A tribute to Raghavan Iyer, an icon of Indian cuisine: NPR

Raghavan Iyer, the chef who did so much to popularize Indian cuisine in the US, has died after years of cancer treatment. He released his latest book, On the Currie Trail, a few months ago.


Raghavan Iyer, the chef who did so much to popularize Indian cuisine in the US, has died after years of cancer treatment. He released his latest book, On the Curry Trail: Pursuing the Flavor That Seduced the World, just a few months ago. And our co-host Ari Shapiro talked to him about that then, and his experience with the disease that led him to launch a new project about revitalizing foods, comfort foods that heal.

RAGAVAN IYER: You’re looking at cultures that inherently have foods that the West hasn’t embraced in terms of its medicinal scope. I look at dishes like pho, for example, from Vietnam and…

ARI SHAPIRO, AUTHOR: Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup. Yes

IYER: And then you look at, you know, blond, for example, which is a tamarind broth from South India. And so, I feel like these are all such important tools in fighting this regiment that we have in a body that is regulated by disease. And so I feel like it’s one of the best things you can arm yourself with.

SHAPIRO: I don’t want you to publicly embarrass a medical professional, but what was the food your doctor told you to eat in recovery that made you say, are you kidding me? Are you a medical expert?

IYER: (Laughter) He came from a good place. And he said, you know, how about tomato soup? So when I called the hospital cafeteria, which is horrible, and ordered tomato soup. And I know – I’m vegetarian too, so I said, can you tell me if the soup is vegetarian based? And she goes, wait. Let me look at the can of Campbell’s soup.

SHAPIRO: Campbell’s Soup Can.

IYER: Yes. It’s like, oh my God, I’m in this. So…

SHAPIRO: And in the meantime, what was the recovery food that you were really craving?

IYER: Idlies, my childhood food, which is – it’s steamed fermented lentil rice cakes. And they’re comforting, and they’re tender, and I just (cough) love it. And it became one of those iconic foods that helped me regain at least 20 of the 30 pounds I lost.

SHAPIRO: Do you want to take a moment, or are you okay?

IYER: I’m fine.

SHAPIRO: Do you want a drink of water? OK.

IYER: Yes, yes. I am fine.

SHAPIRO: Well, this is a question I’ve never asked guests in 20 years of doing interviews, and I hope you don’t take it the wrong way. But as someone who has built his life around food and who sees the end approaching, have you decided what you want served at your funeral?

IYER: Yes.

SHAPIRO: You have. what is the menu

IYER: Oh my gosh, all the Bombay street food, food that I grew up with. And…

SHAPIRO: Can you tell us a few things that are on the menu that you’ve put together?

IYER: One is comfort food, and we’ve always called it a grown-up savory cereal. It’s rice puffs and crispy chickpea flour noodles with unripe mango and potatoes and black salt. I have another one that is like a potato pate with vegetables on a slice of bread, which is then spread with a ton of butter and you fry the slices of bread in a pan. And, you know, and – Ari, you know, you’re making me starve.


SHAPIRO: Well, I can’t think of a better tribute to you than for people to eat well and think of you while they’re doing it.

IYER: Well, thank you very much.

SUMMERS: Raghavan Iyer. He died on March 31, 2023. We reached out to his publicist, who told us that a celebration is planned next month to honor Iyer’s memory, and that everyone will enjoy the delicious comfort foods that Iyer loved so much.


Copyright © 2023 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our Terms of Use and Permissions pages at www.npr.org for additional information.

NPR transcripts are created on an urgent deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be final and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The fiduciary record of NPR programming is the audio recording.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *