Local playwright Aditi Kapil is in a unique position: Her new play Agnes Under the Big Top: A Tall Tale will be staged simultaneously next month at Mixed Blood Theater and Long Wharf Theatre in Connecticut. The play, an international fable that takes place on a subway, features characters from around the globe: an Indian call center employee, a Liberian home care worker, and a former Bulgarian ringmaster to name a few. Kapil drew on her own multicultural family for inspiration, which is also where she finds a mix of recipes that combine Swedish, Bulgarian, and Indian influences for a unique cross-section of dishes.
1. You're half Bulgarian/half Indian and were raised in Sweden. Which culture has the best food in your opinion? I'm so torn... It's between Bulgarian and Indian, though I love my Nyponsoppa (rosehip soup), and there's nothing better than a Smörgåstårta (um... sandwich cake?). I love a Bulgarian stew when it's cold out, and my people in western Bulgaria invented the best salad ever--shopska salata. It may be our sole major cultural contribution. But I love a great Indian meal, and it's something that I'm not great at making for myself, so Indian food wins out for a special occasion.
2. Follow up to that: What's your favorite dish from that culture? Favorite Bulgarian dish: gyuvedge--it's an eggplant stew, oven baked, really good. Favorite Indian dish: See, with Indian food the whole point is to have a bunch of dishes, so ideally I'd be looking at some some dal makhni (lentls), bindi (okra), aloo gobi (potato and cauliflower), maybe one more surprise dish, rice, sides of raita (yogurt sauce), chutney, achar (pickle), and some roti, and when you put whatever combination of that together into your perfect bite, that's the dish.
3. Based on that background, is the food you cook at home an amalgamation of all those countries? Absolutely! It started with my mom, who was clearly Bulgarian in her cuisine, but embraced the Indian side dishes wholeheartedly! She seldom served anything without a yogurt sauce on the side. And now that I'm cooking for picky kids, adding chutney or achar to whatever we're eating really makes the adults happy. My lunches tend to the Swedish, possibly because I grew up on Swedish school lunches. And in the summertime we subsist on Bulgarian salads and mezes (yes, I know the Greeks claim the mezes, but we have just as much geographic claim), and Swedish fare. One particularly ambitious year I even made a gravlax, but it took up way too much space in the refrigerator for way too long.
4. What's your food guilty pleasure? Are you secretly a Cheetos fan, or maybe a lover of Count Chocula cereal? Those chocolate-covered raisins from Costco. There's a jar in front of me right now. It's sick.
5. Does food play a role in any of your plays? Why or why not? It hasn't, no... probably because I feel like the point of live theater is to be experiential, and for food to be experienced you kind of have to eat it. I know some theater artists who have gone that distance with cooking onstage, serving the audience, but so far no story I've wanted to tell has compelled me to actually feed people.
6. Mixed Blood Theater is your creative home in the Twin Cities, and you live in Uptown. What West Bank and/or Uptown restaurants can consider you a regular? Do you have favorite neighborhood haunts? West Bank: A block from Mixed Blood is Chai's Thai. It replaced my former favorite restaurant, the Korea House, which I miss desperately, so I'm surprised I was able to embrace the new ownership. Town Hall Brewery has good beer and knowledgeable servers who can tell you how IPA got its name.
Uptown: Quang's is great! Love the Black Forest patio, in the summer especially. Wuollet bakery makes the birthday cake I've had since I was 4, the Swedish Princess Torte. Lucia's is great if I'm kid-free, which is seldom. But mostly you'll find me at Common Roots, my office away from home.