As the table is laid with an assortment of dishes—Waldorf salad, jambalaya, fried okra and apple pie, to name a few—the music system blares with tunes such as ‘Come on let’s twist again’, ‘Blame it on Bossa Nova’, ‘Stupid-cupid’. This is American-themed lunch created by a mother, based out of Noida for her Little One. It’s part of her endeavour to bring the world home for her seven-year-old daughter. In the past, the very same table has groaned under the weight of dishes from Korea, Vietnam, Russia, France, Indonesia, and, of course, India. It all started during the lockdown, when author Madhulika Liddle, known for her historical thrillers like The Englishman's Cameo featuring the famous Muzzafar Jang, wanted to break the monotony of the days spent cloistered at home for her her family, especially her young daughter.
A hotel management graduate and an adventurous food enthusiast, Liddle got the idea for what she calls ‘lockdown lunches’, or thoughtfully-themed parties for her family during the early part of 2020, when all parents saw their kids stay indoors for almost the whole year, sans friends, school, or routine. And more often than not, the hassled families were bribing their kids with toys, favourite foods or unlimited screen time just to put a stop to the never-ending litany of ‘I’m so bored’.
The pandemic-ennui hit Liddle’s household just as badly. Habituated to trying out new eateries every weekend, the forced isolation was tough for them too. However, she used this as an opportunity to dream up the lockdown lunches which gave.
In May 2020, Liddle was about to make her traditional cherry clafoutis and thought, "Why not do an entire three-course French meal?" This led to the author trying to simulate a restaurant—with French music playing, dressing up as if they were going out. Her young daughter, she says, “took to the idea like fish to water” and she immediately got busy picking out an appropriate outfit. She even brought Jean Pierre, a teddy-bear from Paris, as her ‘dancing companion’! The whole evening was a merry mix of French food, music and dancing. The added bonus was that the little one learnt a couple of French words too.
However, instruction or education was never on this mom’s agenda. Rather, her one-point programme was to beat the boredom of the lockdown, and to have fun at a time when regular outings were severely restricted.
France was the start to these unique ‘trips’ for this family to many more countries, and cultures. Super-excited about these lunches, her daughter would sometimes even suggest countries as themes for the lunches. Her interest lies in music and dancing, which is one of the reasons that she enjoyed the Kenyan and American parties the most. But when asked which one was her most favourite, she chirped that it was an Indian-themed party.
Interestingly, these lunches are very much a family enterprise. Liddle’s husband spends a considerable chunk of time curating the play-lists that their daughter could dance to, and the daughter is allowed to mix in the cake-batter or pound ingredients together.
Easy on the eye as they appear in the pictures, these lunches are not off-the-cuff. Liddle spends considerable time researching the food of the chosen country. The menu, while faithful to the original cuisines as much as possible, is decided around the availability of ingredients. Sometimes it needs some tweaks and logical substitutions such as “thyme instead of bay leaves, Mexican chorizo instead of Andouille sausage, goat meat instead of lamb.”
With these lunches, Liddle seems to have nailed the most crucial ingredient of parenting—having fun. Madhulika says quite categorically that all the ‘learning’ hence, is the by-product of having unadulterated fun. And when you think about it, isn’t play always the best way to learn? In this way, she is not just introducing her daughter to the world, but is building beautiful lasting memories for the whole family. While many kids will remember 2020 with distaste, this Little One will remember the same year as the year when the world came to her home.