A few years ago, on a wintry morning in Boston, Chitrita Banerji received a wedding invitation from India that opened the floodgates of remembered taste. Banerji set out to discover Indian cuisine beyond the generic.
Banerji, being a non-resident Indian food writer, is ably poised between cultural affinity and physical distance with regard to India. This enables her to look beyond recipes, at nuances in the history and folklore surrounding Indian cuisine.
After a momentous visit back to Kolkata, the city of her childhood, Banerji comes across itinerant labourers eating greasy Chinese noodles instead of Khichuri, the traditional pottageon Sher Shah Suri's famed Grand Trunk Road. In Benares, she meets a self-appointed guide who leads her through the street food of a city that thrives on the business of death. At the langar (communal refectory) in Amritsar's Golden Temple, where the rich and poor are bonded by piety, Banerji partakes of a humble meal that includes machine-made chapathis. She travels to relish delicacies from the three seats of Muslim-style cooking in India and also studies the lesser-known cuisine of indigenous tribals. There are also some engrossing chapters that delve into the culinary histories of communities like the Anglo Indians, the Parsis, the East Indians of Bombay and the Jews of Cochin.
This book is part-memoir, part-travelogue exploring the cultural synthesis that is Indian cuisine. However, it is also personal history at its best - Banerji derives as much pleasure in reliving flavour as in discovering it.
|(An edited version appeared in Culturama's June 2010 Issue.)|