28 Dec 2023 8:22 AM GMT


Wild chase for ripe papayas to serve Indira Gandhi, guests, a chef 's recounts


wild chase for ripe papayas to serve indira gandhi, guests, a chef  recounts


It was a "uniquely Indian, very local" battle that he and his team at Taj Goa were fighting, Arora writes.

New Delhi: The papayas from Mumbai were too squishy, the chef raced through the streets of Goa in a police jeep to look for fruit ripened just right only to have security personnel puncture many a hole through them… a new book recalls in detail the struggle to procure and plate perfect papayas for Indira Gandhi during a CHOGM meeting in 1983.

The then prime minister’s demand for the humble papaya for breakfast during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting retreat sent the entire Taj Hotel into a tizzy, chef Satish Arora recounts in his book "Sweets and Bitters: Tales from a Chef's Life".

It was a "uniquely Indian, very local" battle that he and his team at Taj Goa were fighting, Arora writes.

It was November 1983 and the late Gandhi was hosting high-profile leaders from more than 40 countries for a 48-hour retreat that was aiming to put Goa on the world tourism map.

There was a flurry of activity -- roads were widened, jetties and bridges built, street lights revamped and the airport overhauled. And at the centre of it all was the hotel, preparing vast buffets with more than a hundred dishes. In the midst of the frantic activity came the brief that Gandhi wanted papaya for breakfast every day.

"Where on earth would we get so many naturally ripened papayas in Goa at that time of the year? Anticipating a lack of consistently good papayas in November, I had arranged for raw papayas to be brought in from Bombay and had wrapped them in paper to hasten the ripening the process," Arora, who had a five-decade stint at the Taj kitchens in Mumbai, says in the book.

As fate would have it, on the very first day of service, the person in-charge of the papayas left a couple of pieces a little too long in the paper and they turned squishy.

Down to the last pieces of papaya, the staff was told that Indira Gandhi and her special guests were about to step in for breakfast.

The "panic" in the kitchen was apparent.

"There was no way I would serve overly ripe, soggy papaya to our PM, and that too without any presentation value. I was in tears!" narrates the chef.

What followed was an epic chase to procure ripe papayas -- that too in a police jeep escorted by men in uniform.

"A police jeep was arranged for me to be whisked off to the nearest market to look for ripe papayas. I got lucky and picked up a dozen pieces of fruit. I felt like a warlord travelling in a police jeep, being escorted by men in uniform, whizzing past the villagers with my twelve papayas in tow," he recounts.

However, according to the book, procuring papayas was only half the battle as the hotel security and members of the Special Protection Group stopped Arora from entering the hotel.

"No amount of explaining, begging and pleading would help us get the papayas past them. Finally, they agreed to let the papayas through after making holes in each of them to check for explosives. I was disappointed, but we used our skills to manage anyhow, and that final result was rewarding and of course relieving," he adds.

Published by Bloomsbury India, "Sweets and Bitters", priced at Rs 599, offers delicious peeks into the most well-guarded food secrets of celebrities and heads of states, and in the process memorialises culinary milestones in India.