The Goddess (would especially recommend the last one to you, because it is all about Bengal)

    Also, have been hearing great things about The Lost Ravioli Recipes Of Hoboken. I have the book with me. Waiting to get started on it.

  9. Thank you, lovely girl! I'm very touched by your words. And I know how passionately you devour food memoirs, and of your love of food-writing, so your thought is much appreciated. Book, yes, I have thought about it.

  10. Love, love the list – thanks for that! Somehow, I don't seem to get much time, from fiction and other reading, for food-memoirs, even though I find them wonderfully relaxing. My Ma loves them, so this list sorts out my next gift for her. I'll try to get my hands on The Hour Of The Goddess for myself.

  11. Pia, you write so beautifully…everything about your posts is so touching…the writing, the feelings, and of course, the food. Keep the good work coming! Never had Rhubarb, but now on mission to find it, the inspiration credit goes to your posts. πŸ™‚

  12. Thank you so much, Vani! So lovely to have you here, and to get your kind comment this morning πŸ™‚
    I'm sure you'll love rhubarb if you can get your hands on some. It's such a versatile thing, and amazingly well-suited to Indian cooking.

  13. Made this today, soooo good, thank you! Rhubarb season is abundant where I live, and I'm always looking for something besides sweet+rhubarb. Your pickle is fantastic.

  14. For a moment I really thought you were going to give out the Tibetan Delight momo recipe!! LOL! This is awesome! will try the pickle!

  15. Haha! Haven't made momos at home…too time-consuming! And we have an amazing dumpling place here, a stone's throw from our house…similar to the Tibetan Delight momos, but way better. Can't think of an alternative to rhubarb in India, Subarna – the closest would be kancha aam, in terms of texture and sourness. Rhubarb is incredibly tart…don't think we have a vegetable in Kolkata which is as tart as rhubarb. Kancha aam diye kor.

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