Tuesday 23 May 2023

Sumayya Usmani, "Andaza: A Memoir of Food, Flavour and Freedom in the Pakistani Kitchen"


Sumayya Usmani, photo by James Melia

Well-connected and beloved in the food world, Sumayya Usmani went from practising law for twelve years to pursuing food writing and teaching. Her first book, Summers Under the Tamarind Tree: Recipes and Memories from Pakistan (Frances Lincoln, 2016), was the first Pakistani cookbook in Britain. Her mentor and friend Madhur Jaffrey, who wrote the main blurb, calls the book 'a treasure.' It won the Best First Cookbook category in the Gourmand Cookbook Awards in 2016. It was also shortlisted for the Edward Stanford Travel Writing Award. Her second cookbook, Mountain Berries and Desert Spice: Sweet Inspirations from the Hunza Valley to the Arabian Sea (Frances Lincoln, 2017), was shortlisted in the Best Cookbook of the Year category at the Food & Travel Magazine Awards. Sumayya won The Scottish Book Trust's Next Chapter Award in 2021 for Andaza as a work in progress. Sumayya has been featured as a resident food writer for four weeks in the Guardian COOK supplement (now known as Feast), and has also featured in the Telegraph, New York Times, Independent, Saveur, Delicious, Olive, BBC Good Food and Food 52. She was called 'the go-to expert in Pakistani cuisine' by BBC Good Food Magazine. Sumayya is a BBC broadcaster and has been a presenter on BBC Radio Scotland's Kitchen Cafe as well as being a regular panellist on Jay Rayner's The Kitchen Cabinet on BBC Radio 4. She has appeared on BBC Radio 4's Women's Hour. On television, she has appeared on Madhur Jaffrey's Curry Nation on the Good Food Channel, and various times on STV and London Live. Sumayya mentors other writers online as well as hosting her podcast, A Savoured Life

About Andaza: A Memoir of Food, Flavour and Freedom in the Pakistani Kitchen, by Sumayya Usmani 

Andaza is a memoir filled with the most meaningful recipes of my childhood. The book tells the story of how my self-belief grew throughout my young life, allowing me to trust my instincts and find my own path between the expectations of following in my father's footsteps as a lawyer and the pressures of a Pakistani woman's presumed place in the household. Through the warmth of my family life and being with the women of my family in the kitchen, the meaning of 'andaza' (cooking with instinct and intuition) comes to me: the flavour and meaning of a recipe is not a list of measured ingredients, but a feeling in your hands, as you let the elements of a meal come together through instinct and experience. In Andaza I share how food and cooking was my anchor from my childhood growing up on merchant ships to being a young displaced child when we moved back to Karachi. 

Andaza was published in April 2023 by Murdoch Books. You can read more about the book on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read a sample from it. 

From Andaza

On board the ship, the endless weeks of open skies and unchanging horizons seemed interchangeable, indistinguishable from one another. I spent time in my hammock, escaping to Narnia or watching the sea, hoping to catch a glimpse of a dolphin's fin.

Sometimes I'd sneak into Daddy's smoking room. looking for pipe-cleaners. The wooden-panelled room smelt like burnt orange zest and French toast. The side cabinet had an array of briarwood and meerschaum pipes propped against a wooden stand. A box of Montecristo’s sat on a small table, next to Daddy’s black leather tobacco pouch filled with Erinmore tobacco and multi-coloured pipe-cleaners, which I’d steal to make bendy finger puppets and bracelets, or tiny flowers and fruit. 

 We rose early every morning. Breakfast was at 6 a.m. in the officers’ mess, usually parathas and oily spiced omelettes with heavily sweetened cooked chai – Mummy shook her head in disgust at how unhealthy it all was. I would get a bowl of cardboard-flavoured Fauji cornflakes or Quaker porridge oats with long-life milk. We always had so much long-life milk that when cartons neared their expiry date, Mummy and I would take baths in it, imagining we were Cleopatra. 

For the crew, food was mere fodder, and every meal in the galley tasted like mutton korma, under different names. We rarely sat with the crew in the mess for lunch or dinner, as the Pakistani food the ship’s cook made lacked creativity or any kind of adventurousness. But with limited ingredients Mummy became a master of creating meals using tinned vegetables and store-cupboard basics – she just let her heart guide her and improvised when she needed to.

‘Recipes are stories,’ she’d say, ‘and ingredients are characters. You can make up your own story as you go along.’ Mummy herself was like an oral storyteller, making up tales on the spot for me to devour. We had few other distractions on-board, and I watched with fascination as the stories unfolded, different each time they were told. 

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