It didn’t take long after commencing my endeavor to write about food – this blog – that I realized, in order to justify what I was doing I needed to firstly cook a lot more than I used to and more importantly read; read about food in all respects – its history, its present and where the future lies. And to read as much as possible about the people behind what we eat, their thinking, and what is it that they are doing to the most important element of our life.
So began my “learning” – not all informative and academic, but at time fun and relaxing even – into food and drink which I hope to carry on doing this year and onwards.
Although, over the years I have read books centered around food – I’m not taking into account cookbooks, which I hardly ever use – these five that I have mentioned here are the ones I read ever since the big “realization” I stated above. They were bought and read for both entertainment and education but also for the purpose of hopefully understanding the art a little more. My education isn’t limited to books of course. There are a lot many TV programs and documentaries that have helped me appreciate food better and of course the written word in the form of newspaper columns – Vir Sanghvi’s Rude Food has a plethora of information – add to that. Off late many food enthusiasts have started sharing their knowledge via chats and while many chefs can be found doing “demonstrations”, educators like Dr. Kurush F. Dalal hold talks – I recently attended Food Tales from Then and Now by him – which are essential if you want to know why we eat what we eat.
Coming back to the books, I recommend all of them. It’s as simple as that. However, A. A. Gill’s Table Talk and Sous Chef by Michael Gibney would appeal more to those that are either in the industry of food or hold a certain affiliation and affection towards it. Table Talk is a compilation of Gill’s articles over the years, a food critic of notable importance, there’s a lot that can be learned from his writing and the unashamed almost brash reviews of what and where he eats. What caught my eye were the integrity and moral values with which he goes about his business of reviewing and that’s something every food-blogger in particular needs to think about. Humour and wit are two essential ingredients in Gill’s book which makes his thoughts and observations a lot easier to consume and appreciate especially his feelings on world cuisines. Table Talk by A. A. Gill is what food journalism should be and if you’re thinking of getting into the business – be it as a restaurateur or a blogger or anything in-between – then you must give this one a read.
When it comes to must haves, Sous Chef is the one for all aspiring chefs out there. A lot like Restaurant Babylon – although, less gossipy and more to the point – Sous Chef by Michael Gibney is a day in the life of, you guessed it smarty pants, a sous chef. Gibney takes us behind the revolving doors to what goes on in the burning heat of commercial kitchens and the people responsible for what you eat. His second person narration at times can be irritating and might take a while getting used to, but as the day moves on and chaos of service begins, one tends to forget everything else as we root for the staff to overcome their last minute tribulations and end the shift/day hopefully triumphantly. Sous Chef is about people, the individuals who spend hours, many a times at the expense of family and relationships, to prepare something they hope will bring a smile on the face of those who consume their offerings.
I don’t think I have to sell The New Yorker’s Book of Food and Drink to you. I mean it is The New Yorker after all and it’s one of those thick books that look good on your bookshelf. In fact the cherry on top can be that it comes filled with the best articles on food and drink from the best there has been – featured in the magazine over the years. While once again it might appeal a whole lot more to “foodies”, but even if you’re not, you’ll be at a great loss to overlook this charming, funny, exquisite, and eventually essential read as it coalesces everything food in the form of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, humour, trends, nostalgia, spicy, sweet, warm, and cold. It is also one of those books that you can go back to ever-so-often or else like me, read it in parts, cherishing every bit of it slowly like a well cooked meal.
Chillies and Porridge is food nostalgia at its best. We all have fond childhood memories – unless you’re a child reading this in which case maybe this can become a fond memory – and the book capitalizes on the past by combining together well written “short” stories/chapters by a handful of notable Indians. There’s Rocky & Mayur’s The Food Wicket which talks about society cricket and how street food and community living was essential in shaping their friendship. In Walks with Lyla, Niloufer Ichaporia King takes us through the narrow lanes that form Mumbai to give us an insight into the many markets dotted around the city serving specialized ingredients and food. And Chitrita Banerji tells us all about that essential regional cooking utensil that is The Bengali Bonti. These are but some of the stories that for the essence of one of my favorite books from last year, Chillies and Porridge.
Darjeeling: A History of the World’s Greatest Tea happens to be my first book of the New Year and it’s quite possibly the most well rounded read about the region I have come across, not just limiting itself to tea. The book manages to combine the history of Darjeeling with its present and even manages to give us a glimpse into the future while keeping its primary focus on tea. Jeff Koehler occasionally romanticizes the region as if he was writing a travelogue and speaks as much about the commodity it is most famous for as about the people that inhabit and are responsible for manufacturing it. His insider’s view into the making of tea right from the plantation stage till the time it is served up in homes, thanks due to the uninterrupted access he has to the many plantations and their managers, is what gives the book a gentle yet substantial flavouring. Koehler gives the reader a beautiful account of the most loved and consumed drink of the country. We as a nation consume enormous amounts of tea and it breaks any and all cast/religious/societal barriers. We also produce the best tea available in the world and Darjeeling is a book that glorifies one of our biggest exports.