From the history of Indian food to recipes for birthday cakes and memories of chutney and Tibetan momos.
The MBRB Editors may not be celebrated chefs (simple salads, fluffy omelettes, a kickass chilly chicken and a quarterly batch of date & walnut cake is what we usually contribute in a pot luck party), but that doesn’t deter us from spending many pleasurable hours reading about food. It’s not just food bloggers who take up our time – we can also spend hours reading about coffee beans, cheese making, vegetable gardening, organic farming, wine grapes, cocktails….and infinite other delights.
There was a time when this writer used to hope that the hours spent devouring recipes would translate into some of that yummy food making an appearance on her table, but now she knows better. Ditto for baking her own bread, growing her own tomatoes or making her grandmother’s lemon pickle. For our Food Issue, there is one question we repeatedly asked our favourite food artists and aficionados, many of whom write extensively about food in addition to holding regular jobs : Where do you find the time? The unanimous response : If you are passionate about something, you create the time.
It is unlikely that we will turn into ardent chefs and launch our own food blog in the far off future, but we console ourselves with the thought that reading about food is our tribute to the chefs and connoisseurs who spend many months and years perfecting their passion. And while there is no dearth of excellent blogs, websites, videos and podcasts about food and cooking, nothing quite beats the joy of a book for us old fashioned folks.
So if the only cookbook you possess is your mom’s haldi smeared recipe diary or the Complete Recipes of Madhur Jaffrey/ Tarla Dalal, here are 10 books about eating, drinking and cooking that are a must have for any gourmet, gourmand, glutton or bibliophile. And if you have an entire bookshelf dedicated to food, we’d love to hear from you about other books that should make it to this list. There is just one condition – any book you recommend should be easily available in India.
1. Indian Food: A Historical Companion, by K T Acharya
No one understands Indian food and it’s history better than K T Acharya – it’s rare to find a food writer who is a trained scientist and understands the history and chemistry of food. Read this book for a complete chronology of Indian food, starting from pre-historic times and ending with the diverse cuisines of present day India. The wonderful photographs, sketches and illustrations make an excellent companion to Acharya’s compact writing.
2. The Vegetarian Menu Book: A Comprehensive Guide to Authentic Indian Vegetarian Cuisine, by Vasantha Moorthy
We may mock the ghaas phoos eaters, but there is no denying that Indian cuisine is a treasure house of delicious vegetarian fare – possibly the best in the world. With over 300 recipes drawn from all parts of India and thoughtfully organized into menus, this book is possibly the most comprehensive guide to Indian vegetarian cooking.
“Chinese” food has been the favourite amongst Indians for decades now. Over the years, our tastes have evolved from the greasy noodles, deep fried spring rolls (Chinese, really?) and Punjabi manchurian – today the discerning foodie knows her gnocchi from her khow suey. But even though we have embraced the Italianos, Setzs & Sakuras, our heart still beats loudest for nasi goreng, Thai red curry and hakka noodles. Which is why we love this book – from Vietnamese summer rolls to Thai fish and black rice pudding – it has everything we need for our Oriental kitchen. Our only quibble – the relatively short menu of vegetarian dishes and the absence of classics such as Hainanese chicken rice and banh-mi.
It’s a rare pleasure to find India’s best writers – from Saadat Hasan Manto to Salman Rushdie, Amitav Ghosh, Anita Desai & Jhumpa Lahiri, amongst others – in a single book. But nothing unites India like food (not even cricket or Bollywood), and Roy manages to assemble a mouth watering array of writing that is food for the hungry soul.
It’s easy, and now fashionable, to mock the influence of Sanjeev Kapoor on Indian cooking. We may salivate online over Pioneerwoman’s experiments and Deeba’s baking, but there is only one man who we trust when it comes to our kitchens – and that is Sanjeev Kapoor. This collection of his recipes are easy on the belly, simple to make and, best of all, turn out exactly as the chef promises. The solid reliability is what we expect, and love, about Kapoor.
Born to a family of restaurateurs, Pooja Dhingra learnt her culinary ropes at the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and took Mumbai by storm with her famous Le 15 macaroons. Four years later, she has a chain of immensely successful Le 15 Patisserie all over Mumbai, a celebrity client list and a fanatic fan following. And she is only 27. In the midst of chalking out a pan-India presence for Le 15, she’s found the time to pen a book that will tell you how to make her signature desserts. With recipes for cupcakes, macaroons, birthday cakes and brownies, this book is sugary chocolaty velvety bliss.
Regular readers of Mint will be familiar with Samar Halarnkar’s culinary experiments, all using ingredients found within a short radius of his home in Bangalore. While this book is meant to encourage the Indian male to take his first step into Mommy/ Wifey’s kitchen, the simple recipes and cooking techniques are equally helpful for newbie female cooks and busy working women. Use this to build your confidence in Indian cooking and then pass it on your son, or son-in-law.
8. Jigger, Beaker and Glass: Drinking Around the World, by Charles H. Baker Jr.
When we are not displaying our prowess with delicately fragrant rice and the perfect hummus, we are busy attending the latest bar tending class in town. Mixology is the proud escape for those amongst us who refuse to toil and sweat in the kitchen – but how much do we know about the history of our cocktails? For that, we have the wonderful Charles H. Baker Jr, who spent years drinking his way round the globe “with whole hearted gusto and so little remorse”. For him, a Singapore Sling is “The Immortal Raffles Gin Sling, Met in 1926 and Thereafter Never Forgotten.”. Jigger, Beaker and Glass is a delightful chronicle of the world and its bars in the early half of the 20th century.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that almost every Bengali’s favourite book is one on food – the Bengalis take their Mishti Doi as seriously as their Maccher Jhol and Bhejetebil Chop. But the Calcutta Cookbook is not just a collection of secret family recipes that reflect the global influences on Calcutta’s cuisine – from Jewish to Armenian, Arabic and Chinese. Hidden beneath the recipes of food found all over Calcutta is the story of the city’s birth, evolution and cultural history. A great read not just for foodies but for anyone interested in the City of Joy.
At a time when we are eager to count off the fancy restaurants we have visited, the exotic meals we have tasted and the exquisite dips we have perfected, it’s easy to forget that India ranks an alarming 16th on the Global Hunger Index (the worst ranking in Asia, even neighbour Pakistan is ranked better) and that one in three malnourished children worldwide are found in India. Set in the 80’s, A Handful Of Rice is a chilling reminder of how a tiny morsel of food – much less than what rots in our refrigerators on a daily basis, to be thrown out without a glance during the weekly cleaning – can mean the difference between life and death for millions of Indians. Essential reading for everyone.
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