When Withbert “Bert” Payne wants his Anglo-Indian food fix, he goes to friends’ homes in San Ramona, California. It’s going to be the same this Christmas, he tells News India Times. He left India at the age of 16, first for the United Kingdom and then on to the U.S. But he vividly remembers 1960s Calcutta when his mother spent a whole week cooking up a storm of Anglo-Indian food.
Jhal Frezi, Dhol Dhol, Kedgeree, Mulligatawny soup, Country Captain Chicken, Pish Pash, Stuffed Roast Chicken Indian Style, Indian Railway Mutton, Dak Bungalow Chicken, and Colonel Standhurst’s Beef Curry, apart from the marvelous baked goods, are what keep the Indo-British community traditions alive, according to some Anglo Indians this correspondent spoke to in the U.S. and Canada.
Christine and Kevin Ward of Santa Clara, California, have hosted Payne occasionally over the last several decades. At Christmas time, Christine makes the traditional fruit cake, as well as rose cookies, Kul Kul (dough balls dipped in syrup that look like snow balls), Namkeens, Salted Tongue, Salted Meat, and the favorite Ginger Wine. Interestingly, their daughter Nerissa plied a food truck for years in the city bearing the Anglo-Indian name – Chutney Mary. Kevin Ward is the convener of the informal Anglo- Indian group on the West Coast and they always hold a picnic before Christmas. This time, 200 people from near and far came for the ‘Black and White’ Dance, a tradition harking back to India, and to enjoy Anglo-Indian food. The fun is combined with raising funds for needy Anglo-Indians in India.
Memories of life in India during Christmas are dominated by foods combined with the weeks-long festivities that went into New Year and included Tambola, Pagal Gymkhana with its crazy races like the egg-and-spoon, the Hogamanay Ball, Jam sessions, carol singing, midnight mass, ballroom dancing, are memories that Peter Lovery recalls, as well as the month-long cooking spree his mother went on, the Calcutta markets that catered to Anglo-Indians. He now lives in picturesque Niagara-on-the-Lake on the Canadian border with U.S. and is president of the Anglo-Indian Association of Canada.
Blair Williams, who lives in New Jersey, and is considered the resident expert on Anglo Indians around the world, says today’s cuisine is not as recognizably Anglo-Indian but rather has amalgamated into the regions in India where the remaining Anglo-Indians live. “Christmas is Yellow Rice, Beef Curry, and Fruitcake, all of which have become part of the Indian cuisine, Today, it is an osmosis of local and Anglo Indian,” Williams told News India Times. He makes occasional trips to India including one in January 2019 when the 11th International Anglo-Indian Reunion is being held in Chennai. He has authored a book on his community and several anthologies, his work has been recognized by Rutgers University, and he oversees a U.S. 501c 3 charity, CTR, which helps Anglo Indian seniors with a monthly pension and supports children in need of educational support, in 7 Indian cities.
Leslie Smith of Ontario, Canada, however, still gets Black Rice all the way from Australia where the largest community of Anglo Indians lives, because she wants the authentic taste of Dhol Dhol. “I do follow tradition during Christmas. In spite of living here for 47 years now, I still love our Christmas traditions, that’s why I’m still making our lovely Christmas sweets every year,” Smith told News India Times, adding, “While I’m not sure this tradition will carry on with my kids, we all still enjoy making and eating our Anglo-Indian goodies at Christmas.” Her family’s favorites Rose Cookies, Kul-Kuls, Dhol-Dhol, Caraway Seek Cake, Cashew Sweet and Coconut sweet. “Loads of sugar in all of them!!” she laughs. Smith is the social secretary of the Anglo India Association of Canada.
To this day, I can easily evoke the aroma of Auntie Marie’s Christmas baking and her unforgettable fruit cake whenever I ran into my Anglo- Indian neighbor’s home as a kid in New Delhi, to play with my friends.
Members of the Anglo-Indian community in North America, are realistic about their future. They don’t expect their children to carry on the traditions as closely, also because some of the older generation married outside the community. Their children are more into the mainstream celebrations around Christmas. But they have fond memories of India, and continue to maintain their links.
Today, Anglo-Indian cuisine during Christmas may be as diverse as the regional origins of those who make up this unique community in India and abroad. Though numbering a half million or so around the world, and less than 5,000 in the U.S., they have patented foods that excite the palate with the blend of Indian spices and English ideas. This is a cuisine not to be forgotten, but to be relived every year by those who have not had the good fortune to savor it.
Below are some recipes Leslie Smith, originally from Madras. shared with News India Times from her kitchen presented in the simple form that she follows, and in the format she has them stored in her kitchen.