To call myself a foodie would be an understatement. My love affair with food began quite early. Even as a child, I was somehow drawn to food the way sugar draws ants. In a way, my obsession with food and books have a mutually common base and an intensely satisfying connection with each other!
By virtue of being a painfully shy kid, I was always happy hiding behind books, which acted as my comfort zone. My earliest memories of reading go back to when I was 7, and when I was given an Enid Blyton book of a circus girl, Carlotta, and her adventures. For someone who had a secret appetite for adventure, her life almost seemed magical. More awe inspiring though, were the different kinds of food described in the book. I must say, Enid Blyton was a master in making the most drab of foods seem so gourmet like, that I grew up on fantasized versions of Ginger beer, sandwiches, lemonade (which I later discovered was a fancy name for nimbu pani!), boiled eggs, fresh fruits, jam, pickles, midnight feasts and picnics over the hillside. These were the dreams that my childhood was made of. I would almost smell the mountain air, feel the texture of the sandwich and hallucinate the taste of ginger beer. Through Malory towers, Famous five and Five find outers, unconsciously I became a fan of food.
My make believe games involved getting some food from the bakery, putting it in a basket, laying it out and having imaginary picnics with myself, and of course my books for company! Over the years, my love for food diversified from street food and chaat to food from north Indian restaurants(which in the 80s were the only alternative cuisine available in Shimoga) and later a fetish for Chinese. Even as my memory for other important things fails me at that most crucial of times, like names of people whom I am definitely supposed to be knowing; food memories never deny me that favor. I still remember the taste of Hakka noodles made by a small Chinese joint in Shimoga which shut shop a few months later due to lack of regular patrons (other than me, of course!).
Over the years, my love for books and food grew in equal measure, both competing for the first spot. My college days in Mangalore opened new avenues to explore, the best of both worlds. I think I must be the only person who spent all her pocket money on food and the library. I am sure though, that I am the only person in the whole world who read loads of crappy mills and boons only to enjoy the description of food which is described in it rather than the romance! I was introduced to fancy names, french food, Hors d’ oeuvres(which by the way, I still do not know how to pronounce), wine and the mouth watering deserts like Crepe Suzette which I enjoyed by proxy, through these books.
Back then, the only kind of food writing that I knew of were cook books, which describe cooking in a really dull, drab way, measuring each ingredient in great detail, and eventually spoiling the spontaneity of it all! Which is why, I love the way Nigella Lawson cooks. Just by instinct- a handful of this, a sprinkle of that, a bunch of coriander torn right out of the garden, whisk it all together, and viola! You have a drool worthy dish in front of you! Any ways, I’m digressing, which usually happens when I am talking food.
Coming back to the point, I only got to know that there was a genre’ called food writing when I discovered a book at a sale. The book called “Endless feasts”, edited by Ruth Reichl, is a collection of articles that various food journalists in Europe and America. The book describes delicious traditional breakfasts of Maine, the grandiose dinners at Ritz in Paris, and stories of how Italian home food is made. Though being a vegetarian meant that I could not even try most of what was described, the descriptions were enough to make my mouth water! From then on, I was hooked! Every book shop I went to, I would scour in the cooking section for hidden gems like these. They are really difficult to find, and when I did chance upon one, they would be quite harsh on my purse! Nevertheless, over the years I have managed to make up my very own small yet tasty food library! In fact, these are the only books which I return to again and again, when I am in distress. They are my therapists!
For those of you who dig books like these, a list of my favorites:
1. Eating India, by Chitrita Banerjee — which describes the different cuisines of India elaborately along with the history attached to each kind of food. For example, the culinary mastery of chef Pir Ali, who delighted the Nizam of Lucknow’s English guests by presenting a pie which contained tiny live birds which flew away when the crust was opened! Maybe, some connection to the English rhyme, sing a song of six pence….. Such anecdotes makes each dish interesting and each cuisine worth exploring. Different cuisines of India are thoroughly explored and tasted, leaving you slightly full and satiated, by the time you put the book down.
2. Kheer,Korma and Kismet, by Pamela Timms — who is a Scottish Journalist, living in Delhi. This book describes the yummy street food(my favorite kind) of Delhi in vivid detail, down to romantic gully names like Hauz Qazi Chowk,Ballimaran and Chawri Bazaar which elevate the food from the streets to something more exotic and something for which you want to catch the next train to Delhi in a tearing hurry. Daulat ka chaat, phirni, chana bathura,kheer… I’m coming!
- Hot tea across India, by engineer turned writer Rishad Saam Mehta. I have always been a lover of coffee, but this book converted me. The book describes the author’s tryst with different types of tea all over India and anecdotes built around it. It describes a journey he took on his bike and how he encountered diverse people, simple meals, different but tasty versions of tea. Definitely my cup of tea!(pun intended)
- Choclat, by Joanne Harris . Though this book is about a bigger something, with a moral behind the story and all that, the main attraction remains … yes,the chocolate. Believe me, when you read this book, you can actually smell the warm smells of bread and hot chocolate emanating out of the book. Pralines, marzipans, pastries, hot chocolate and bonbons creep into your dreams and give you a feeling of fuzzy happiness.
5. Eat, pray love, by Elizabeth Gilbert . Well, to be more specific, the EAT part of the book. That someone could travel to an unknown place, just to experience eating made me feel as if I was reading about a kindred spirit! I would soo do it, if I could just brush my other responsibilities under the carpet! And to go to Italy, would be icing on the cake, but I would be happy just about anywhere! After this book, I don’t feel so weird anymore for being in love with food.
6.The temporary bride by Jennifer Klinec. This book is a non vegetarians delight. It describes the various kinds of food prepared in Iran, and how two people fell in love while exploring food. Some of the food described slightly grossed me out, but nevertheless, I would certainly recommend it for the lovely description of the food given.
There are many more such books which describe food with the love and attention that it deserves on my wish list. With instagram, good reads and tv shows, my ongiong love affair with food has reached new proportions. But, how much ever these tempt me, there is nothing like the comfort you get when you are curled up with a good book, a cup of chai, a plateful of pakodas, or a bar of dairy milk crackle, or a bag of kurkure, or french fries, or paneer chilli or…hmmmm… the list goes on.