Saturday, October 17, 2009

Happy Deepavali and Food Memoirs

May the lights this Diwali banish Darkness from our lives

Happy Deepavali
This Diwali I don't have a recipe to share with you, instead what I will share is ahem knowledge, about food and memories
Nupur's this post had opened up the beautiful new world of Food Memoirs to me. And I couldn't think of a better opportunity than Sra's The Write Taste, to share these gems with you.

I am not much of a cookbook reader. Cookbooks are too much of a burden, they make me feel very, what do you say "lacking". I cannot read a cookbook at leisure, I feel I need to get up and stir something up from the book, I feel I owe that to the authors and that takes away the charm of relaxed reading.

The food memoirs on the other hand are simply beautiful. You get to delve into food intertwined with life and that is like sitting by your grandma, listening to her stories while she kneads the dough, rolls it out, stuffs it with spiced pea mix and fries up puffed karaishuti'r kachuri while all you do is take in the smell, the taste and the stories without lifting a finger.

It all started with Ruth Reichl's "Tender on the Bone". Honestly I hadn't heard of Ruth Reichl before and when I turned the first page there were no expectations. The first page after I was a huge fan and had researched her head to toe on the internet.To read more about this famous food persona go here. I will leave you with an excerpt.

"Most mornings I got out of bed and went to the refrigerator to see how my mother was feeling. You could tell instantly, just by opening the door. One day in 1960 I found a whole suckling pig staring at me. I jumped back and slammed the door hard. I had never seen a whole animal in our refrigerator before, even the chicken cam in parts. He was surrounded by tiny crab apples and a whole wreath of vegetables.

This was not a bad sign: the more odd and interesting things in the refrigerator, the happier my Mother was likely to be."

Next was Madhur Jaffrey's "Climbing The Mango Trees". Now Madhur Jaffrey I knew, from movies and from her cookbooks. Only I hadn't really thumbed any of her cookbooks. This book however is a beautiful read, you are transported into pre-Independence era Delhi and Kanpur and you get to peep into the life, times and food of an Indian family heavily influenced by the West and yet firmly rooted to the Indian culture.

Following is an excerpt from the book where she describes the Lady in White who would arrive with her wares, "daulaat ki chaat" at breakfast

"The Lady in White was the color of milk. What mattered most to us, though, was not her milky color but the milky ambrosia that she carried on her head.

Yes, balanced there, on a round brass tray, were dozens of mutkainas, terra-cotta cups, filled with daulat ki chaat, which could be translated as “a snack of wealth.” Some cynic who assumed that all wealth was ephemeral must have named it. It was, indeed, the most ephemeral of fairy dishes, a frothy evanescence that disappeared as soon it touched the tongue, a winter specialty requiring dew as an ingredient. Whenever I asked the Lady in White how it was made, she would sigh a mysterious sigh and say, “Oh, child, I am one of the few women left in the whole city of Delhi who can make this. I am so old, and it is such hard work. What shall I tell you? I only go to all this trouble because I have served your grandmother from the time she lived in the Old City. First I take rich milk and add dried seafoam to it. Then I pour the mixture into nicely washed terra-cotta cups that I get directly from the potter. I have to climb up the stairs to the roof and leave the cups in the chill night air. Now, the most important element is the dew. If there is no dew, the froth will not form. If there is too much dew, that is also bad. The dew you have to leave to the gods. In the early morning, if the froth is good, I sprinkle the cups with a little sugar, a little khurchan [milk boiled down into thin, sweet, flaky sheets], and fine shavings of pistachios. That, I suppose, is it.”

Those cups were the first things placed before us at breakfast that day. Our spoons, provided by the Lady in White, were the traditional flat pieces of bamboo. Heavenly froth, tasting a bit of the bamboo, a bit of the terra-cotta, a bit sweet and a bit nutty—surely this was the food of angels."

Thanks Nupur for the wonderful reads and thanks to Sra for an opportunity to share. Looking forward to reading more of Ruth Reichl over the next months only my reading is hugely slowed down by lack of time and I keep on renewing these books over & over. In the process I keep coming back and re-reading them again but the charm is there each time, every time.

What are your favorite Food Memoirs ?


  1. The sweet that Madhur Jaffrey talks about, the recipe's in a Hyderabadi cookbook that I own, it's called Nimish, very fascinating! I've never come across it in Hyderabad, though. It's a v long procedure. And I wonder why Ruth Reich sounds familiar to me? I just looked her up but am still clueless.

    Thanks for the entry, Sandeepa, and Happy Deepavali!

  2. Happy Deepavali! Sandeepa.
    I flip through cookbooks for the photos, so I can dream about them. I come across Madhur Jaffrey's books a lot in the library but the pictures are bad so I don't pick them up. Will give this book a read soon.

  3. Sandeepa,
    Wish you and your family a very Happy Diwali.
    Recently I read a Benagli book on food memoirs by Shankar, its called "Bangalir Khawadawa". Its a nice book and had a lot about the evolution of Bengali food. The next time you visit Kolkata, don't forget to buy one copy.

  4. wish you and your family a very happy deepawali Sandeepa
    food based books khob kom pori ...tai beshi bolte parbo na ..
    Hugs and smiles

  5. Happy Diwali! Nice post.

  6. A very happy deepaboli to you and your family.
    I guess the sweet that Madhur mentioned in her book is a Benarasi Delicacy called Malaio. I came to know about it last year from a show hosted by Vir Sangvi on Travel and living. they also mentioned to keep it under the open sky at night.

    I recently read a novel called the hindi bindi club, which also intertwined the lives with food memories.

    Thanks for this nice post.

  7. Happy Diwali to you and your family, San! Enjoyed your post. I have to find these books now!

    I have quite a few cookbooks but very rarely cook from them or even peruse them. Not really sure why!

  8. Wish You a Wonderful Diwali Sandeepa!
    I always look for cookbook with pictures, well to get an idea how to take my next food picture! Nice read!

  9. Happy Diwali, Sandeepa!
    I heard of Ruth Reichl through Nupur's blog too. The book I picked up was Garlic and Sapphires which was a very entertaining read. Will check out this one also.

  10. Very happy Diwali to you Sandeepa and a well written post.

  11. shubho deepavali janai tomake aar tomar paribaar ke...have loads of fun

  12. Julia on Julia is my current all time favourite, followed by the House of Blue Mangoes.

    Thanks for those recommendations, I'm going to read these!

  13. Happy Diwali to you and family, Sandeepa! Daulat ki chaat is supposed to be such a Dilli special thing and yet in all the years I lived in New Delhi, i never got a chance to try it!

  14. Dear Sandeepa,
    Happy Diwali. I haven't read any of the books mentioned in the post but the excerpts are interesting. Will add to my 'to read' list. One of my favourites is 'Under the Tuscan sun'

  15. Food Memoirs are always interesting. For a change you can check out "Anglo Indian Food and Customs" by Patricia Brown. Its a trip to the food avenues of our colonial past.

    Hope you had a smashing Diwali !!

  16. Shubho Deepabali , Sandeepa to you and your family :)

    I have a copy of Madhur Jaffrey's book and must get down to reading it . That apart , I love cookbooks with a twist - like Ismail Merchant's "Indian Cooking"- a very early cookbook of his ,Elizabeth David's 'll be with You in the Squeezing of a Lemon" . I never replicate stuff though I buy cookbooks :)

  17. Wow i love reading cookery books :-)
    Beautiful post.

  18. I did enjoy Climbing the Mango Trees, though I haven't read any of the other books yet.
    Hope you all had a fabulous Pujo and Diwali, and have a great year to come.

  19. I hate reading 'cook books'. I love food memoirs. My favourites would include Anthony Bourdain's 'No reservations', peter Meyle's 'A Year in Provence', Chitrita Banerjee's Goddesses and Eating India, Bong Mom's Cookbook.

    Talking of Diwali memories...what about bhai fota memories?

  20. This is a very sweet and informative post! Happy Diwali!

  21. A very happy diwali (i know it is belated) to you and your family sandeepa :)...and thanks for checking up on me. Just busy...and lazy to blog :D....btw. looking at homes in NJ..i cannot believe i am looking into moving into the boring suburbs :(

  22. Happy Deepavali, dear!

    I've read Madhur's memoirs, and thought it a little bland. I don't know, it's difficult to describe. I really do love her cookbooks, thouogh. Flavours of India is my favourite.

    Now, 'Settler's Cookbook' by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is something else. Truly fantastic! Honestly, I can't recommend it enough. Yasmin is Ugandan Asian, now living in Britain. She is a political journalist and a writer. In this book, she writes about her life in Uganda, and the experiences of the Ugandan Asian community, including the atrocities of the Idi Amin regime, and her subsequent move to Britain. She came to study at Oxford, and ended up staying, as her country was shattered by the Amin regime. Her writing is honest to the bone (it hurt to read it at times), rich (in terms of language), interesting. She tells it all. Both the pain and the joy. And my husband can't live without her mum's coconut dhal!

    Currently, I'm reading Mary Contini's 'Dear Francesca' which I quite like, though it's noto quite in the same league as Yasmin.

    Memoirs are difficult. In a sense, when you're writing a memoir, those stories are not your own. You're sharing someone else's stories, too. I wonder how much the author has the right to reveal. Maybe that's why I felt I'm missing something in Madhur's work, while Yasmin's work is intensely personal and revealing.

  23. Sandeepa- what a wonderful post! I am reading it rather late, but that only means that I get to read all the great comments with more suggestions for good memoirs to read.

    I'm so glad you are enjoying the food memoirs :)

  24. Ruth Reich does ring a bell somewhere....well, need to wiki or google to get it spot on...great post! I love madhur jaffery's books myself.


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