For a food lover or more specifically a Bengali, the measure of a good or a bad day, is pretty much dependent on how good or bad their gastronomic experience was for the day. Especially if it’s a Sunday or a Holiday, elaborate discussions go into planning each of the days meals. Being a Bengali and a food lover[to the extent of being a glutton, a charge I am happy to concede to] Sundays are special. So you can imagine my ecstasy when apart from a very Bengali 4 course lunch [which of course includes the quintessential mangsho bhaat] I spend the day reading a book on, well, food!!
Chillies & Porridge book is a collection of 23 chapters by various writers, chefs, journalists, scholars and celebrities dedicated to their personal food experiences. Deftly edited by the renowned Mita Kapoor, the book is a pure treat to the senses. Like a heady concoction of spices the book takes you on a food sojourn across the country. From the Parsi jinga no patiyo to the Bengali begun bhaja to the Punjabi ma-ki-daal to the South Indian aviyal to the Gujrati shrikhand to the Kashmiri Kathal to the tsampa from Sikkim, the book has every flavor to scintillate your hypothalamic taste buds. As the writers reminiscence the food stories which influenced their food habits or even career choices, you travel back in childhood to your own culinary adventures.
Wendell Rodricks’ [yes, the designer] story about his Aunt’s imaginative recipes and her Christmas cake, reminded me of the heavenly Doi-mach my Aunt made. While Doi-mach or fish cooked in yogurt, is a common Bengali dish and I have had it in on many occasions in various places none of them could ever match up to the one she cooked. When Sumana, Jayaditya and Bikramjeet [the latter the host of the popular Secret Kitchen TV series on CNN-IBN] humor you with their first adventures or misadventures in the kitchen, I was transported to my early days in Delhi when I made rotis on the toaster. Niloufer Ichaporia King’s walks through the local bazaars of Mumbai took me back to the Pre-Operation sunshine era in Kolkata where the footpaths in Gariahat where lined with shops of every kind, especially the stalls selling the best street food right across the street from Adi Dhakeshwari Bastralay. As Nilanjana S Roy rued the fact that there are such huge varieties of local foods that we hardly know or ever talk about, I was reminded of the delicious thekuas that our Bihari neighbors in Ranchi made for us. When I read about Bulbul Sharma carrying chillies with her I was reminded of my mother carrying sugar around when we went to Tamil Nadu for a vacation, because we Bengalis like our curd sweet. And these are just few a gems from the book.
Not only does the book involve you completely right from the first story, it is very well researched. The various food traditions, cooking methods, food origins and folklore associated with food or even cooking utensils like the Bengali Bonti, for example, was very interesting to read about
Do I recommend this book? Yes, Yes Yes, if you love food, I am sure you will anyways read it but if you are the I-eat-to-live variety the book will open your eyes to a whole new world and experience.
It’s a book of senses really, a book of smell, touch, taste and nostalgia. Sumana in her story Table for Three mentions this quote from Virginia Wolfe: ‘One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well’
And as Sidin Vadakut, Editor & Columnist – Mint, would sign off – ‘Jai Hind. Jai food.’ Indeed!