Book Review - The Travelling BellySaturday, January 28, 2017ruthdsouzap
You know that feeling of knowing somebody really well even though you may not have met them personally yet? Often happens in my line of work, being a freelance journalist. Thanks to social media you tend to know a lot about them and conversation then becomes much easier, even if its the first time you are chatting.
That's exactly how I felt when I chatted with Kalyan Karmakar for close to an hour on the phone for the first time. I began following Kalyan right from the early days of his blog, Finely Chopped. Over the years, I may not have been as consistent in reading his posts but I did follow, from a distance, his journey as a food blogger - his travels, his food walks and the accolades he received and more. And so it was with great anticipation that I looked forward to his book - the Travelling Belly
I was among those that pre-ordered the book and was quite surprised when I received the copy much before the scheduled date of release. And then received a second copy which turned out to be the one that I paid for! Assuming here that the first one came directly from the publisher, though I never heard from anyone to confirm it! Anyways, I digress. Immediately I dove into the book...
The Travelling Belly is a collection of Kalyan's food experiences, memories and his recommendations on where to eat and what to eat in 10 cities, beginning with Kolkata, the city of his childhood and ending with Mumbai, the city he calls home now. Right off, this is perhaps the first book on food which talks of restaurants, the non-star kinds, from deep-inside-the-bylanes-of-a-city hole-in-the-wall kinds to the brick and mortar, family run places that have survived the test of time and then some. Among all the books on food focusing on the preservation of cuisines and the sharing of recipes (which are all great in their own right), this here has a uniqueness of its own.
So getting down to it, the book is quite a read at 300 pages, with each city getting its due, Mumbai more so than the rest, but naturally. All of the experiences are based on Kalyan's discoveries in the cities he visited on work or for other reasons, which is by and large exactly how most food bloggers go about gathering their experiences. What I liked about the documenting of these experiences is that there is almost always a backstory - not historical in terms of the cuisine all the time, but more about the people that man the counters, that sweat it out behind the wood fire and those that you make friends with when you become a regular.
I love this because if I take one of those food walks that are so thoughtfully included at the end of every city in the book, I have a personal connect to fall back on which may be mighty useful when I am trying to score that Raspberry at Britannia.
What also gets underlined in the book ever so often is the power of social media - from helping Kalyan find places in cities, to meeting people who share the love for food, for the snowball effect that such encounters have and more. In fact, what endeared the book to me was seeing so many names that I know personally or at least feel I do, thanks to social media - remember that familiarity thing I mentioned at the beginning. Its just that nice feeling of seeing the name of good friend Monika Manchanda with whose family Onam lunches and BBQ parties are so much fun!Or seeing names like Rhea Mitra Dalal, Kurush Dalal, and several others and feeling connected.
On the other hand, I personally find that the book makes for a very linear read, with it being more a compilation of blog posts rather than going beyond the blog which I would have loved for it to do. Perhaps a little more of a story style narrative, and not the staccato approach of visiting a place, a small experience of the food, the process of ordering, sharing tables and the like... especially when selection of places, ordering, sharing tables and minimal food descriptions are repetitive. This fits perfectly in a blog post since your reading is usually a short experience, but not in a book which you spend a lot more time with. Something squarely for the editors to consider for edition 2 maybe. And also, some work on the tips that are included, a majority of them are repetitive in the connection with the piece they follow or a little too obvious to warrant being a tip in itself.
Now that being said, I still like the book and it will be the first thing I will turn to when I visit any of the cities covered. It makes for the perfect guide to narrow down on places, mostly popular and a few off beat, to visit especially when you have just a few days on hand and don't really want to spend time searching for places. You can definitely trust Kalyan's choices because he has done his homework, has trudged out there and found the places and bottom line - loves his food. He also makes it a point to suggest places that he may not have visited but has heard highly and sometimes not too highly off as well. The choice is vast and left to you.
Publisher: Hachette India
Price: Rs 399/-
Available on Amazon