Which stories are being told, how, and by whom—these questions are very much on our minds as of late. Are there hard and fast rules to consider when overlaying the subjective (taste: liking, palatal) with objective (taste: “good,” “cultivated”)? When distinguishing appropriation from appreciation, assimilation from accommodation?
A daughter of Indian immigrants, Bhogal found herself uprooted, at age 7, from her home in Nairobi. The resettlement to London left Bhogal feeling unsettled—an anxiety that she and her father found could only be assuaged by grazing. A handful of Bombay mix or fried cashews tossed in chili powder and black salt, crunched half-thinkingly or while padding back to bed—these familiar comforts in a discomfiting, unfamiliar setting brought, if not total ease, at least something close. This clinging to taste memories to remain tethered to our home selves is not unique to Bhogal and her parents, but an experience many immigrants share.
“We took the traditions of our ancestors and their regional home cooking and overlaid them with the reality of our new home and whatever its various food markets, delis, canteens and multicultural supermarkets had to offer on any given day,” Bhogal writes in the introduction. “This is what I suppose could be loosely termed ‘immigrant cuisine,’ proudly inauthentic recipes that span geography, ethnicity and history.”
In the book, you’ll find Bhogal’s—what Ottolenghi termed—“deliciously irreverent” mash-ups (to which she warns, “purists should avert [their] eyes”): paneer-stuffed padron peppers, kimchi-topped patatas bravas, a sticky banana cake sitting in a pool of miso butterscotch and Ovaltine kulfi. These recipes beg the question: Can any one culture claim ownership to the cheese-stuffed pepper or the caramelly, sticky cake? Or do these combinations of flavors naturally align and work themselves out independent of the home cook, their histories, and geographic location?
In equal weight, Jikoni features recipes like Indian-style khao suey, massaman pork and peanut curry, and kuku paka—dishes with muddied cultural origins that cannot be credited to Bhogal’s inventiveness, but to centuries of ocean trade routes, cross-cultural exchange, or more ominously, colonization.
The recipes found in Jikoni are borne of hybridization and syncretism, themselves documents of colonialism’s lasting effects, and how in-between communities, historically, make do. Bhogal’s book—for all its stunning photography and recipes—is not easily digestible; its existence is founded in hard-to-acknowledge parts of our collective history.
But it’s also just a collection of really tasty-sounding and -looking recipes by someone who knows her way around a jikoni.