Chillies and Porridge: Food culture, history and memories

Chillies and Porridge
Chillies and Porridge

Food memoirs and history of food are slowly becoming my favourite topics when it comes to food writing/reading. The food gets so much more character when it becomes a part of someone’s memory. There’s also this joy of reading about how the eating habits of people evolved, how they learnt about new flavours and how did they create something new out of all that knowledge.

Harper Collin’s latest title Chilies and Porridge, compiled and edited by food writer Mita Kapur is the latest addition to my book shelf. The book is a collection of chapters written by chefs, journalists, food writers and fashion designers who’ve shared their intimate relationship with food.

The chapters written by Janice Pariat and Bulbul Sharma inspire the title of the book. You can relate to the sound of metal (spoon) on metal (pot) when Pariat takes you to her grandmother’s kitchen where cooking porridge was a daily ritual. Sharma’s obsession with¬†chilliest will give you a craving too, no matter how intolerant you are to them. She resonates the sentiments of almost all the Indians when talking about finding that one chilly in the foreign land, to be eaten with the meal.

While veteran journalist Bachi Karkaria writes about being a Parsi growing up in Kolkata and the relation both communities share with their food, Chef Floyd Cardoz (of Tabla in NewYork and The Bombay Canteen in Mumbai) takes you through his early days in New York when he reinvented Indian food for the Americans.

Rocky Singh and Mayur Sharma of Highway On My Plate fame talk about the friendship which developed through years over shared love for food, of course. I found some element of my own childhood – Punjabi achar, kanji, paranthas, mutton curry, jalebis and bucket full of mangoes – in their stories.

The boy who struggled with Mathematics in class, would measure perfect ingredients for recipes and scale them to alter the quantity; Chef Manu Chandra accredits his unconventional schooling for shaping him up as a curious and creative person. If you’ve eaten at any of his restaurants (Olive Beach, Monkey Bar, Fatty Bao), you’d know what I am talking about. There’s a bit of nostalgia too in his story; don’t we all have fond memories of the samosas sold in our school’s canteen?

Author Nilanjana S. Roy and Mamang Dai dig deeper into the Indian food culture and write about the food grown and eaten by the tribes and farmers. The variety of saags mentioned in Roy’s piece will leave you amazed. Dai takes you around through the enchanting world of food in Arunachal Pradesh, where rice cooked in bamboo suffices as a full meal and eating a bug might make you hallucinate. Jhampan Mookerjee shares his first experience of drinking mahua – the intoxicating drink of Chattisgarh. Imagine the tribals getting high on this fruity-flowery beverage and dancing away into the night; what a good life that would be.

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