Anoushka Shankar: 'Dad said he could make a really good dal, but I never saw him cook'

The musician and daughter of Ravi Shankar talks about Bengali food, having George Harrison as an uncle and being Asian in California

I was born in 1981 and raised as an only child, so a lot of this will be about my mum. I’m remembering the lovely food she made. And I’m picturing this kitchen with a really odd, red linoleum floor, check red. I stood next to her a lot at the sink, while she was washing and I was drying – it’s a good time and place to chat. I never really cooked alongside her, but I don’t know why.

Mum’s home food was comfy, exquisite and she was also capable of the most wonderful gourmet food. She’d mix the rice and dal with stuff and roll these easy-to-pick-up extra-softened little balls of rice. I have a very vivid memory of them. I think she’s the best cook in the world. Lots of people say that about their own mothers, but many people say it about my mother.

Some of my mother’s Indian friends’ daughters would be learning to cook with their mother and they’d tease me about learning sitar with my dad, Ravi Shankar, instead. It was nothing nasty but I developed a complex about it.

I ate Bengali food after my parents married and Dad started living with us, in both Willesden and in Delhi for three years, and then we all moved to California. Dad said he could make a really good dal, but I never saw him cook during the whole time we lived together.

My memories of mealtimes are a real bleed of music and food. Music never really stopped in the music room, because everyone would move out to the table with their sitars. My dad would have an idea and we’d all be keeping time at the table, singing along, keeping patterns. And so many artists coming through, with amazing discussions around me.

George Harrison became my uncle – not by blood but through love. It’s sort of an Indian cultural thing. He was deeply into the ayurvedic system and often talked to me about that. George and I were close and he was very jovial. I mean, both he and my dad were real jokesters, so there was a lot of laughter at the table.

Moving to California made things better, somehow. In London, there’d been a real self-consciousness about being Asian. I felt that in California it didn’t mean anything to anyone – no one knew anything about India! – and that I could just make my own identity.

Food is quite tricky for younger people who move and travel. I see it in my own kids now. Milk’s different in different countries; bread’s totally different. So, I remember getting quite teary whenever we moved. But usually only for a couple of days.

One thing I’m really finicky about is having proper kettles around. So I always carry one in my suitcase. I feel protected when I’m holding a really hot mug of tea.

My favourite things

FOOD
A good salad full of protein, vegetables, leaves.

DRINK
Tea. Breakfast tea, homemade chai, camomile, matcha latte.

RESTAURANT
I love scrambled eggs at the Wolseley as a special, decadent brunch. The texture is just perfect – really creamy and sort of done but not done. I can’t get them right at home. I’m always one or two seconds out, one way or the other.

Love Letters is out now (Mercury KX)

  • This interview took place before the UK lockdown


Contributor

John Hind

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Akram Khan: ‘My father hated my waitering – how I’d prance around’
The dancer and choreographer on rehearsing in the kitchen, snacking in the studio and getting his head around broccoli

Interview by John Hind

17, Sep, 2017 @11:00 AM

Article image
Norman Cook: I texted Jamie Oliver to ask how much a glug of oil is
The chart-topping DJ on Oscar parties, cooking in rehab – and why he never snacks while working

Interview by John Hind

17, Jul, 2016 @8:30 AM

Article image
Róisín Murphy: ‘In my pregnancy I was fed like a goose being fattened up’
The singer-songwriter talks about her mum’s proper dinners, the horror of andouillette, and working on an empty stomach

John Hind

19, Sep, 2020 @4:00 PM

Article image
Lang Lang: ‘Beethoven was a sausage lover’
The superstar Chinese pianist on the rigours of childhood practice, mum’s home cooking and sharing a flat with his dad and some mice

John Hind

16, Oct, 2016 @11:00 AM

Article image
Andi Oliver: 'When people are in trauma, they need the love of food'
The chef and broadcaster on the horrors of rural Suffolk in the 1970s, cooking with her best friend Neneh Cherry and the only way to eat oysters

John Hind

18, Jul, 2020 @4:01 PM

Article image
Sheku Kanneh-Mason: ‘I once made pasta in a kettle. I wouldn’t recommend it’
The award-winning cellist talks about eating with his six siblings, the post-concert pint and what he ate at Harry and Meghan’s wedding

John Hind

18, Jan, 2020 @5:00 PM

Article image
James Blunt: ‘My body has not been a temple. I’ve put it through painful experiences’
The singer talks about sharing rations with the Russians, after-party toasties and his mum’s signature dish

John Hind

14, Nov, 2020 @4:00 PM

Article image
Loyle Carner: ‘I grew up with ADHD, and for me cooking is close to meditation’
The rapper and cookery teacher on the lyrics for his track Ottolenghi, table tennis with Heston and the karma of the kitchen

John Hind

17, Nov, 2018 @5:59 PM

Article image
Emeli Sandé: ‘I loved spaghetti so much as a child that I’d eat it from the garden drain’
The singer on her dad’s Zambian dishes, eating noodles with Alicia Keys and writing songs about Angel Delight

John Hind

14, Sep, 2019 @4:00 PM

Article image
Nitin Sawhney: ‘Paul McCartney makes a great margarita’
The musician and composer on Beatle drinks, his dad’s pancakes and competitive eating with Sanjeev Bhaskar

John Hind

13, Jul, 2019 @4:00 PM