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Crunch Time

Yastika Bhatia: 'I'm willing to sacrifice biryani to get better results out of my cricket'

The India batter on her love affair with butter chicken, discovering lasagna in Australia, and a secret Bhatia family recipe

"My nutritionist asked me to cut out rice from my diet totally because it can affect my fitness and make me slow. It broke my heart"  •  Albert Perez/Getty Images

"My nutritionist asked me to cut out rice from my diet totally because it can affect my fitness and make me slow. It broke my heart"  •  Albert Perez/Getty Images

What is one meal you can eat day in and day out?
Butter chicken and roti. I eat it at home when my father makes it, and every time I go to a restaurant I straight away call for butter chicken if anyone else accompanying me orders non-veg.
Is there anything you really love that you've added or removed from your diet to better fit your fitness regimen?
Chicken biryani. I love it, but my nutritionist has asked me to cut out rice from my diet totally, explaining how it can affect my fitness and make me slow - with regards to injury too. So chicken biryani has had to go.
How difficult was it to give that up?
It did break my heart when I was told I shouldn't be having rice. But I was, and am, willing to make such sacrifices to get better results out of my cricket. But whenever I am allowed the freedom to have food of my choice, say, on a day off or some such, I make sure to have chicken biryani and butter chicken.
What else has been hard to give up?
Paani puri. I used to eat a lot of it growing up, but in the last seven years I've only had the home-made version of the street snack, and that too, rarely. In December last year, though, I had proper roadside paani puri after I scored a century for Baroda in the senior one-day domestic competition in Nagpur. It felt so good.
What is your favourite pre- or post-workout snack?
I like to keep it light, so I usually go for bajre ki roti [millet rotis]. After a workout I like having protein shakes or brown-rice cakes with peanut butter.
Which of your team-mates is the best cook?
I am yet to taste anything made by my India team-mates, but I've heard Smriti Mandhana is quite good, so I'd like to try out some of what she makes. My Baroda team-mate Charmi Shah is decent at making Maggi and popcorn.
What's one thing you can cook for yourself really well?
I can make pizza. I remember making pizza at an Amul cooking contest once. On a regular basis, though, I think I'd be more comfortable making bread-omelette and bhindi ki sabzi [okra] - that's a dish I love tucking into every now and then.
What's the one dish you would like to ace?
Palak [spinach]. I can't make it but my mother makes it very well. It would make for a very nice combination with bhindi, which I already know how to make, and roti.
Who is the one team-mate who can eat whatever they want without it affecting their fitness?
Tanvir Shaikh from Baroda. She indulges in deserts often but she tops pretty much all the sprinting drills. We often ask her, "Aap yeh sab khaate ho, toh woh jaata kaha hain?" [You eat everything, where does all of it go?] In the Indian team, I am a newbie, so I don't have much of an idea, but I think Sneh Rana is similar [to Tanvir]. Her fitness is top- shelf. Her metabolism must be quite high, so cheat meals don't appear to affect her much.
Is there a snack you carry in your kit bag when you're travelling or on tour?
Peanut butter - dark-chocolate flavour. I took a liking to peanut butter ever since I first had it during the home series for South Africa [in March last year], for which I was part of the Indian squad for the first time. I can't do without peanut butter after a workout.
Did you try any new food when you toured Australia?
We were served lasagna at the pink-ball Test [in Carrara]. I loved it. During the tour they would also serve rice, dal and chicken - tandoori or butter - for buffet, and we'd order roti separately along with paneer ki sabzi. The food in Australia was very good.
Which cricket venue you've played at has had the best food or catering?
We were in Ranchi for a domestic game, and I loved the food and catering in that stadium. I particularly liked the chicken.
You've grown up, and live, in Baroda. What would you recommend to anyone visiting your home town?
Kathiyawadi cuisine is quite famous in Gujarat, especially the Kathiyawadi thalis, which serve a wide variety of fare. Those are usually a bit more spicy than Gujarati thalis. Baroda's street food is quite popular as well, and people here are crazy about paani puri in particular. Sev ussal, sev tamatar ki sabzi, kadhi khichdi are some of the other dishes I'd recommend.
What do meals look like during a regular week in the Bhatia household?
My mother is vegetarian, but my dad, [older] sister, and I eat non-veg, so the fare on weekdays is usually veg stuff, which either my mom or our cook takes care of. Anything non-vegetarian is typically reserved for Fridays and Sundays and is made by my father.
What are the signature dishes in your family?
Home-style chicken and mutton are my papa's signature dishes, but our household has one of its own, the Bhatia kadhi. It's a gram-flour-and-yoghurt-based thin gravy, which most types of kadhi are, and we add a generous assortment of diced drumstick, potatoes, and okra in it. We treat all our guests to it and serve it with steamed rice and sometimes with palak.
What food do you miss most when you're on tour?
Dal chawal. It's so simple to make and it reminds me of the simplicity of home. Though you get dal at restaurants or often at match venues in India and abroad, it's never the same, and as simple, as ghar ki dal .

Annesha Ghosh is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @ghosh_annesha