Chitrita Banergee, Publisher - Penguin Price Rs. 195
In The Hour of the Goddess: Memories of Women, Food and Ritual in Bengal, Chitrita Banerji is eloquent and erudite as she demonstrates the place of food in Bengali culture in prose that is as light as a luchi "set afloat (in oil) like a paper-boat". The food memoir, by the writer from Calcutta now based in the US is a delight whether she is describing the famed Bengali penchant for fish, the quintessential Bengali five spice mix - Panchphoron, bitter flavours, the versatility of Bengali widows with their food despite the strict food proscriptions forced on them and the discovery and subsequent journey the Bengali Sandesh to iconic status. Unlike some memoirs that include recipes which are incomplete or half baked, the recipes at the end of each chapter in this book were authentic, and easy to follow. The addition of occaisional annecdotes and friendly advice almost gives the illusion that Banerji is standing by you guiding you through the recipe. The hour of the goddess bares the longing of a woman for idyllic bygone days, gently reminding us that change may be all around us but it is possible to stop for a moment and indulge in a spot of nostalgia with a traditional family recipe. All read and cooked, The hour of the Goddess is aromatic with Panch phoron and delicious!
Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal
Friday, March 24, 2006
Monday, March 20, 2006
Excuses to cooking up to a collection!
It sneaks into your life stealthily; the addiction to cookbooks; it has no prevention and there is no cure! With no warning and all very innocently, the bug bites you. You are gifted your first cookbook with an “it’s amazing; you will never need another…” And you don’t, not really, not as long as you are cooking “quick meals for newly married couples” that is...
The bug lies in you dormant until one evening, right in the middle of weeping your way through a deliciously spicy Hot and Sour Soup at your favorite restaurant it awakens and you wonder… “Could I make this at home…?” The virus multiplies all the way home as you calculate the cost of a lifetimes worth of Hot and Sour soups and the savings you will accrue with one measly recipe book… (Uh huh, count your chickens why don’t you…).
A quick stop at the bookstore the next day proves futile. 20 books on Chinese food and none of them have your recipe. Martin Yan’s book (watched his show on Star Plus eons ago) “Quick and easy” has a recipe for a “Pineapple Hot and Sour soup” which is not what you are looking for but the other recipes look interesting so you just pick it up, promising to pass it on to mom later…
Since the Chinese shelves prove futile, logic leads you to the Soups section… A quick reiki results in “Splendid Soups” by James Peterson, it’s been getting rave reviews off late. Speedy perusal reveals a recipe but it isn’t “Yours”. That established, you still leaf through the book, the pictures are so beautiful and there is so much interesting information on Soup, you absolutely love soups so why not… Into the basket it goes!
You’re in line at the checkout counter and there’s a strategically placed pile of the new Penguin release, Rude food by Vir Sanghvi staring up at you, begging to be picked up! Your turn to pay and time is short. You add it to the basket. After all it seems like the perfect book for your daily commute, seeing as it’s a compilation of his articles on food and the chapters will end before you get to your destination.
You just can’t wait to try out something from your new books so you gloat through the yummy soup book and decide to make the Thai Chicken and Coconut soup, the “Gai Tom Ka” is an unqualified success. It even saves you a lecture in the merits of saving money from the husband! Hmm might be worth it to pick up a book on Thai cuisine…
Than night you realize that someone up there is in your corner! Halfway through Rude Food (full of interesting trivia, like Caviar being stale unless eaten at source, Vanilla essences in India being synthetic and enlightening info on the Fat content of Ice cream) you find out that Chinese food in India is not Chinese at all but a cuisine in it’s own right! Another trip to the bookstore in which you make a beeline for the Indian shelves, pick up Sanjeev Kapoor’s “best of Chinese cooking” taking two seconds to verify your recipe is in there and off you go … err not quite… Wait a minute! Thai food by David Thompson on sale? You just HAVE to pick it up!
The success of the Thai experiment leads to you picking up books like Authentic Mexican by Rick Bayless and Hot Sour Salty Sweet - Jeffrey Alford (which is totally awesome by the way). One Saturday afternoon, as the aroma from your Spanish Paella suffuses your kitchen, you realize that you’ve been around the world in your kitchen but really ought to know more about Indian food. Home comes The Indian Kitchen - which promises to be “A book of essential ingredients with over 200 easy and authentic recipes” - by Monisha Bharadwaj and Microwave Cooking for the Indian Palate by Bapsi Nariman (you know since you have a microwave and all…)
A Fresh Turmeric Pickle recipe, from the Indian Kitchen reminds you of your childhood in your Gujarati Maternal home, you realize that you hardly know anything about the food you ate growing up! You call your mom asking where you can get a book on the subject and before you can say “Undhiyu”, On the threshold of Kitchen, a compendium of recipes by the Danthi sisters – in – law is in your hands, appropriately inscribed with the blessings “rasodani rani banje” (may you be the queen of your kitchen and please everyone) on the fly leaf!
After the Turmeric pickle receives rave reviews from your FATHER IN LAW (big achievement if your mother in law is a Pickle making legend) you decide you want to add to your pickle repertoire (yeah right, of ONE pickle). It strikes you to surf the net (that took it’s time happening!) and you happen on this amazing website on food. No pickle books to be found but you hook up with some serious food lovers!
Later, the pages on Asafetida in The Indian Kitchen have you thinking that it would be interesting to find out more about the history of Indian food. After “Googling” (suddenly we’re very trigger happy with the internet) we head to the bookstore name in hand and trip over one cookbook crazy friend from said website above. Two hours and much browsing later, you breeze out of the store with a lighter wallet but much heavier bag!
It’s been a productive afternoon! You’ve found a book on Pickles – Achaar Aur Parathe by Tarla Dalal to tide you over (until you get your hands on Usha's Pickle Digest that comes so highly recommended by the Cookbook collector friend) and also found the other book you were looking for - The Historical Dictionary of Indian Food by K.T.Achaya. That’s not all, (after being recommended by cookbook collecting friend) Madhur Jaffrey's Ultimate Curry Bible - an investigation into how the Indian diasporas adapted their recipes to new lands - and 50 Great Curries of India by Camellia Panjabi – an exploration of the curry, dissecting steps and investigating ingredients along the way – have also come aboard.
Et Voila! You realize that you have effectively gone from owner of single dog-eared food-smeared cookbook to Cookbook collector! Your bookshelf groans with shiny, glossy, new cookbooks… There will be no turning back from here. Cheers to that! Which reminds me, I wonder if there is a book on Beer…?