Actor and producer Vijay Babu is a self-confessed foodie who enjoys cooking and serving delicious food to everyone. There was a kitchen right beside Vijay’s first office, where he engaged not only with great stories and scripts but experimented with mouth-watering flavours too. He wouldn’t hesitate to invite those who come to narrate a story to peel an onion or cut some veggies. In case the story is unappealing, then the producer could easily concentrate on his cooking. Vijay is thrilled to share his favourite food memories and also a few health and fitness tips with the readers of Manorama Online.
Vijay’s friends who know about his love for cooking often ask him the menu for the day and purchase the ingredients whenever they visit him. Last year, during the first wave of the pandemic, Vijay had visited his dear friend Jayasurya and the duo had cooked delicious biryani.
“I really enjoy cooking and eating biryani. I mostly cook mutton biryani. I have no idea whether I got this love for mutton as I hail from Kollam. I don’t usually add artificial ingredients in biryani. Neither do I add chilli powder or coriander powder. I like making a simple biryani using fresh ingredients like green chillies and ginger and freshly ground garam masala. The biryani is then cooked on dum. I like experimenting with flavours and ingredients too. Palak or green spinach is lightly roasted before grinding it to paste along with coriander leaves and bird eye chillies. This paste is added with cooked meat before putting the biryani on dum. The paste, however, should be finely ground and it should be layered in the biryani. This method adds a special flavour and aroma to the biryani,” explains Vijay.
After completing his school education, Vijay Babu had left Kerala to pursue higher studies. He started cooking his own meals as he didn’t have the money to eat outside. Gradually, he began enjoying cooking. Vijay says he even relies on cooking whenever he is stressed. According to him, cooking is a great stress buster and is the best way to relax. “My wife Smitha cooks excellent vegetarian dishes. So I don’t usually compete with her. But, I will be in the kitchen whenever non-vegetarian dishes are cooked,” says Vijay.
While most people like watching songs or comedy videos on Youtube, Vijay says, he enjoys watching cooking shows. He is interested in trying out the different flavours and cuisines like the Punjabi, Mugalai and Afghani that he watches in those videos. “The unique spices that they use might not be available here. However, I still like to try them out, using ingredients that are similar to that. I have made a couple of fusion items using noodles. Similarly, trying out different fish dishes, especially using prawns, is my favourite hobby,” notes the actor.
Vijay even shares the recipe of his favourite butter garlic prawns fry. The actor assures that the dish tastes fabulous even though it is made using very few ingredients. Heat some butter in a pan and then sauté garlic. Add pepper powder and cleaned prawns into it. Add salt as required. The dish would be ready in less than seven minutes. Make sure that the prawns are fresh; only then would you get the real flavour.
Food journey to Punjab
Vijay has become an ardent fan of the Lebanese dishes that he had tried when he was working in Dubai. He observes that Mexican and Lebanese cuisine have many similarities when it comes to flavours. He also enjoys the Chettinad dishes and the special biryanis of Madurai. “I really like authentic Punjabi food. I have even travelled to Punjab just to eat. I wouldn’t go to any three or five-star hotels there, but to the local eateries. I haven’t been to Lucknow, which is touted as a major food hub. I had been planning to visit Lucknow just to enjoy its unique flavours. However, it hasn’t happened yet. Meanwhile, I have been to Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Mangaluru, Goa and Punjab and tasted the delicious food there. As I worked in Dubai I got the chance to try almost all cuisines. I usually find out the places and visit those areas to enjoy the authentic taste of the food that I had already eaten. Though these journeys may distress my companions, they would forget everything when they enjoy great food,” says Vijay.
Vijay has an interesting tip for the foodies who like to travel for food. He says that it is not wise to travel only for the taste as you tend to overeat if the dishes are extremely delicious. His body weight shot up to 104 kilos in 2010. Vijay says his unapologetic love for good food was the only reason for his drastic weight gain. “I realized that I should be alive for some more time in order to try every food. Now, I cook small portions of food. If I am cooking biryani, I make it in small portions and eat only three spoons. You have to be a bit health conscious and not just a lover of taste,” advises Vijay.
No to crash diet
It took around two years for Vijay to reduce his weight. Vijay is not someone who encourages crash diets or fad diets. “All of us have a pattern of eating which shouldn’t be broken. There may be vitamin deficiency when a particular pattern that has been going on in the body is broken. This may cause many health problems. I reduced my body weight by cutting down the portions. I ate everything that I liked but in small portions. I also worked out regularly,” says Vijay.
Vijay recalls an incident with actor Mammootty, in an aeroplane, where the duo had shared some diet tips. He told Mammootty that he enjoyed mutton very much but couldn’t eat it anymore as the former was trying to lose weight. Mammootty, however, said it was alright to have mutton if it is cooked properly. He asked Vijay how many whistles would he have when he pressure cooks mutton. Vijay replied that he preferred five whistles for his mutton. Mammootty then asked Vijay to try cooking it until nine whistles. However, Vijay was doubtful whether the mutton would get overcooked. The screen icon assured that mutton would not be overcooked if cooked until nine whistles. He also advised Vijay to use less oil while cooking. Mammootty said he cooks his mutton like this, which is a very healthy way of cooking.
“I had tried this method and it worked really well. Mutton is something that is prescribed even by Ayurveda. It is alright to eat mutton if it is cooked in the right way. Now, my body weight is just 75 kilos,” the producer says.
Vijay who is currently undergoing an ayurvedic treatment regime says, “The treatment is done at my house itself. The vaidyar (ayurvedic physician) from Peringod comes to my house to do the thirummal treatment (unique massaging). I have to follow a strict diet while I am undergoing this treatment. So, I am currently following a vegetarian diet. I had filmed a movie during the last lockdown period. Out of the 365 days last year, I was out for around 300 days. I used to eat lots of fast food then and had many late-night meals too. So, I have decided to undergo this treatment as a means to detox. I do this every year. It is vital to take care of our health as much as possible.”
Vijay advises that most of our health-related problems could be resolved if you have dinner by 7.30 or 8 pm. Any diet would instruct you to have dinner before 7.30 pm. According to Vijay, having a late dinner is the major reason for many health problems. His next tip is to not skip breakfast, no matter how busy you are. He also advises to have small portions of food for lunch and avoid afternoon naps, especially immediately after eating. Having a lighter lunch would make you hungry earlier than usual and you could easily have an early dinner. “Salads have to be included in your regular diet. It is better to avoid tea and coffee. When I started dieting, I replaced my regular lunch items with just fruits. So, I would be hungry by 5.30 pm and have dinner by 6.30 pm. It is vital that we plan our meals to suit our taste and preferences,” says Vijay.
Life of a foodie in Dubai
Vijay had worked for a few years in Dubai as the head of a television channel. He attributes his Dubai life to his weight gain. “I would never observe fast during the holy month of Ramadan. But I would always make it to the iftars with my friends. I enjoy hearty meals with them and then have my regular meals during the day. I had double ‘doses’ of food and gained lots of weight. I was in Dubai for around eight years. It was after returning to Kerala that I wished to act in movies. When I used to go to the sets to do minor roles, I often saw actors of my age who are fit and healthy. That was when I began to get bothered about my weight. One day, filmmaker Lal Jose called me and said that he would cast me in his next movie if I lose weight. I began thinking about such a transformation only when I realized that I could actually make it in the movies,” says Vijay.
Vijay Babu is currently busy with the post-production works of three movies. He also has plans to open a chain of restaurants. However, Vijay says he has set this dream aside for a while owing to the worsening pandemic situation.