‘Grandmas Project’ Is Documenting Nostalgia And Stories From Grandmom’s Kitchen
- IWB Post
- July 19, 2019
Growing up, my grandmom (Amma, as I call her) would often treat me with her own version of aloo fry. She’d cut the potatoes in round, really thin slices and serve it with coriander chutney made on a grinding stone (and not a grinder) and infused with just a hint of garlic. Unlike the typical french fries, amma’s fries used to be soft and tender with a heady aroma of ghee.
Amma used to make them exclusively for me. Once she was done with the cooking, she’d keep some 4-5 for herself and give me the rest. Even as a child, that appealed to me as the most unadulterated act of love. I make the aloo fry now, with slight improvisations though. I add cheese to amma’s recipe and she enjoys them as much as I used to enjoy her fries.
Grandmother’s recipes are entire worlds in themselves, unraveling a storehouse of nostalgia and stories as they tinkle our tastebuds at the same time. Nothing else can parallel the mouth-watering aroma of food cascading from your grandmom’s kitchen. Almost all the grandma recipes have a root and a story along with a lingering taste, of course.
Started by French filmmaker Jonas Pariente in 2015, Grandmas Project is a collaborative web documentary platform that is documenting this concoction of food and stories from grandma’s kitchen. It invites young filmmakers to make an eight-minute film on their grandmothers and their recipes.
The project received UNESCO’s patronage in 2016 for raising awareness for culture and heritage through digital media.
Pariente released his own film, Molokheya in 2015 as he conceived the project. Based on his paternal grandmother, the film showcases her cooking a traditional Egyptian dish. Here is Pariente’s film:
MOLOKHEYA a film by Jonas Parienté, a recipe by Suzanne “Nano” Parienté [recipe below / recette ci-dessous] GRANDMAS PROJECT is a webseries sharing the stories and recipes of grandmas around the world, filmed by their grandchildren. More info : grandmasproject.org Post-production by RedPinata (redpinata.com). Music by Cézame (cezame-fle.com) Produced by Jonas Parienté.
“Both my grandmothers have been very inspiring to me. They both migrated to France in the 1950s and even though I had a really simple relationship with them as a kid, I could tell the depth of what they experienced. For me, as they were cooking for us, I always felt like their history was also passed down from the food,” Scroll reported Pariente as saying.
“It’s not so much about the food but about the power of food or a dish to invoke memories,” he says, speaking about the project.
Natasha Raheja’s film Sindhi Kadhi: A Recipe by Nani, is the first Indian entry to the project. The film documents her grandmother, Sushila Dodani, as she prepares Sindhi kadhi for a Sunday afternoon.
Born in Sindh, Pakistan, Dodani migrated to India after the partition. “It is interesting how for my grandparents, Pakistan is a place of nostalgia as well as a place of fear. hey have a sense of attachment to the places they grew up in and curiosity for what they are like now, but also fear that they wouldn’t be welcomed now. Their heart is soft when thinking of Pakistan before Partition and hardens when they think of Partition and how it unfolded,” Raheja said.
Here is Raheja’s film:
There is a sequence in the film where Raheja’s grandmom mentions Pakistan. “I included a single mention of Partition to signal that while my Nani’s memories of Pakistan are a casual part of conversation, there are also silences around the difficulty of having to leave home and not being able to return,” Raheja says.
Right from the kitchen counter, to the background music being played on Raheja’s grandfather’s radio, the film exudes the comfort of a home. The sense of comfort also comes from the fact that it is Raheja documenting her own grandmother as she goes about the daily chores of life.
Talking about the shooting process, Raheja said, “At first, she was concerned that her sisters-in-law might think she is attracting too much attention. In front of the camera, she was at ease going about her regular activities and giving me instructions. She is used to me following her around and sticking to her. One of her nicknames for me is chipkali, or gecko, because of the way I stick and cling to her. When filming, I was a chipkali with a camera.”
For Raheja, it was a way to observe her grandmother’s “gentle grace through a camera eye. When she cooks, she pays attention to how things look, feel, taste, and smell, not exact measurements or timings. In working on this film, I thought about the role of food in mediating relationships and building intimacy.”
She adds, “I thought of how making and eating meals together can be a generative act, not only a consumptive one. I thought of how my grandma is a source of nourishment for our family. I thought about the gendering of domestic work. I thought about how patriarchy shapes who cooks and who gets cooked for.”
Pariente thus says, “The idea was to create a portrait of that generation of women. Our grandparents belong to a world that was fraught with conflict. Even Natasha’s film alludes to the Partition in India, a time of disturbance and suffering. When you watch these films, you tend to realise the similar experiences that people from all parts of the world were going through – wars, conflict, emigration. In most cases, you’ll see that asking about one recipe organically opens the door to conversations about history and identity.”
Migration is, in fact, the common theme, that runs through all the films of the Grandmas Project. It features grandmas from France, Croatia, and Lebanon, to name a few of the places.
The project also invites people who are not filmmakers to share pictures of grandmothers with their sample stories. Here is one such story:
Born in 1926 grandma is a pre independence child. She was married off early in life at the age of 14 years. Hence most of her cooking skills and knowledge is from her mother that she learnt by observation. Many of the recipes that she makes has come down from her ancestors. Her husband worked for the British navy and hence had some British cooking and dining influence too. She had won several cooking competitions. Since then she has been an inspiration to many in terms of cooking. She also ensures that people eat healthy.. she’s extremely cheerful happy and healthy most importantly at the ripe age of 90. 💕 #India #grandma #love #food #healtyfood #heritage #unesco #film
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“Our grandparents’ generation was the last one that made everything by hand, the last one that cared to carry on the traditional recipes of their culture and families. I also feel we need to preserve this legacy,” says Pariente.