By Somrita Ghosh
Title: Chillies and Porridge; Editor: Mita Kapur; Publisher: Harper Collins; Pages: 273.
What happens when top experts from various walks of life stir imaginations, mix emotions and pour their best memories into the frying pan called life? Believe that it no longer remains just a food experience but turns into an unforgettable memoir.
Although Kapur, founder and CEO of India’s leading literary consultancy Sihayi, terms the book as a collection of stories, reminiscences and essays by some of her favourite writers, you get on board a food journey that takes you places and leaves you with a tinge that was amiss in your life so far.
The journey begins with poet-author Janice Pariat’s story “Porridge” in which she fondly speaks of her memories of breakfast that mostly involved porridge (oats) and how she used to have it with bread during her childhood days.
For fashion designer Wendell Rodricks, food reminds him of his cook Tia Rosa after whom the story is titled. He reminisces how Tia would arrive in his home at Goa with her cornucopia of goodies. The story is an ode to the cook after she died.
“Bongs, Bawas and Bigotry”, written by reputed journalist Bachi Karkaria, is all about a Parsi growing up in Kolkata which she describes as “khichdi au gratin, a combination that is difficult to manage or imagine.”
Karkaria brings in a comparison between the two communities the common factor that binds both Parsis and Bengalis together: fish that unites both the communities and its style of cooking that makes it all different.
“The Parsis and Bengalis are equally proud of their exalted place in the scheme of things. Both believe they are a class not only apart, but unquestionably, in a class of one,” she writes.
Orinthologist Bulbul Sharma’s food memoir “Chilli High” is all about chillies – red, green, Georgian, French, England, Lajpat Nagar (Delhi) to remote supermarkets in various cities in the world.
She writes how her roommate, during her Soviet Union student days, brought chillies from Georgia only for her, how she craved for green chillies sprinkled over chats in Lajpat Nagar and her present residence in a remote town in Ireland, with no chillies to be found unless she catches a bus and travels three hours to Dublin.
Taking a sudden plunge into the tastes that border town offers and mostly goes unnoticed, Kai Freise, a noted journalist and travel writer, pens down his memories of border days in his story titled “Burmese Day”.
The author shares his experience of a small village located in the Myanmar border with India named Tamu. “I have an appetite for border districts that my stomach doesn’t appreciate,” Freise writes.
When he revisits the place, where he went with an “agenda to savour the noir-ish charms of Tijuanaland again,” the atmosphere of the town had changed which now bristled with everything – from power tools to iPods. When it came to savouring the food, it was Yunnan cuisine ‘Meik Li Yint’ that made his day.
Journalist-author Nilanjana S Roy takes the readers into the street foods of Kolkata to tastes of states from the northeast to the national capital in her memoir “Unseen Foods”.
The author demonstrates the range of snacks or full meals easily available at a pocket pinch of Rs.20 or even below that, talks about the flavours of eight states that remain restricted due to their geographical boundaries and mentions about INA market in Delhi where vegetable stalls cater to local households as well as to chefs and members of Delhi’s large expat community – all coming together.
The book ends with writer Anita Nair’s “The Theatre of the Table”, a food memoir that talks about the author’s ultimate destination for food – her home where she grew by relishing dishes cooked by her mother and still considers her parents as “home” despite being married for 28 years.
She describes how the dinner table at her parents’ home turns into a theatre, with food being the primary focus, where no compromises can be made.
Other than these food pieces, do not miss “Memory’s Savour” by Avtar Singh; “Walks with Lyla” by Niloufer Ichaporia King; “The Food Wicket” by Rocky Singh and Mayur Sharma; “Game for Food” by Saleem Kidwai; “Flyod’s Canteen” by Flyod Cardoz; “Coming Full Circle” by Manu Chandra; “A Journey Through the World of Slow Cooking” by Jerome Marrel; “The Bengali Bonti” by Chitrita Banerji; “Burmese Day” by Kai Friese; “The Things I Will Put In My Mouth” by Srinath Perur; “The Sound of Flowers” by Jhampan Mookerjee; “If Food Be The Food…” by Karthka Nair; “A Table for Three” by Sumana, Jayaditya and Bikramjit; “Cook It Slowly” by Mamang Dai; “Inheritance” by Naintara Maya Oberoi; “Not Just Dessert” by Sidin Vadukut; and “India: The New Junk Food Frontier” by Tara Deshpande.
A joyous mix of the familiar and the unfamiliar, the homegrown and the street-born, the book is, indeed, a celebration of the most vital ingredient of life: food.