When I book a family holiday it’s all about what we can eat. I think it’s the same for lots of people, especially these days. We’ve been eating since the beginning of time, but now I think food is more important than ever – it’s not just our fuel, it’s part of our mental health and well-being too.
We always went to Bangladesh for our holidays when I was a child. It was the same for everyone I knew – we all went to see family in India, Pakistan or Bangladesh. I used to think it was annoying, but when I grew up and had children of my own I realised how important it was. You can’t get any more immersed in local culture than in a rural village in Bangladesh.
My grandad was a rice farmer and grew pink rice, which isn’t readily available any more. I remember saying to my dad, “I can’t eat this.” His reply was a firm, “You’ll eat what you’re given.” It tasted a little like red rice, but more like brown rice. It’s absolutely beautiful and part of me wants to go and bring it back from the few villages that still grow it. I’d pay good money to eat some of that pink rice now.
On one of those holidays, my father sneaked me into the village market where girls didn’t usually go. All the men were drinking sweet tea and eating lentil pakoras, which came wrapped in a bit of greasy newspaper. They were the best thing ever. No matter what I do, I can’t recreate that taste; because it’s not just the taste – it’s the smells and the sounds and being an 11-year-old girl with my dad.
When I’m away with my family now we usually end up eating delicious seafood or vegetarian food. On a recent trip to the Portuguese coast, there were fish and prawns literally coming off the boat into the restaurant. We ate prawns for 10 days straight, cooked with just olive oil, garlic and a few chilli flakes. Cooking things simply is wonderful. Having grown up in a house where a curry could take hours, I find it incredible to eat something that cooks in minutes.
Today, family breaks are special because they are the main opportunity we get to spend quality time together. Food is such a big part of that. I’m lucky because my children are quite adventurous eaters. Part of me wants to go on holiday somewhere where they’ll say they don’t like the look of what’s on offer, because I’d like the challenge.
It’s difficult to choose, but my favourite food memory from filming The Chronicles of Nadiya is probably eating the little coconut samosas that I used to have when I was a child. It was lovely to give a new lease of life to something that my grandma cooked for me. So much of the enjoyment of cooking and eating is about sharing your experiences.
Nadiya Hussain is a chef, author and winner of 2015’s Great British Bake Off. Her first picture book My Monster and Me (Hodder Children’s Books) is out now.