Sunday, May 2, 2010

How to eat words

Should you happen to glance at the cookbook section at any bookstore, you’ll see an impressive buffet spread: beautifully shot books, some with near-edible pictures, liberal helpings of authentic ethnological and cultural insight, and the finest writing in the genre of ‘food pornography’. The spread is delectable enough, and varied enough, to have caught the attention of the Paris-based conferrers of the Gourmand award. Last year, the Emperor’s Table by Salma Husain (Roli) won the award for best culinary history. This year, in the Best Easy Recipes category, they chose Monish Gujral’s The Motimahal Cookbook: On the Butter Chicken Trail—a bestseller internationally, what with butter chicken’s relative, Chicken Tikka Masala (CTM), being anointed Britain’s national dish by some. At the other end of the calorie-counting spectrum, Sukham Ayu, Pratibha Jain and Jigyasa Giri’s primer on healthy cooking according to Ayurvedic principles won in the Health and Nutrition category, a niche that is fast catching on.

This is just the tip of the smorgasbord. Cookbooks today bear not even a passing likeness to the shoddily produced “handouts for housewives” that once dominated the genre. Today, they have sharper focus and near-infinite variety. Some target specific social groups, such as cosmopolitan young single people who entertain occasionally (Flash in the Pan, Westland) or IT professionals (Cook IT, Roli). Others provide a sort of food ethnology guide to, say, the Syrian Christian community (The Suriani Kitchen, Westland) or the Maharashtrian kitchen (The Essential Marathi Cookbook, Penguin). Some make a foreign cuisine authentically our own, for an internationally well-travelled class, such as Italian Khana (Random House India), and still others appeal to a rarefied restaurant-frequenting, Travel and Living-watching class. For those who like an international interpretation of Indian food, there’s the forthcoming Modern Spice by cook show host Monica Bhide, or, the Michelin-starred, newly minted ‘luxe fusion’ Indian food pioneered by Vivek Singh, chef of the London-based Cinnamon Club (both RHI).

Full report here Outlook

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