“Every corner of India has its own kind of food,” Meet Chetna Makan

There have been so many brilliant Bake Off contestants it’s hard to pick a favourite but we freely admit, Chetna Makan always stood out for us. Her use of flavour combined with the kind of personality that shone through TV cakes made her one of our firm favourites from the get-go- that and the fact she made the types of cakes you’d want to have personally delivered to you on the hour, every hour…

Since Bake Off she’s written two books, her latest Chai, Chaat & Chutney covers a culinary journey through India’s incredible Street Food, and started a brilliant Youtube channel documenting a whole lot more than just cakes. 

We sat down with her to find our more about her love of Indian street food, her inspiration for cooking and more about the new book…

So, can we start off with you telling us more about your amazing new book: 

“Basically it’s my journey through Indian street food. I’m very, very fond of Indian street food because when I lived away from home that’s what I used to eat; food from the street and amazing, amazing food from Mumbai.

“So when I had a chance to write another book I wanted to introduce people to the massive, massive variety of Indian street food out there. Many just know a few dishes that are commonly found here, so I wanted to tell them about how it’s so much more and in the book there’s everything. Snacks which you can make quite quickly, full meals which you can make and use them for days. Actually, everything that’s in there you can eat as breakfast or dinner and lots of dishes that you can combine to make huge party meals.”

What were the cities that you decided upon and why?

“Every corner of India has its own kind of food, so I thought I can’t really do justice to it all if I write a general street food book because how could I? So I chose four major cities from north, south, east and west that are remarkable in their food and began there.” 

Chetna Makan Dessert Recipe

What’s your favourite recipes in the book?

“Every chapter I have a few favourite recipes but one of my favourite chapters is Kolkata. Mumbai adapts itself because it’s so metropolitan but Kolkata has its own dishes that aren’t influenced by others, which I found amazing because it’s so strong in its own flavours that it doesn’t need anything else.” 

Why do you think Indian street food is so special?

“I think Indian food is special but I think Indian street food is even more special because it’s not party food or going out food. A lot of people rely on Indian street food in India as part of their everyday meals. Say in Mumbai for instance, a lot people don’t have family there or they live on their own, people don’t take packed lunches, they just go down to the street for all three meals, which is why it’s so unique and different and amazing.

“Even in the middle of the night, at 2am you’ll see food being served like fresh omelettes or buns and stuff. When I was studying and working there sometimes I stayed in places where there wasn’t a kitchen, so really street food is so special to me because I’ve lived on it.”

What do you get inspired by?

“My mum. She’s the kind of person who knows Indian food inside and out but she’s not just happy with that, she so loves to learn. Even now when she comes to visit me, she always walks around with a little note pad. She’ll watch cooking programmes here and she’ll be making notes. She’s such a keen cook and learner and I’ve always seen that with her so I’ve always loved cooking.”

What made you start baking?

“When I came here I started with baking because when I had kids I wanted to make birthday cakes for them because although my mum didn’t bake loads, we always made cakes at home. Then I started to learn everything for Bake Off. I’d never made choux pastry, I’d never made a pie, I’d never made so many things. Now I can make choux pastry in my sleep…”

Masala Chai recipe

Whats your staple at home meal? 

“I always start Monday with lentils, which is Tarka dahl chappatis because I feel right if the week starts with lentils. We do eat a lot of Indian food; it’s not intentional but that’s the quickest, I don’t have to think about it, I don’t have to check anything, it’s just in the flow of things, the kids love it and it’s so healthy.

“But we also eat a lot of past and pizzas, especially with this weather…”

What’s your kitchen essentials?

“Not much actually, my spice box is quite essential, even if I don’t have my extra spices, the spice box has got the basic spices which I need to cook absolutely any kind of meal. These are salt, chilli, turmeric, ground coriander, cumin seeds & mustard seeds. Then my electric whisk, I just cannot do without my electric whisk. Not anything fancy, just the standard hand-held, cheap electric whisk. And the last thing is my board on which you roll the flat breads, I use it every, single day.”

Whats the future plans after the book?

“I don’t know, I’m really focused on the Youtube channel, I’m doing a lot of collaborations which I’m really excited about, with people who don’t even have a Youtube channel necessarily, I’ve had a couple of my friends showing me all kinds of different food.

“Usually Youtube collaborations is one Youtuber collaborating with another but I think I‘ve reached a point where I’m happy to just have people who just have something really nice to show and share on with me. I put a video out with lovely woman, Alissa Timoshinka, who showed me how to make Russian pancakes – we did a sweet and a savoury version for later on and actually people responded really well to that.”

Who do you think are doing amazing things in London or who would you want to work with in food?

“I’d love to go into the kitchen wth Honey & Co, or Dishoom and something with Bread Ahead, they’re doing such amazing things.”

Whats your favourite places in London to eat out? 

“I love Dishoom. I have to say, there’s been so many places that I haven’t been able to go to yet, because I don’t have much time to hang around in London. I love Duck & Waffle’s breakfast, it’s always spot on, everything is amazing and donuts from Bread Ahead, seriously those things are devilish, what does he do to them? It feels like it’s just out of the fryer, they are the best, absolutely amazing.”

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Maria Bell is a photographer and editor from the Isle of Wight. Talk to her about food and/or photog...


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Image credit: Keith James