My Life in Food: Nish Kumar on Locked Out Kitchen and Eating Car Hoods

I come from a very greedy family. It’s just kind of a constant obsession, like, what are we going to eat? Where are we going to eat? What time are we going to eat? It’s kind of a long, ongoing problem. To a certain extent, it’s also in my blood, because my grandfather ran curry houses in Leicester in the 80’s. So food, especially Indian food, is deeply rooted in my family.

I didn’t realize until I was a little older that it wasn’t normal to constantly eat okra. When I get home, my mom is frying okra dry. It’s really my idea of ​​comfort food.

Shrimp taste different in Kerala. This is because you eat them right after they’ve been plucked from the ocean. My grandmother lived and died in Kerala, so we often visited her when I was a child. It’s largely coastal so you have access to some amazing fish – there’s a Malabar fish curry that I associate with being in Kerala. Things like vegetable or lamb stew and dosa are quite the taste of my childhood.

I’m not a great cook, but I learned a little while in confinement. I can now make a Chicken Curry that is only a partial insult to my heritage as opposed to a total insult – that’s about the best I can say. It is difficult because everything has been transmitted through an oral tradition. If you ask my grandmother how much garam masala to use in a recipe, she’ll just say “enough”.

I once ate in the trunk of a car. There is a very famous restaurant behind the Taj Mahal Palace hotel in Mumbai called Bademiya. [It started as a street food stall], cooking Indian kebabs, tandoori chicken … and it’s become kind of a phenomenon. The first time I went was probably in 2004. People were lining up in the street and the meal was served by a guy who came out, blew up the trunk of my cousin’s car and drove off. put a bottle of Coke on it to make a flat surface – and we ate that. The kebabs are amazing.

Japanese food is fantastic. I had a good meal in a small town where four guys from the crew [of TV show Joel & Nish vs the World] and I was trying to find a place to eat. We ended up in a little kind of canteen, where the guy didn’t speak English and we didn’t speak Japanese. Somehow, between us, we managed to order a bunch of beers and karaage – Japanese fried chicken. It was so delicious.

I like a dumpling. They are so heartwarming. I went to the Darjeeling Express, to Asma Khan’s in London. Darjeeling is such an interesting piece of India [and] at Darjeeling Express they make chicken momos which are basically Indian dim sum, and they are delicious. I love dim sum; I love pierogi, Polish dumplings; I appreciate each nation’s spin on them.

Mexican cold seafood soup is a truly amazing and unique thing. We stayed in a little town called Urique, and there was a restaurant run by this old woman who made cold seafood soup, served in some kind of stone bowl. It’s one of those things that occasionally flies across the screen, swirling and hopping chain in my brain. It was flavored with a lot of coriander and it had a real punch. I have never eaten anything like this in my life.

I’m an adventurous eater at a fault. I’ll eat anything – the sketchier the place, the better. The places that look the most like one in five on that green health sticker rating they slap on UK restaurants often give you the most delicious food. So I had some really good experiences eating street food – but when it goes bad it goes really bad.

Nish’s UK and Ireland tour Your Power, Your Control starts February 2022.

Published in issue 14 (winter 2021) of National Geographic Traveler’s Food

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