Foodie books 'n' movies 'n' TV shows

Book Review - Chillies and Porridge

Sunday, January 24, 2016Me! In words

Two years ago I had the opportunity to hear Madhur Jaffrey speak at the launch of her book. Soon after, I spent the good part of an hour interviewing her for a publication. Something she said stuck with me all this time and I am sure that it is a thought that resonates with all of us. She said that our palates can have a memory of their own. A food or ingredient you taste at any point in your life, will be savored and the memory stored away. Today when you go shopping for your ingredients, you instantly are able to recall tastes and textures and are able to visualize the final product of the ingredient you hold in your hand...

It is precisely these thoughts that came to mind when I began reading Chillies and Porridge - a collection of essays by galaxy of writers, known for their prowess with the written word and edited by Mita Kapur. The tagline of the book - Writing Food, is apt since the book takes food memories a step further, translates them into words and shares some delicious thoughts with the reader. 

I picked up the Kindle Edition of the book and will soon buy the paperback as well

Take Janice Pariat's Porridge - The opening essay in the book - a lovely piece that reminisces on the humble porridge right from childhood memories of the meal being prepared by grandma, through mentions of the dish in classic books and the treatment of this breakfast staple in the hands of different cooks! A story that will make you love porridge even if you don't. 

In fact, the essay triggered a porridge memory of my own - when in Italy, eons ago, inspired by Enid Blyton descriptions, I wanted a bowl of porridge for breakfast. Knowing the fussy eater that I was, my mother warned me that not finishing the bowl was not an option. Needless to say, the dish did not appeal to me, but I finished the bowl down to the last spoonful under Mama's angry glare!

In another essay, when Tia Rossa goes through a series of mental experiments with food - just the possibilities that her mind comes up with can put your taste buds into overdrive - "Instead of pork belly with masala, let's place the pork on fat onion rings, drenched in beer, covered in the sea salt and bake for three hours!" - Imagine that! Wendell Rodricks brings his childhood to delicious life in Tia Rossa.

Bachi Karkaria is at her best with her penchant for humorous sarcasm in Bongs, Bawas and Bigotry. A beautiful piece that pits the Parsi and Bengali communities against one another in a friendly battle of cuisines. The reading is pure fun and will ensure a few ROFL moments, quite literally.

Love markets? Well, Walks with Lyla by Niloufer Ichaporia King will make you love them all the more. An essay that expounds the gorgeousness and intoxicating natures of markets and captures them in all their vividity and not to mention their eccentricities. The segment on "Ben Pursy" will help you understand what I mean. 

What can be better that childhood friends recalling their memories of food together in an essay The Food Wicket - especially when those friends are the unbeatable Rocky Singh and Mayur Sharma. The piece especially struck a chord with me, because I remember my childhood of exchanging lunches with my Parsi best friend - her akoori for my pork bafat and getting called over each time an aunty in the lane made something special. Am so happy to see the same happening for my daughter as well too. 

Thank you Monika Manchanda of Sinamon Tales for this picture. 

Manu Chandra's Coming Full Circle resonates on so many levels - of being content in one's world, discovering that there is so much more, challenging oneself, excelling and sharing that expertise with the world - for everyone to enjoy. Having spoken to Manu on a few occasions and being a huge fan as well - this piece was some beautiful insight into the mind behind all that food. 

And oh the joys of slow cooking in the Bengali Bonti by Chitrita Banerji could not have come out better than with the tales of the bonti! For someone like me whose life revolves around the pressure cooker for most days of the week, this seriously makes me wish I had more hours to dedicate to slow cooking. 

The Sound of Flowers (Jhampan Mookerjee) makes me want to travel for Mahua - like right now! I am sure it will make you want to too!

Table for Three (Sumana, Jayaditya and Bikramjit) - When three friends (two of whom are life partners) are in perfect sync with one another and completely understand each other in terms of food, you have a beautiful essay like this one come forward. Sumana, though we have only email interactions with each other so far, I feel I know a part of you that I connect with immensely... love for good food. 

And what a befitting ending is The Theater of the Table by Anita Nair. An essay that reiterates - through food is the perfect way to love and be loved. While you may want to wake up next your soulmate each morning for the rest of your life, contemplating "What's for breakfast" together the previous night is the bond that runs so much deeper. 

The book does have a few pieces that didn't really work for me. Some for their inability to arouse any emotion and the one for its somewhat "kalyug" is here in the food world type of thoughts. But overall, Chillies and Porridge is a lovely read, with some essays warranting dog ears for you to read again and again!

Chillies and Porridge
Editor: Mita Kapur
Publisher: Harper Collins
Pages: 273
Price: Rs.499
Kindle edition: Rs 313.50

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