Christmas Memories Of A Mumbai East Indian Chef

Revel in the recollections of Christmas day feasting in the East Indian community. In addition, learn how to make the indulgent Christmas pudding
Christmas is incomplete without Christmas pudding
Christmas is incomplete without Christmas puddingChef Michael Swamy

London, St. Christopher's Place, it was the bleak winter season and as the fairy lights on shop windows twinkled, heralding the season of Christmas and cheer, a huge wave of positive emotion hit me as I realised that Christmas is now a global tradition, celebrated by one and all. For those who don&rsquot believe in God, there is always Santa Claus, whose antecedents can perhaps be traced to a monk named St. Nicholas, thus giving them a reason to join the celebrations. Religious traditions from pre-Christian days, such as the mistletoe, pine cones, and exchanging gifts, all symbols of spirit worship, have become integral to yuletide celebrations.

It's Different

The rituals of Christmas centre around food. Different countries add their bits of enchantment to Christmas. For those below the equator, it's summer, such as in New Zealand and Australia, so celebrations are centred around a picnic table laden with roasts and salads, and shrimp or steak on the barbecue. While in Japan, in the northern hemisphere, Santa is referred to as Uncle Chimney, feasting on strawberry shortcakes topped by a fir sprig. In the Czech Republic, the yuletide meal is a fish-based soup, salads, and carp preparation. For the American-style traditional meal of Christmas, the main meal is a roast of some kind, be it pig or turkey. While everyone dreams of a white Christmas, this is rare and will be more so rather soon due to global warming. 

Festive Feasting 

My earliest Christmas memories are of midnight mass and warm eggnog spiked with brandy and opening the presents of candies and toys. On the eve of Christmas, after partying with friends, listening to the carollers, or attending events at the NCPA, we would have reached home to find stockings filled with gifts. The stash of candy was the most sought-after gift as we gobbled it while admiring the fairy lights twinkling over the crib of baby Jesus Christ.

For me, as a child, each festival at home meant a visit to Bandra, one of the main hubs of the East Indian community. My day used to be planned out meticulously. First was an early morning visit to the Mount Mary Church, past the old lanes and the steps up the hill, after we had parked the old ambassador and, years later, our Fiat. The journey never changed, and neither did the scents and flavours of the visit, especially of the guava cheese sold in tiny packets by a lady who sealed the packs over the flame of a candle. I can still smell the burning wax

On Christmas day, while returning home, we would stop at McRonnels, or the Hearsch bakery, to pick up chicken puffs and mutton patties, packed in paper packets, which did nothing to absorb the oil of the baked and fried goodies. While hastily eating a few and watching the crumbs fall to the floor, we walked back to the car, holding onto the hand of either mum or dad. 

Lunch and dinner had the dining tables groaning from the food laden on it. Sometimes a whole suckling pig would be the centre of attraction, accompanied by duck moile, vindaloo, a pulao covered with raisins and fried onions, with fugeas or fried bread, and panettone as sides, and plenty of salads. All this, we had downed a breakfast of hot puris, or vadas and chutney, and eggs and glazed ham. We continued to gorge over delicious leftovers the next few days after Christmas. 

Pudim or Christmas Pudding Recipe

Christmas Pudding
Christmas Pudding Shebeko on Shutterstock

Time required: Two days


Margarine 110 gm

Self-rising flour 50 gm

White bread crumbs 110 gm

Mix spices 1 tsp

Salt ¼ tsp

Cinnamon powder 1 tsp

Brown sugar 225 gm

Sultanas 110 gm

Nutmeg 1 tsp

Raisins 110 gm

Prunes 275 gm

Currants 275 gm

Almonds 25 gm

Apple 1

Lemon zest 1 tbsp

Eggs 2

Beer 150 ml

Red wine 50 ml

Water to create steam

Utensils: Large mixing bowl, ladles, spoons, spatulas, pudding basin, greaseproof paper, sheet foil, tough cotton string, steamer, saucepan, pressure cooker, and serving plate/plates.  


Day 1: In a large mixing bowl, mix butter and sift in the flour. Then add bread crumbs, salt, spices, and sugar. Mix it well. Gradually add finely chopped fruit and nuts. Now whisk the eggs, and add them to the mixture with the beer and wine. Mix thoroughly (in the earlier days, pennies or silver trinkets were added to the mix at this stage. Only a lucky few found them for keeps). The mixture should be sloppy in consistency. Cover the bowl, and leave it overnight in a cool dark place.

Day 2: Take one 1.2 litre pudding basin, lightly greased. Pour the mixture into the basin. Now cover the basin with greaseproof paper and a sheet of foil. Secure it with string along the rim, which pudding basins always have. Loop string across the top to make a handle of sorts. Now put the pudding in a steamer over a saucepan of simmering water. Steam the pudding for eight hours, and top up with boiling water as needed (I steam it on very low for eight hours, but in a pressure cooker, it takes only two hours). When the pudding is steamed, remove and cool it. Remove the papers and foil and replace them with fresh paper. Store the Pudim in a cool place, away from the light. 

Serving: Prior to serving, reheat the pudding in a steam bath for two hours. Turn it out onto a warmed serving plate, and serve with any or all of the following Cream, homemade custard, brandy, or rum butter.

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