Page-turner of the culinary kinds

Food. It’s a topic that can easily liven up the mind and mood on a drab mid-week afternoon when all one can see in the horizon are deadlines. This wake-up moment gets even more savoury when a cookbook arrives at our desk — especially the variety that is filled with intriguing, lesser-known recipes sourced out from far-flung corners of India.

Delish: There’s a heartening trend where publishers have been whipping up recipe/cook books that celebrate the flavours, ingredients and smells of diverse regions and communities, spread across the country. Representation pic

In one of our columns from a few months ago, we had highlighted the lack of big-ticket restaurants in the city that served regional cuisine. Playing safe seemed to be the mantra in these economically-uncertain times. Since then, we haven’t noticed too much of a change in that department on the city’s food-scape. However, our food writers and publishers seem to think otherwise (and thank god for this). For a while now, we’ve been noticing a heartening trend where publishers and writers have been whipping up recipe/cook books that celebrate the flavours, ingredients and smells of distinctly diverse regions and numerous communities, spread across the length and breadth of the country. And it’s not just the obvious ones that pay tribute to an entire state or a region whose cuisine might have already been showcased by specialty restaurants (read: Keralite, Chettinad, Bengali) but also peculiar and distinct sub-cultures and styles. For example, the Syrian Christian community offers a lip-smacking cuisine that is blessed with loads of flavour-filled recipes, cooking techniques and influences. Other mentions must be made here of East Indian, Awadhi, Kayastha, CKP and Konkani recipe books that did more than its bit to whet the appetite.

Some time back, we were even treated to a lavish coffee table book on royal cuisines of India. While the packaging, production, recipes and stunning photography were a standout, what perhaps, was the best take-home was the information about customs, lesser-read traditions and serving cultures that exist in these royal kitchens that are otherwise off bounds for most foodies.

Which brings us to another delish observation — writers and publishers are taking great pains to ensure that these titles go beyond being mere recipe books (the predictable recipe + visual format). There are footnotes, forewords for each recipe, crisp recipes with optional ingredients, glossaries, cooking techniques and family anecdotes stirred into a delightful melting pot. This is a godsend for the incorrigible home chef, always in search of new recipes and flavours where she (or he) doesn’t have to be enslaved by (again, predictable) TV cooking shows that tend to sometimes dilute the essence of the real deal with exotic locales and even more exotic looking hosts who double up as experts, at the flash of an apron.

What’s on our wish list? The North East, the Himalayan belt, central India with all its countless, faceless communities and tribes, and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Anybody listed that down? Until that happens, we are sure it’s just a matter of time before another big, juicy cookbook lands up to add a bit of spice and dash of zing to our working afternoons.

— The writer is Features Editor, MiD DAY 

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