Foodie books 'n' movies 'n' TV shows

Book Review - India on My Platter

Thursday, August 06, 2015Me! In words

Its not often that a book leaves such an impression on you that it pushes you to write about it almost as soon as you put it down. Saransh Goila's 'India on My Platter' (Rs 295, Om Books International) is one such book. Let me be honest... I did not know of Saransh, or the show he hosted on the Food Food Channel, before I saw the hype about this book online. Nevertheless, the idea of a 100-day road trip covering 20,000 kms across the length and breadth of India, taking in culinary delights was a good enough reason to pick the book up.

I had multiple thoughts churning through my mind at the end of this book, so I put down my thoughts in parts...

First Impressions
The language - because that's where this book hurts the most - is pedestrian at best. It reads more like the journal of a high school student who is writing down things as it happens. That in itself is not wrong as far as formats go - I put the onus squarely on the shoulders of the editor to bring out the beauty of Saransh's experiences (and he has had some beautiful ones). In this case, Saransh, I think you should ask your editor for a refund. The book is replete with cringe-worthy spelling errors, redundancies and long, convoluted sentences. Tenses go all over the place and back making the reading quite laborious. Somewhere from the 50th page onwards, I picked up a pencil and began editing the book as I went along, just for kicks. Almost every paragraph from then on, has something to pick on.

Dear Editor of India on My Platter
- Chilli is what you put in a dish, Chilly is when you feel cold
- "Butterflying" an orange is done by cutting the back of an orange and not its backside
-  MSG is MSG and Ajinomoto is a brand - that doesn't make it the same thing
- Its Greco/Graeco-Roman architecture and not Greeko-Roman

And this is only from page 75 or so onwards!

What kind of sentences are
1. "I found this concept of costing the sheermal depended on the amount of spices and dry fruits used in it."
2. ".... saffron bought in all the way from Iran."
3. "I decided to drive through Bihar, briefly." - and then what?
4. "Turn around the parantha and cook on the other side."
5. "Assam's 70% of the population is tribal..."
6. "I want to thrown in my two cents to travellers."
7. "I belong to the same caste as the Goel's, and I took an instant liking to them'"- I am sure the intention was not to be racist, but it definitely comes across that way.
8. "... religious leanings of Mathura." - Mathura is a place, it cannot have religious leanings. Its people on the other hand can.
9. "roti-sized dough balls" - Dough balls the size of a roti? I don't think that's what you were aiming at.

I could go on and on, but suffice to say this is by far one of the worst edited pieces of reading I have come across so far.

As for the contents of the book - There are a few accounts that stand out brilliantly for me. Cooking with truckers is a great one. One was the process of making 300 kgs of biryani at Cafe Bahar by Ali Asgar. Now this account is a really, lovely piece of writing, with it being able to evoke a mental picture of the whole thing. What really hurt at the end of it though was the recipe of a Gobi biryani being provided - While I love a good vegetarian pulao, I do not get what a gobi biryani is?  And if I had the privilege of meeting someone with 25 years of experience in biryani making, I would at least wiggle out some tips I could use when making a biryani at home, if not a recipe. The other was the story of the origin of the Tunday kebab and Murad Ali's hand, or the lack of it, behind it all. Now that too was an interesting piece.

Every other experience is an enviable one too  - I mean I would gladly give my left arm and leg to do this journey. And while I understand that there is only so much that you can showcase in each place, and that everyone will want details on their region's cuisine, there were a lot of questions I felt that could have been addressed in the book. For example:

- Puducherry, when you say an attempt is made to add a French touch to the food and that sauces are treated like gravies - would be great if told us how?
- Bengaluru - You mention at the end of your Ayurvedic food experience that it changed your perspective on food? How?
- In Vishakapatnam, you don't name the pickle company (advertising issues maybe) and mention only three pickles apart from Gongura... I personally would have love to know more.
- In Bhopal you taste interesting flavors of tofu - pray why not tell us which ones? I for one didn't know Indian-made tofu is available in flavors.

I have a lot of such questions and being someone who loves reading about food, I was left very unsatisfied. And may I add at this point, your love for the past tense pretty much made the book sound like all the people you met are long gone, and all the places you visited no longer exist.

India on My Platter as a book has immense potential if it had been edited the right way. I am surprised at the number of big names of the industry that have given their name to this book. I would have thought that at least their assistants would have read through the book. Saransh, if you do plan another edition for this, please get a real editor. Your experiences have immense potential as a book. This one sadly does not do you any justice.

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