Presented by Nautanki Bazaar
Stories of a Dish is an anecdotal, one-person show that suggests food is an easy gateway to human connection. Written and Performed by Himanshu Sitlani and Directed by Neha Poduval, this presentation is part of Next Stage Festival’s Digital On-Demand Series.
Himanshu immediately puts you off-guard with his homey, quiet charm. His humour can be a little dad-jokey, but it certainly works for him. His first truly hilarious moment comes early, on the tail of an opening five-minute speech about the magic of food which concludes quite abruptly—a genuine surprise and perfectly timed.
At the height of lockdown, he finds himself isolated and without access to the restaurants he would frequent. After some disheartening experiences with frozen dinners and burnt eggs, he decides, as a lover of food, that he must learn to cook.
The dishes he shares with us are not extravagant concoctions. Cheap and easy DIY hybrids—instant noodles with some fresh, simple additions. Indian street vendor food figures prominently. His talk of train food trolleys gave me nostalgia pangs from my time spent in Southern India in the summer of 1999.
Some highlights include: Conversations with his mother and grandmother who are fighting an aggressive campaign to get him married off. Some surprise background info on the history of butter chicken. This hilarious piece of advice—“Do not ever separate an Indian from their onions.” Also, his professed birthday dish, pav bhaji (sautéed vegetables served with bread), sounds like an absolute dream and I’m excited to try making it myself.
While most of the anecdotes are light, the incident with a racist landlord bullying his family over the smell of Indian cooking is truly upsetting. The absurd cruelty and ignorance is what feels so deeply appalling.
The presentation is somewhat mundane—upbeat, royalty-free music and static camera set-ups of Sitlani in casual clothes talking to the camera. This isn’t particularly stylish or inventive, but Stories of a Dish does maintain a consistently casual atmosphere that feels natural and inviting.