Madhur Jaffrey: 'I have two coffee grinders – one for my coffee, one for my spices'


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My earliest food memory… I feel as though I remember my very first taste because I've heard about it so often. I was born at home, a rather large house by a river in Delhi, and when a child was born in our family, my grandmother would come in and write "Om" on our tongues with honey.

I'm supposed to have opened my mouth again because I wanted more immediately. But I suppose I can't really remember that, so it's probably the taste and sensation of climbing a mango tree when I was three years old. I remember pulling off a green mango that was really sour but eating it anyway.

My store-cupboard essentials… Because I cook everything – Indian, Thai, Italian, French, Japanese – my cupboard is absolutely groaning with stuff. Things always fall out when I open the door. For Indian food there will always be cumin, coriander, tumeric and dried red chillies. I'll also have tinned tomatoes, pastas of all sorts, beans and split peas, basmati rice, peppercorns, dried mushrooms, soy sauces, good oils. It's all stacked in there.

My favourite cookbook… Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. I love Italian food and I always turn to Marcella's book when I have a craving for it.

The kitchen gadget I can't live without… I have two coffee grinders – one for coffee, one for my spices. It's perfect for grinding them quickly and easily. I always buy spices whole, as you can store them longer.

My top culinary tip… Read a new recipe very carefully, maybe even twice through, before you even go shopping. Sometimes they mention things you haven't got or you bring the ingredients out in the wrong order and then you burn something.

My dream dining companion… Probably my husband, because he loves his food and wine. When we cook together at home we always chat about the food before, during and after.

My favourite food shop… I live in New York and there's a shop near me called Citarella, which is one of the few shops which has very good-quality fish. It also has nice vegetables, fruit, cold meats and olives. My husband and I shop every day, depending on what we feel like eating and what's in season. We eat in a lot – we're not great restaurant-goers.

My desert-island dish… The dessert floating island or île flottante. I love the texture, the taste, the custard at the bottom. It's become old-fashioned but I always look for it on the menu. I can make it myself but it's always better if a nice little French restaurant does it.

My gastronomic guilty pleasure… Anything salty, like chips in all forms and potatoes in very spicy Indian dishes such as chaat.

My comfort food… My favourite meal as a kid was mung split bean dahl and rice and I still love it just as much. But give me a chicken soup with noodles and I'll be in heaven.

The strangest thing I've eaten… I've eaten a lot of strange things but dung grub comes to mind. I was in Thailand with a photographer and I'd been telling him all these stories about how I'd had snake, fruit bat, tadpoles, crickets, and he said, "I bet you haven't had this!" and pointed at the dung grub. He dared me to eat it so I did. It didn't taste very good. A bit like dung, actually. But I liked all the other weird things I've eaten, even fried tadpoles.

My tipple of choice… I love whisky straight up. A nice single malt just goes so nicely down the throat. It's lip-smackingly good.

Madhur Jaffrey is an Indian actress and food writer. Her latest book, 'Curry Nation', is out now (Ebury, £20) and the accompanying TV show is on the Good Food Channel, weeknights at 10pm