What better way to know people and communities you otherwise wouldn’t than an invitation to their dinner table? What better way to experience cities long extinct and historic streets long renovated, than through their food?
In many ways, cookbooks represent an unusual yet intimate way to do just that–dine like people you never thought you’d meet. Cooking is a strangely, yet wonderfully personal experience–and cookbooks come with the entire package, from the aromas, to the tediousness, to, of course, the taste. We’ve found that there are certain cookbooks that capture so much more than just a meal, more than the others–that introduce you to communities and their secrets, to places and their history. Here are 9 of the most interesting cookbooks that you can easily find and live through yourself.
I. Anna He Apoornabrahma by Shahu Patole
For all those who don’t render it ‘invisible’, it’s apparent that the caste system was founded on the backs off Dalit oppression. But pretending something doesn’t exist is perhaps one of the worst ways we can belittle a community. That’s why it’s more important than ever to acknowledge, document and enjoy the culture of oprressed communities and that’s why this cookbook, dedicated solely to traditional Dalit dishes incredibly important for both political and purely culinary reasons. Written wholly in Marathi, this cookbook traces the culinary traditions and history the Mahars and the Mangs–two Dalit communities of the Marathwada region in Maharashtra.
Food has always been one of the key ways the community was controlled and thus, it’s particularly poignant that it is through food that the book raises questions surrounding the Dalit community’s experience in India, as well as the subsequent creation of unique Dalit dishes this book includes. “I also looked at Hindu mythological texts where the four varnas have been mentioned along with what each should eat. We come under tamasic, perhaps even below that. A common proverb in our religious texts is that you become what you eat. But most people do not have a choice in what they eat and yet certain qualities are associated with each food group. I have tried to bring together all these different ideas in my book,” the author, Shahu Patole, tells Scroll.in.
The book holds iconic dishes like the Lakuti, made with a blend of goat’s blood and yesur, a local homemade masala. Their unusual and fascinating pork dishes include pork belly, as wlel as mohola chi poli, prepared with the larvae of honey bees. Of course, this book also includes a range of vegetarian dishes traditional to the Dalit community, including those of the Dalit thali, that makes use of pumpkin leaves, umber (cluster figs) and tarwat, a leafy vegetable.
Cost: INR 395
II. The Indecisive Chicken by Prajna Desai
“My husband says eating chicken will make you stupid. The bird is indecisive about whether to run left or right,” one of the eight Dharavi-based women who is a part of this book explained to The Better India when asked why she doesn’t eat chicken.
And if the title of this book hasn’t made you adore it already, this cookbook combines the recipes as well as the stories of eight women from Mumbai’s Dharavi area, of different communities and regions. The book includes no less than 35 recipes that span India and its innumerable communities, through these women. Among its several unique dishes, you can find the Ambadi Pulao, that uses the sour leaves of the Kenaf plant, and Pharas – steamed or deep-fried rice-dough pockets filled with split Bengal gram or chickpea flour and split black gram. This book is isn’t just significant with regards to its recipes – it is culturally relevant as well.
Cost: INR 1250
III. Dining With The Maharajas by Neha Prasada
It’s easy to infer from the title that this cookbook is nothing short of royal. This collection of recipes is the culmination of culinary traditions of 10 of India’s royal families, covering states like Hyderabad, Jodhpur, Jammu and Kashmir, Patiala, Rampur, Mysore, and Udaipur, among several others. There is a certain distinctness of the royal cuisine, and this book showcases that. It includes anecdotes from the Maharajas and Maharanis, and offers a glimpse into the everyday life of a royal family member. It highlights the specific traditions of royal cuisine, their unique methods of presentation and their will to achieve perfection in each of their dishes. Further, it includes recipes that have never been published before, and have been kept a secret by the royal community for, well, ever, until now. A coffee-table-cum-cookbook, this book offers a refreshing insight into India’s royalty.
Cost: INR 3,002
IV. Tehzeeb: Culinary Traditions of Awadh by Adil. I. Ahmad
This cookbook portrays a Lucknow like few have ever seen before. Regardless of their socio-economic background and their caste, the people of Lucknow – and, in turn, Awadh, consider their food, art. This book of an aristocrat family’s recipes, explores traditionally Awadhi cuisine. It takes you back to an India even before the British Raj; an India of kings and queens and beautiful, aesthetic culinary traditions. It gives you food that is craft.
Cost: INR 597
V. The Pondicherry Kitchen by Lourdes Tirouvanziam-Louis
In 1674, the French East India Company established Pondicherry as their headquarters. It was only in 1954 that Pondicherry was named its own union territory. Even today, French influence over Pondicherry is evident in its streets and of course, its cuisine. This cookbook identifies this French-inspired cuisine that was cooked by the locals of Pondicherry for their French superiors, and includes recipes that has been passed down generations only orally. It is centered around ingredients such as chicken, rice, egg, lamb, turkey and, of course, seafood. It is not without stories about Pondicherry’s food culture – a potpourri of Indian, Portuguese and even Malaysian cooking. This book walks you through everything you need to know about the fusion cuisine of Pondicherry.
Cost: INR 311
VI. The Courtly Cuisine: Kayastha Kitchens Through India by Preeta Mathur
Kayastha is the name given to the community of Hindus that traditionally played the roles of writers and accountants of their villages, and, later, ministers and administrators under the Mughal rule. They are known to have an extremely well-developed culinary history, influenced primarily by the Mughals. The cuisine places emphasis on meat – sauces and whole spices like black cardamom accompany delicious, greasy reds of meats. Iconic Kayastha dishes, like the siri, with goat’s head and a myriad of spices, are broken down in a simple, home-cooking style manner in this book. Take in all the aromas and flavours as you cook the scrumptious meals that the Kayastha community pride themselves in.
Cost: INR 576
VII. Korma, Kheer and Kismet by Pamela Timms
Old Delhi is charm and chaos, all at once, and its food is the perfect witness to that. When Timms arrived to Delhi from Scotland to make it home, she decided to document the culinary magic of Old Delhi, and Korma, Kheer and Kismet does just that. This book is a walk through every street, every corner of Old Delhi, from Sadar Bazaar to Matia Mahal, and stops at every iconic food and drink stall on the way. She ends each chapter of her book with a golden recipe, again relating directly to the experiences she had in Old Delhi – the people she met, the chefs that cooked for her, the restaurants she loved. Now, you don’t have to visit Old Delhi to see yourself as a Delhi local savouring chana-batura or sheer kurma; you can make it at your own home.
Cost: INR 372
VIII. Cook and See by S. Meenakshi Ammal
The best thing about the Cook and See series is that it has a total of four volumes, dedicated entirely to South Indian cooking. Right from the first edition published in 1951, in Tamil, ‘Samaithy Paar’, to its Hindi, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada and finally, English evolutions, this book is a culmination of the best of Indian vegetarian cooking. Even today, it is considered a classic, and Meenakshi Ammal a highly inspirational, renowned cook. It offers the easiest yet most delicious recipes of iconic South Indian meals, like the poritha kozambu and the lime rice. To put it plainly, this cookbook is a dream for anyone who wishes to make the South Indian meals that everybody adores.
Cost: INR 150
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