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Food guides for Indians, by Indians

Marryam H Reshii | December 16, 2005

Thus far, there hasn't exactly been a deluge of books on food that are not cookbooks. Not, at least, those written by Indians, for Indians. Things, happily, look set to change: last week saw the launch of a book on Japanese food written from an Indian perspective.

Though the intention was a marketing exercise, the brains behind the venture -- Delhi's Nikko Hotel -- ensured it introduces the reader to various facets of Japanese cuisine.

"If the book results in Japanese food becoming trendy in Delhi, I've done my job successfully," says R Kono, general manager of the hotel, and the driving force behind the book.

From the stable of Penguin India comes the vast majority of books on food: all three of them. The best known is Vir Sanghvi's Rude Food, a compilation of his writings in the Sunday section of Hindustan Times, where Sanghvi is the editorial director.

At once erudite and accessible, Sanghvi's canvas is a large one: from bhel puri to butter chicken and from Perigord truffles to pinto beans. "It's a bestseller," claims Diya Hazra, commissioning editor, Penguin India.

Booksellers in every metro point with pride to the wunderkind. "No work of non-fiction has ever done so well."

In turns mid-market and hugely upmarket, Rude Food is such a good read because it is the gastronomic equivalent of an armchair travelogue: you're just as likely to read about street food in Bangkok as you are about how Michel Bourdin used to serve up his desserts at The Connaught, London.

The other interesting book about food is A Matter Of Taste, edited by Nilanjana S Roy. Two aspects stand out. The writers (all Indian) fall into the 'literary' category.

The second is the widely differing perspectives of each of them. Excerpts by Sudha Koul and Frank Simoes take the reader to Kashmir and Goa respectively, while banquets, fasting, leftovers and drought showcase not only food, but the absence of it. There even is a certain M K Gandhi on his ambivalence about eating meat.

Penguin's third tasty morsel is Chitrita Banerji's Life And Food In Bengal, part-autobiography, part meticulously researched documentary on Bengali cuisine.

Given the regional diversity of India, I find it incredible that there is no other work like this one. I also find it inexplicable that no Indian author has come up with a travelogue where food is the leitmotif.

It doesn't have to be restricted to India. It doesn't even have to be about good food -- even bad food makes good reading.

The last book is one of the best-kept secrets of Indian publishing. It is Index -- A Lexicon For The Indian Gourmet, by Deepak Nirula, of the eponymous fast food chain.

It started as a 'time pass' for Nirula, while he lived in the United States. He was in danger of forgetting the Hindi names of ingredients and jotted them down on the proverbial back of an envelope.

It soon grew into an index of ingredients and cooking terminology in French, Kashmiri, Oriya and Telugu. It has been published privately and is only available at the counters of select Nirula's outlets. So far, that is.

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