For the one year that I have lived in India, I have not missed home-food so much. Sometimes, as a French person, I miss bread and cheese. Or as a Portuguese person, I will miss my grandma cooked-with-love Lusitanian dish. But I never felt the urge to eat so much, I got along fine with Indian food – yes, even with the spices!
However, one thing that I did miss was hosting my friends and family around food that my grandma and her grandkids would have cooked. As a Portuguese family, we love to meet and enjoy good food. And since our childhood, my cousins, sister and I love to the utmost, making and eating what we call ‘afilojes’. For French people, or people who know about French food, it is called a “bugnes”, and would be a relative of a doughnut.
When we were kids – and actually, still nowadays, my cousins, sister and I used to love helping my grandma making the afilojes. For that we would gather in the kitchen, surround my grandma in front of her big old bowl and help her pouring the ingredients while she is kneading the dough with her hand. That is not the funniest part, except when we were all trying to eat small pieces of the dough on her back. That scene is a forever lasting one. Everybody in the family love to eat the dough before cooking it, and even though everybody knows that we are going to sneak some to eat, my grandma will always have the same reaction as “why are you doing that”, “stop eating the dough we won’t have enough left for the afilojes!”. It became more than a game between us, which one of us is going to eat the most behind my grandma’s back, and who is going to be shouted at the most when she realises what happened!
After letting the dough rise and rest, we come back some one or two hours later to prepare the afilojes. For that we divide the big dough in several smaller ones, that we will roll out with a pastry pin. Then, fun begins. Once your dough flattened, you need to cut it vertically and horizontally in order to have small squares. In each square you are going to make one small hole – basically just a scratch with the knife.
After that, you need to take one side of the square and put it inside the small hole, it has to be a certain shape (pictured further below).
Then, what my grandma hates us to do but that we really love is that we need to take the dough with the good shape to the place we are going to fry them. And I do not know if you have a Mediterranean grandma*, or friend who had, but usually you have the main kitchen inside the house and one “summer kitchen” on the basement – which is closer to the garden. And, as lots of grandmas do… You end up never using the “real” kitchen because every time that they cook they think that “oh no it’s going to smell, will cook downstairs so that the smell doesn’t go in the house”. So, basically, we needed to go from the ground floor to the basement with all the dough… On our arms! That part is the best part, because on the ground floor you will have my grandfather and my mother helping us loading our dough to go downstairs. Then you have to be focused on your mission: do not make them fall! And finally handed them to my grandma… who will moan that is not hygienic and then dip them in the oil, telling us again “you’re lucky that the oil will destroy the bacteria you’ve put in!”.
Don’t get me wrong, my grandma is not (always) moaning for nothing. As I said, it is kind of part of the tradition and with the years, I think that she also took that role because it has been here forever and every one of us cherish this moment. Of course, best past is when we start eating our treasures. It will be our last meal of the day, around snack time. We will all gather around the table, with hot cocoa or coffee, trying to eat as much afilojes as we can. Annoying each other with whom at the most iced sugar afilojes, or the one who had the biggest.
Being able to share this moment with the girls at Baale Mane was really moving for me. I could see them help as I used to help my grandma and mother and enjoying the fact that they were learning a new recipe and way of baking. I was more than happy to be able to transmit that part of my heritage with them, as it is a moment my family and I always love spending together. It was also very funny to be in the kitchen and making something that the cook did not know. Everybody came and ask me what we were doing and how we were doing it. S also used that time to make fun of me, because I did not know where the kitchen utensils were and I kept asking her where to find them. At the end before I could ask she friendly mocking me by imitating me asking “auntie where is… and what is… and do you have… and and and”.
Anyway, the experience was wonderful, the only disappointment was that my dough never rose, so the afiloje were really crispy instead of perfectly smooth. Yes, it made me been a drama queen in the kitchen, moaning a lot on how disgraced my family would feel if they could see that – of course, they would not do that, but it was kind of a shame that it did not taste the way I love them.
Either way, the girls loved them! And told me that they taste just like Indian sweets too, so there you go.
*of course, maybe it’s not true for every Mediterranean grandma, but I could relate with lots of my friends, and Portuguese kitchen is made with lots of oil, so the basement kitchen helps to keep things away from the smell and stains of oil.
As told and photographed by Morgane F