I was very skinny as a child, in fact, I looked pretty much like a beanpole until I left school. My mum went to see the doctor and I was given tablets to help my appetite. But they didn’t change anything and I had to pretend they helped.
Mum has an incredible knowledge Indian food and I grew up with her cooking a real variety it. I had a really sweet tooth and still do. My dad watched a TV programme called A Spoonful Sugar and he would give me spoonfuls sugar, saying they were good for me.
My dad worked in the oil industry. All he cooked was pancakes, when my mother was ill. When she was in hospital with tuberculosis, he made us pancakes – excellent ones – for bloody ages.
I was bullied ten, from the age five. It became every day. I was called “curry face” most the time. I think it was a reference to the idea, in their mind, that you’re constantly eating curry. I was attacked a lot physically, kicked on the floor. I had my head stamped on several times. It especially happened when I walked from the tuck shop. Things I’d bought would be stolen f me.
At Hertfordshire University, where I studied accountancy and where Sanj actor Sanjeev Bhaskar] and I formed the Bhaji Boys aka the Secret Asians, we would go to a Chinese restaurant and dare each other to eat the most food. We’d pile up mountains on our plates and have a Mexican stand-f, a real Cool Hand Luke situation. We were fairly evenly matched in our intake and agony afterwards.
I go quite regularly to a spa retreat called Vana in Dehradun in India to detoxify. It’s near the foothills the Himalayas. The man who owns it is an organic farmer. So apart from the ayurvedic medicine, the traditional Chinese medicine and the Tibetan healing, we get to taste amazing macrobiotic food every day.
That’s me in Goodness Gracious Me’s “Let’s go for an English” sketch Sawhney wrote for and acted in the show]. We did it on radio but when it went on television this cab driver turned to me and said: “I saw you last night and I have to say it made me think.” Later I went to a Chinese restaurant and a whole group were playing out the sketch, but with Chinese food. I was sat listening on the next table as they bantered and adopted my lines. It was extraordinary.
What has a salad been washed in before you eat it? For my luxury item on Desert Island Discs I wanted a desalinating bottle. I first came across it in a Ted Talk, when a guy put this filtration bottle into sewage water and then sprayed fresh water into a drinking glass. It’s very expensive to make, but if mass production could bring the cost down and if everyone in certain parts the world had one, think the future.
I ten judge people on how they treat waiting staff. People who are serving you are in a position vulnerability and you need to respect them. If you can’t do that, I’ll conclude that you’re most likely an arsehole.
Paul McCartney walked into my bedroom when we were working together, and said: “I wrote a song called Scrambled Eggs in a room quite like this, but then it changed into another lyric.” He picked up an acoustic guitar and sang Yesterday. At the end Paul’s garden, out in the woods really, he has a bar. He makes a great margarita.
If I’m in LA I have to go, just by the sea, to Nobu in Malibu. It’s one the most beautiful places. If I’m in Turkey, I love going to the tea gardens. If I’m in New Zealand, I can live f manuka honey with crackers and little things. I love the food in Japan, obviously. And if I return to London from anywhere Middle Eastern, where I’m very fond the food, I end up on Edgware Road eating falafel, just to keep that taste on the tongue.
I’ve recently written a sitcom and there’s food in there. In fact, food big time. I will and can only say that carrots appear ten.
My favourite things
The pear. There’s a lot fibre in there. Each morning I’m thinking, “Pears are very good for my system.” I could also say mushrooms. People underestimate how many nutrients they contain.
Dish To Make
I panic if I have to make someone a meal. But it will probably be a salad with lots nuts and healthy greens, with a nice balsamic vinegar. And a really nice oil – possibly truffle oil with truffle balsamic vinegar.
Dishoom in King’s Cross, north London, is especially amazing, like going to an Iranian cafe in Bombay in the 1920s. I took my mother on her 80th birthday. She loved it.
Nitin Sawhney performs Beyond Skin Revisited at the Royal Albert Hall on 26 September.