Beyond the Plate

Beyond the Plate

Comfort food. Traditional dishes. Holiday meals and more. Food plays an indelible role in our memories, especially when it comes to celebrations. Which is why, in advance of Holi, the traditional festival of colors, we brought together two friends of the Seaport for a conversation about how food has shaped their lives.

Priya Krishna is a food reporter for the New York Times, and the bestselling author of multiple cookbooks. Anu Sehgal is the founder and president of The Culture Tree, the author of children’s books that explore cultural stories from India, and the mother of two boys. In preparation for Holi at the Seaport, Anu interviews Priya about food, identity, and cultural exploration as they chat and pick up the ingredients for Priya’s Shahi Tukre Recipe at the Tin Building.

Anu Seghal and Priya Krishna
Anu Sehgal & Priya Krishna

Anu: Food is an integral part of cultural heritage, which can be passed down from generation to generation. Traditional recipes, indigenous ingredients, dining etiquette, and cooking techniques, all can shape our food habits and stories. Telling food stories has been integral to what you do. How do your books help you tell these stories?

Priya: Food is one of the best lenses to tell meaningful stories — I’ve used food as the entry point into discussions of religion, politics, sports, race, and identity. It’s a way to take complex issues and give people a way in, a way to connect. My cookbooks are as much about giving you ideas for what to make dinner tonight as they are about storytelling. Each cookbook reflects a period of my life. If Indian-ishmy previous cookbook, tells the story of my journey to becoming a food writer and accepting who I was, this newest one, Priya’s Kitchen Adventures, is about how I got interested in food in the first place — through travels with my mom, who works in the airline industry. Each recipe comes with a story. The hope is that, as you cook, you can be transported into the exact moment in time of my childhood when I first tried that dish. A dancing and dumplings banquet in China, a tiny stand selling hummus and pita near the Pyramids in Cairo. 

Priya Krishna shopping at Tin Building

Anu: In my household, I feel food is a constant and omnipresent force that reminds my children what their identity is. What role does food play in helping kids establish their identity? 

Priya: I think a lot about comfort foods, and how for most of us, the foods that are most nostalgic and comforting to us are the ones that we ate a lot growing up. For some people, that’s macaroni and cheese. For others, that’s kimchi jigae. For me, it’s dal chawal. Those foods that you eat as a child occupy such a special place in your mind, and my hope with Priya’s Kitchen Adventures is that kids will grow up trying so many different kinds of foods that they will feel as comforted by a red bean bun as they do a chocolate mousse. Of course, it’s not like you love every food that you try — but I want kids to feel intrigued to try, and delighted when they discover their new favorite flavor. I think it’s wonderful for kids to develop this sort of curiosity when they’re young. 

Anu: What was your interaction with food when you were growing up in America?

Priya: I like to say I grew up on my family’s kitchen island in Dallas. My best memories are of sitting on the counter, watching my mom saute onions or make kadhi, asking if I could have a taste. I did my homework on that counter, had long chats with my parents on that counter — food was always, quite literally, at the center of our conversations. Indian-ish is about all those foods that my mom made for me growing up. But Priya’s Kitchen Adventures is about our travels growing up. Wherever we visited, we were first and foremost interested in the food culture. 

Anu: What food customs do you find integral to your identity?

Priya: I eat at restaurants for a living, but I find that it is home-cooked Indian food that grounds me in my identity more than anything. Dal chawal, specifically. I can’t think of a food with more soul, that I associate more closely with home, than dal chawal. Whenever I come back home after spending a long time away, I always make dal chawal. Blooming the spices in ghee and pouring it over the top of the dal is so soothing. That said, I feel equally defined by my curiosity around tasting and understanding other people’s food customs. I want to understand why certain foods are part of other people’s identity, and I want to try those foods myself! 

Anu: Growingup in India, Holi meant so many things to me: meeting friends/family, playing with colors, ceremonies, and food. How do you celebrate Holi and what food customs can you think of when you celebrate Holi?

Priya: I think of Holi as a time of renewal — cleaning my closet, resetting my goals, getting ready for warm weather. I love how much the holiday is about embracing joy. I have shockingly never played with color before. My parents have several times — perhaps my invitations maybe got lost — so I am extremely excited to do it this year! 

Priya Krishna

Anu: Your newest cookbook will debut at the Seaport Holi celebration on March 23. Where/when can we purchase the book?

Priya: It will be available on April 30th, wherever books are sold, online and in stores. I recommend supporting your favorite independent bookstore! I spent much of my childhood summers in bookstores and libraries, and they are some of my favorite places. 

Anu: We’re so excited that you will be speaking about Foods of Holi on March 23rd. What would you like the community to take away from this segment?

Priya: I want to share how much food can be an easy bridge to understanding other people’s traditions. And also that trying different cuisines and being curious about the things that are different from what you know are wonderful things. 

Anu Seghal and Priya Krishna

Anu: You’re kindly sharing your recipe for Shahi Tukre with us. Why is this a special dish for you? 

Priya: This is one of my all-time favorite Indian desserts, but I didn’t learn about it until I was an adult. It was my mom’s favorite dessert to eat as a child, and one day she decided to surprise her brother and make it. I fell in love with the cardamom soaked pieces of bread. I needed the recipe immediately! 

For details of the Holi celebrations at the Seaport on March 23, and to RSVP, please click here