Good food. Good friends. Good spirits.

“Laughing at your mistakes can lengthen your life” 
- Shakespeare

Here is a quiz, which company popularised the slogan: “Membership has its privileges”?

If you said American Express you are right on the money. You may remember some of the commercials full of exotic vacations, multi-course gourmet meals among other luxuries. The commercials would usually end with their now famous slogan.

That is exactly how I felt when I received a neatly wrapped gift basket for Diwali, compliments of the Ontario Konkani Association. Thank you, OKA!

It was not just an ordinary gift basket. What was inside that neatly wrapped gift basket, defined who we are as Konkanis. The assortment of goodies had our culture, traditions and heritage all wrapped in one, adding to that a healthy quotient of dry fruits. Kudos, whoever thought about this thoughtful gift for the festive season.

Along with other goodies, what made my taste buds tickle was Chakri (chakuli) and banana chips. The staple of afternoon kashai or teatime in a Konkani household, a celebration of culinary konkani foody-ism and Panchadik (gossip or chit chat?!)

I have always associated chakris with an elaborate showcase of flour based architecture. The anatomy of each  varies with the creativity.  These particular chakris had the right amount of flour, water, salt and spices combined to make the dough and fried to perfection. As I  munched on them, it left  a little aftertaste of butter and an exotic memory of a visit to my native place. Needless to say,  it was all gone in a span of minutes. My better half remarked “You ate it all, what about me?”  Want more from this dialogue? Sorry not available in stores.

It turns out those delicious chakris and banana chips came from the gourmet kitchen of OKA food coordinator Mrs. Sheela Kamath.

Below are the highlights of my conversation with Sheela about her initiation to kitchen essentials. To me it is always an added pleasure chatting with another Mumbaikar, a special “ apnapan” or “amchimumbai’, whatever you call it. A relaxed and informal vibe.  I found Sheela easy to chat with and open to explaining her upbringing and how she found joy and solace in her niche culinary delight.

Growing up as the youngest of the three girls in a GSB family she hardly ever entered the kitchen. As Sheela moved to Kuwait, the driving force to develop her culinary skills came after marriage to a Mangalorian foodie guy with fine taste buds.

The human will and minds are truly ingenious. As another famous slogan goes, “When there is a will, there is a way.”

With  frequent conversations with her mother and friends, and a process of trial and error, Sheela was able to get over that initial hump. “There were cookbooks as friends too”, Sheela remarks. “There may be no one to show you how to achieve the desired results but on the flip side there are no constraints. Because nobody showed me, I didn’t have anyone holding me back.” said Sheela.

Through her trials, Sheela  realised that the less complicated the recipes are the closer they seem to be to the original version.

Following her instincts and evaluating the results, Sheela developed her own style, and Bingo, a star is born with gourmet written on every creation.

When it comes to adapting to her much loved  Arabic food, Sheela says initially she relied on guesswork.  “I have the natural ability to eat  something in any country and pinpoint most of its flavour and go home and be able to recreate the same.” 

Something else Sheela believes is using only fresh ingredients and keeping her recipes and her cooking simple: “Simplicity and a more relaxed vibe while cooking has served me well” remarks Sheela.

Thank you Sheela for taking time to chat with me, so interesting.

Coming back  to the recipe of those yuum Chakris , well you do not  see Coca Cola putting their recipes on the internet. That is a trade secret. Quality goes in before the name goes on.

To me, this well made Chakri will certainly laugh at the Punjabi Aloo thiki or Gujarati Dokla for taste, crunch, and flavour and is certainly the queen  of  a lovely afternoon tea time.

It is December, and Christmas is right at the doorstep. Wishing my extended OKA family  happy holidays and best wishes for a happy New year!

About the author…
Madhav Shanbhag moved to GTA in 2017, after spending more than 40 years in Fredericton, New Brunswick. In retirement, Madhav enjoys the luxury of few hours of leisure and nature time