My name is Monica and I am the founder of Naasto Baasto, a pop up kitchen based in Bristol, UK.
The name Naasto Baasto derives from a silly habit Gujarati people have with rhyming words, my dada (grandfather) would often do it in conversation. Naasto means snack, baasto was just a made up word to rhyme with it. Don’t ask me why we do this, I honestly have no idea but the playful nature of speaking in occasional rhymes really does put a smile on my face.
Naasto Baasto has been a journey for me, reconnecting with my culture and showcasing what I have learnt from my family. They have had a huge influence on my work, many of the recipes are from generations before. I grew up living with both my parents and grandparents (the houses were across the street from each other). Since I was child I was expected to help out around the house and some of my chores were to help in the kitchen. It started with cleaning, washing up, setting the table and learning how to roll rotlis (chapatis) with my mini velan (rolling pin) & chakla (board) on the dining room table because the countertops were too high for me. Over the years my mum and ba (grandma) taught me to cook more dishes, mostly Gujarati and British favourites (which could be Italian pasta, Greek moussaka etc but all fell under the ‘English food’ bracket for us kids).
When I moved out for university, I continued to cook Gujarati food sporadically, usually when I felt homesick. There were frantic calls to mum if I’d forgotten recipes or dishes didn’t taste right. Our family has never written recipes down, it’s all stored in their heads. They rarely weigh ingredients or have set measurements, it’s all done through sight, taste, smell and intuition. I moved back home between 2012-2015 where I cooked Gujarati food pretty much every night, honing my skills, learning more whilst helping ba and mum. By this point, ba’s health was failing due to a series of strokes and what was initially thought to be Parkinson’s Disease, she eventually got the correct diagnosis of Progressive Supra-nuclear Palsy (PSP). Her balance and mobility (amongst other things) were failing and it became too dangerous for her to be in the kitchen. It crushed her. When we lost ba in 2016, we were distraught. I had this insidious wave of grief where I felt I had no real relationship, connection or memories with her. Everything was erased from my mind. It was extremely traumatic and left me feeling guilty and incredibly isolated. Family members would approach me and talk about my special relationship with ba but it all felt foreign, I felt like a fraud. Until one day, I had a craving for some rotlis and mag nu shaak (pronounced mug noo shack) and I cooked. It was cathartic, I was a crying mess but I felt that connection again. I realised we had an incredible bond, cooking was ‘our thing’. Out of all the grandchildren, it was us that shared this passion, this was her gift to me.
In 2017 I launched my business page, introduced myself, explained the origins of the business name and what I was trying to achieve. At the time my intentions were for it to be a one off supper club; it was cathartic, a path to muddle my way through the grief of losing ba.
In July, with the help of my family and friends, I held my first pop up event and Naasto Baasto was born. I asked mum for photos of our family so we could display them in the restaurant. I wanted people to feel welcomed into our family, to know our story through sight, smell, taste and sound. One photo really stuck out to me, a photo of ba looking beautiful, smiling over a huge pot. Cooking with love, with generational intuition, turning some of the humblest ingredients into something spectacular. Looking at that photo I knew Naasto Baasto would be the ultimate tribute to her, I knew I wanted to pursue this mission of sharing her recipes and food we all loved with as many people as possible. She ignited my passion once again.Since then it has turned into a lot more. A chosen career path that doesn’t feel forced, where I can proudly share the food I grew up with and learnt to cook from an early age.