Thursday, October 15, 2009

Book Review "Monsoon Diary"- by Jillian

In the past year I found a passion for reading cooking/eating memoirs. I think it started with HEAT by Bill Buford, which is still my favorite for its laugh-out-loud passages and colorful charachters. Also on the list were two of the Ruth Reichl books (RIP Gourmet!) Garlic and Sapphires and Comfort Me with Apples, the former reading better than the latter in my opinion. Then, there was The Omnivore's Dilema by Michael Pollan which you must all drop what you are doing and begin reading right now! Quick! Go get a copy! I'll wait!

As you toggle between Amazon and reading here, let me tell you about another book you should order, as long as you are paying shipping costs. Or, you can take it from the Indianapolis Library like me (uh, darling, don't forget to renew that....)

Monsoon Diary, by Shoba Narayan is like a road trip from Delhi to Chennai to St. Louis. As many Indian families mark the day that a baby eats solid food as a religious experience, Shoba's journey from toddler in India to married woman in America is punctuated by the everyday and special foods of her life and culture. I picked up this book off the Indy library shelf of cookbooks- because it has fabulous recipes in every chapter. I've already made the bhajis and channa masala. What makes Shoba's story different from all of the other food memoirs competing for our attention right now is the juxtaposition of exoticism; it begins with explanations of foods that are wholly unknown in the US and ends with Shoba's discovery of foods at her college in Connecticut, unknown to her. For example: most Indiana eat gentle, savory foods for breakfast that may have onion or lentils in them. She is astounded (and a tad nauseated) by the buffet of sweet pastries, sugary cereals, waffles and pancakes with fruit and syrups that were offered in her college commons and resorted to rice and yogurt until her stomach could handle the sweets.

If you love food memoirs that also tie heavily into family and culture, read Monsoon Diary and make one of her recipes. You will be enchanted by discovering sour mangoes and my new favorite condiment: hot mango pickle!

A short excerpt about Indian cooking from Shoba: "Cooking and eating in India is a communal activity governed by a complex system of rules, rituals, and beliefs. My mother recited examples to me whenever she got the chance. Cumin and cardamom arouse, so eat them only after you get married, she instructed. Fenugreek tea makes your hair lustrous and increases breast milk, so drink copious amounts when you have babies. Coriander seeds cool the body during summer; mustard and sesame seeds lend heat during winter. Cardamom aids digestion, cinnamon soothes, and lentils build muscles. Every feast should have the three Ps: pappadams, pachadi, and payasam (lentil wafers, yogurt salad, and sweet pudding). Any new bride should be able to make a decent rasam (dal-and-tomato soup). If you cannot make rasam, do not call yourself the lady of the house. And so it went. "

1 comment:

  1. I also read Garlic and Sapphires over the last year and thought it was extremely interesting. The parts about food were great and fun to read, but the whole "Reichl in Disguise with Sapphires" thing was VERY interesting. She really went over the top with Marion Cunningham at one dinner - so far over the top that either Reichl is exaggerating what happened for literary effect or she's a lot stranger than I had thought - but all quite interesting.