Of hams and jams and travel-weary tummies…

My first trip abroad. First plane ride. Flying from Mumbai to Geneva en route to Algeria to join my parents who are there for a few months on work. The agent who’s booked my tickets has forgotten to specify a vegetarian meal and Swissair had nothing to offer me beyond a bun! On a ten- hour flight, to make do with a bun when you’re fifteen years old is rather much and by the time I landed in Geneva in the middle of the night, I was ravenously hungry.

With an overnight wait at a hotel before catching the next flight, I found a restaurant still open and  went in. Unfortunately, this was Geneva and the waitress spoke only French, of which I had a smattering from school and German of which I had no clue at that time. But in the middle of the night, after a long and food-less flight, French was the last thing on my mind. I managed to get across enough to tell her I was hungry and she asked me if I wanted a sandwich. The word for sandwich being the same in English and any other lingo in the world, I had no problem with nodding an “oui”. Then she asked me something which sounded like “jam” so i nodded again – yes, a jam sandwich would be perfect! She quickly got me a plate of sandwiches and threw in a glass of hot milk for good measure. Gulped the milk down as I was hungry, very hungry…

 …and then bit into the sandwich. A couple of bites and it suddenly struck me that this thing I was eating was salty and that jam couldn’t be salty! So I opened the sandwich to find a pink slice of some meaty thingummy – what she’d asked me was did I want a ham sandwich (jambon) and I had heard it as jam! Quickly spitting it out, I ran to my room and gorged myself on chocolate which I’d picked up at the airport shop and went to bed almost as hungry as when I’d landed. A few hours of sleep, another flight, a long car ride home before I finally got food left me wondering whether I should just have eaten the ham sandwich – hunger is difficult at any age but particularly cruel on teenage tummies!

Now I am particularly careful when I ask for food – like today at a wedding when they were serving “mumble-mumble kababs” (I think as I grow older, people seem to mumble more!) and I had to ask him three times before I figured out that they were green plantain and basil kababs! 


  • Green plantains (the fat short variety rather than the long sticky variety) – 2
  • Basil leaves – shredded – 2 tbsp
  • Green chili – 2-3
  • Salt
  • Lemon juice – 1 tsp
  • Oil to brush
  • Kabab sticks for spearing

Cut the green plantains in half widthwise and steam for 10-12 minutes. Remove peel and grate.

Mix in the other ingredients and shape into kababs on sticks. Grill or shallow fry on a tava turning around till golden on all sides – about 6-7 minutes. Serve with mint chutney.