Ravinder Bhogal: Food is a wonderful way to travel without the air miles

Ella Walker, PA

The cook and restaurateur can help you escape through food.

It’s got to the point where many of us are desperate for a holiday. The sight of the sea on TV has the power to reduce us to tears, we’re scrolling through old holiday snaps mournfully and buying up camping gear, because surely an on-home-soil camping trip will be possible this summer… surely?

Ravinder Bhogal feels that pain. “Travelling is by one of my greatest loves and passions. I live to travel – I’m one of those people,” says the author of cookbook Jikoni, which is named after her London restaurant.

“I’m really missing travel. I’m missing discovering new things and a lot of my ideas and inspirations come from my travels. I particularly love to go to Asia and to Italy a lot.”

However, the food writer, who was born in Kenya to Indian parents and moved to England aged seven, does have a manageable workaround: “Where there’s a lack of travel, there’s always food.”

“The idea of travelling through food is just such a wonderful one,” she continues, noting how her recipes take inspiration from many different far flung places. “It’s a wonderful way to travel without the air miles.”

During the pandemic, Bhogal and her team have been running Comfort And Joy (jikonilondon.
com/comfortandjoy), an offshoot of Jikoni, creating vegetarian and vegan meal boxes that will soon be available nationwide.

Adhering to the belief that provides the backbone of Bhogal’s food – cooking without borders, fusing and embracing the ingredients and culinary treasures of different places and traditions – the boxes feature dishes inspired by Thailand and India, East Africa, China, and more. Dishes like dhal dhokli, a sweet and sour dhal cooked with peanuts and hand rolled chickpea flour pasta; Kishmish pilau, a fragrant basmati rice cooked with plump sultanas, and crisp aubergine in Sichuan caramel. The boxes can provide respite from the constant hamster wheel of home cooking, and offer a taste of something, and somewhere, else.

Bhogal also finds escape through where she shops for ingredients, which the pandemic restrictions haven’t hampered: “We’re so lucky because [Britain’s] so densely diverse, and there’s always another culture to learn from,” she muses.

“I’m really inspired by a lot of Asian cookery just because a lot of my travel has happened there,” she explains, “But I think there are a lot of interesting mini-economies of immigrants in this country.”

She describes the Vietnamese supermarkets of East London, the Korean communities in the south-west suburbs, and how she loves to check out “Sri Lankan shops and discover ingredients that I don’t know, and learning how to cook with those things. Often you can adapt those ingredients. You could take, for example, orange blossom water from a Middle Eastern shop and make an ice cream flavoured with it. So you take the idea of a basic vanilla ice cream and you just put orange blossom in instead of the vanilla, or you make a cream to fill doughnuts.

“I love that. I love making ingredients yours; taking something you’re familiar with and then simply transporting an ingredient into that, to make it surprising and wonderful and new.”

And we could all do with something nutritious, shiny and new right now.

Jikoni: Proudly Inauthentic Recipes From An Immigrant Kitchen by Ravinder Bhogal, photography by Kristin Perers, is published by Bloomsbury, priced £26, Bloomsbury. Available now.

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