Chetna Makan discusses her street food adventure through India

Chetna Makan
Photo credit Nassima Rothacker and Keith James
Chetna Makan Photo credit Nassima Rothacker and Keith James

By Reena Kumar

AS SOON as I ask Chetna Makan how her life has changed since she reached the semi-final of The Great British Bake Off, a stranger approaches her and stops to say hello.

This has become a regular occurrence for the mother of two, whose friendly demeanour on the hit BBC series in 2014 endeared her to the hearts of the nation.

“When The Great British Bake Off first came out, people knew where they had seen me,” Makan explains during our meeting in a bar in London’s King’s Cross.

“Now they just say they know me, so yes, life has changed.”

This year, she has been busy creating recipes for her new book Chai, Chaat & Chutney: A Street Food Journey Through India.

It is packed with tantalising images and easy to follow recipes for sticky Bombay chicken, spicy kachoris, and comforting bean and potato stews along with sweets including pistachio kulfi and traditional road side drinks.

Makan, who was born in Jabalpur in central India, travelled to Mumbai, Kolkata, Delhi and Chennai to seek inspiration for her new recipes.

Chetna Makan Photo Nassima Rothacker and Keith James

They are divided into sections from each region and the acclaimed cook offers personal
stories and explanations on specific traditions and techniques of each area.

Makan told Eastern Eye when she finished The Cardamom Trail, her first book which was a celebration of baking with Indian flavours, she knew she wanted to explore India’s diverse street food dishes in her next venture.

“There was no humming and ha’ing; I knew I had to do it because living in Mumbai away from home, I relied quite a lot on street food.

“I was there for nine years, I used to have my lunch and dinners outside, get things packed and I relied heavily on it. It’s so cheap, and fresh, it’s quite a lifeline to a lot of people.

“I thought I really want to do this, there are lots of books out there but none are specifically on Indian street food. Everyone knows that Indian street food is massive if they have tasted it or not.

“People can tell there is more to Indian food than just curry, and it is for them to try it themselves and see how easy and tasty it is.”

Makan, who lives in Kent, said she was inspired to create dishes for people who, like
herself, don’t have easy access to the range of spices available in Indian supermarkets.

During her time in Mumbai, she worked as a fashion designer after graduating and moved to the UK in 2003 with her husband, who works as a GP.

Following her appearance on the baking contest, she launched her popular YouTube
Channel Food with Chetna, which often features her young son and daughter tasting their way through her creations.

Makan has built up a loyal army of followers who send her feedback on her videos and pictures of her cakes and dishes they have cooked at home.

Her children love being in the kitchen with her, and her career has meant they have had to be experimental with food and are much more adventurous than their friends when it comes to trying new things.

When she visited India researching her latest recipes, Makan noticed that although the food scene had drastically changed since she was living there, the street food on offer and how it was being prepared and served remained unchanged.

“Now people want to go and eat Italian and Mexican food and all the restaurants people talk about which are popular are not Indian food.”

Her love affair with baking started when she was a youngster. “I’ve looked cooking even from when I was little. My mum bakes, she still has a round portable oven which she just plugs in.

“She would make us birthday cakes and when I was older I would make all our birthday cakes, that’s how it all started,” Makan said.

This summer, Makan’s diary is jampacked with a series of supper clubs and food festivals.

Chai, Chaat & Chutney by Chetna Makan is published by Mitchell Beazley, £20