Chef Gunjan Goela remembers Dev Anand’s life-long love for ‘maa ke daal chhole’

September 24, 2023
Gunjan Goela: Exhilaration and disbelief were the two emotions that swept through me when Dev Saab accepted my invitation to a dinner together.

Exhilaration and disbelief were the two emotions that swept through me when Dev Saab accepted my invitation to a dinner together. When I called from my little corner at the ITC hotel in Mumbai where I was the Master Chef, he answered the phone himself, and his soulful “Dev bol raha hoon” still echoes in my ears. And my hands, which were shaking then, still shake at the memory of our first handshake!

Imagine the flood of emotions when my heartthrob Dev Anand accepted my invitation for dinner together. I can’t remember how many times I pinched myself to assure my fevered heart that it was really happening!

We talked about his food habits so that I could prepare a menu after his heart. “I am a Punjabi, so maa ke daal chhole,” he said. His tonal quality in declaring that he was a “Punjabi” indicated the pride he felt in being one

I wondered how his evergreen looks remained untouched by the paranthas that had to be done in desi ghee and his lassi that had to have a generous dollop of butter! He was fondly remembering how his mother would often cook and serve him in the kitchen, making him sit on a low wooden plank in front of her.

The golden glow on his face reflected the nostalgia of his childhood memories surrounding food. The warmth of the embers from the tandoor of his childhood home sparkled in his gaze! His love for Punjabi food was rivalled by his affection for his trips to London, but even during his travels, he never missed any opportunity to have full-bodied desi fare! Did he not feel tempted by the wide variety of seafood, a mighty steak or the delectable desserts that the European menus offered?

With his famous impish smile he confided that he preferred hot chocolate to chilled colas, and that chilli-hot food as well as prawn dishes did not always agree with his constitution. Towards the last 10 years of his life, in fact, he preferred vegetarian dishes.

That memorable evening oozed with his charm, punctuated by his earthy grin, and infused the panache that had become his personal signature. I asked him how he always managed to wear his scarves so stylishly. He replied with his characteristic wave: “Have the confidence to be yourself, and stay away from elements who push you down or give negative vibes.”

I recall the restaurant manager coming to wish him while we were dining. As he left, Dev sahab talked to me about him as though he knew him from ages! Was it his prowess as an observer of human emotions for over five decades, or his extremely sharp mind — he was like a Nazoomi with his fingers on the pulse of the human psyche! No wonder, generations of Indian hearts danced and cried when he did just that on the silver screen!

Looking back to that delicious afternoon, I can say that he romanced Life in the same way as he savoured his food. Not very fussy yet very choosy — that was how he approached his life, his films, and his meals.

A real gourmet, who preferred quality over quantity, he loved every morsel in his mouth as he regaled us with multiple flavours of his iconic creativity. He enjoyed eating sour (khatta) food, but was extremely conscious about the frequency of such indulgences so that he could protect his throat.

In the same vein, he experimented ahead of his times with a ‘Guide’ and also preserved his commercial voice with a ‘Jewel Thief’. He came, he loved, he lived – a true connoisseur of the Fete of Life!

(Gunjan Goela is a celebrated exponent of Purani Dilli Ka Khana and author of ‘Baniya Legacy of Old Delhi’, a book on the community’s culture and cuisine)

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