Book Review: Eating India

The bookish cook strikes again!( thanks to barbara of Tiger and strawberries for a catchy self defining phrase) Eating India, An odyssey into the food and culture of the land of spices by Chitrita Banerji.When I saw this title in the library, I just had to read it.

I think that reading a book is partly like getting to know a person. You want to know where it comes from, does it belong to a family, what are its roots? You browse through it and if it catches your imagination, you read it through.

This book is by a Bengali food writer, Chitrita Banerji who has done a lot of food writing focusing on Bengal. Her writing, nay, her soul is rooted in Bengal - although she lives here, in the USA.

As you read through the book, your minds eye forms an image of an middle aged woman -thorough Bengali traipsing through India, using her connections to meet foodie people, and EAT. She name drops quite a bit, A famous artist here, a business man there. But essentially, she is on an eating tour and she recounts her tale region by region: Bengal, Goa, Gujarat, Bombay, Punjab , Hyderabad, Karnataka, Delhi , Benares and some more .

Her writing is peppered with interesting ideas, for example the idea of Weddings in India as cultural and Food snapshots. That is so true and I think so unexplored as a book. The second , Temples as repositories of traditional or authentic indian cuisine- so true( although ive run into this idea elsewhere too). Their style of cooking remaining unchanged over centuries. She draws cool inferences between historical politics in India and food.

The first road block is, what i like to call the "Burden of India". Every sand grain in India has a story and a history - boy what a history - 2000 years of it. When you weave history into a food tour, sometimes it works - many times it doesnt. The book detours into mini tourguide versions of the places she visits. Many times she draws interesting inferences, but mostly its deadweight.

Ok second road block, I think Ive been spoiled by Anthony Bourdain. Chitrita Banerjis approach strikes me as too safe and aunty like. Her preferred sources of information about actual food are the head chefs at the TAJ hotels. Every place she goes, from kerala to Bombay- she picks their brain for places to go and then straightaway you hear about those foods. The fun, experiential and adventurous approach of a foodie or even the homecook is sorely missing.

Where she also fails is in the cartography of food in India. Some places receive more attention and some less - so the book is pretty patchy if you want to know what to eat where in India.

Primarily this book should appeal to the Bengali exploring other Regional Indian Cuisines for the first time.


sra said...

I bought this book despite noticing she hasn't covered a few important cuisines - I liked her other two books a lot, esp the Hour of the Goddess.

ms said...

I will see if the library has Hour of the Goddess. Thanks!

Alpa said...

i wanted to read this book since i saw it on lulu's blog, and even the cover photo was so enticing... too bad. i think i'm going to order 'My Bombay Kitchen' instead. Thanks for reviewing!