Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.


A Passage to India

And here's the one that was too big to carry around town last week.

Are books expensive? Unanswerable. Is a $90 book too expensive? Unanswerable, but the answer is no, anyway. You can put $90 into your tank and tear it up in an afternoon driving down the coast, but the $90 book takes you around the world and not just once and you keep it for life.

I can't see a book of this scale (hardback, 480 pages) making much margin even at the price. They sell glossy magazines a tenth of the weight at a quarter the price and full of nothing. Nor are books subsidised by ads for watches and Burberry and single barrel Scotch.

This is not a cook book. They just sell it out of that section because there are recipes in it. It's a two-kilogram rebuke to purists who insist that only those who hail from such parts may write about them. Christine Manfield an expert on India? She is now.

Buy it for the photography. Not of food; though that is there. The teeming cities; the mysterious waterways in which fully clothed people bathe; the vast open laundries where hang a million coloured cloth squares; the markets, the faded shops, the peeling paint, the crumbling buildings, the remains of the Raj, the serpentine railways, the wicker houseboats, the temples, the children in rags, the street stallholders, the forests, the jungles, the mountains, the animals, the motorcycles, the Ambassadors (the automotive ones), the heat, the dust, the painted faces, and the whites of a small child's eyes.

After all this, the food is an afterthought. But what an afterthought. Indian food is the most photogenic cuisine in the world. The colours and textures are a stylist's dream. The most appetising food photograph in the book will present some (but not me; I'll eat anything) with a paradox: how can deep-fried fish heads look so delicious?

Tasting India
Christine Manfield
Penguin 2011

This corridor in the palace at Mau opened through other corridors into a courtyard. It was of beautiful hard white stucco, but its pillars and vaulting could scarcely be seen behind coloured rags, iridescent balls, chandeliers of opaque pink glass, and murky photographs framed crookedly. At the end was the small but famous shrine of the dynastic cult, and the God to be born was largely a silver image the size of a teaspoon.
- E. M. Forster


White Dove said...

David Thompson"s treatise on Thai cooking hit the bookshops with a $100 price tag....(mmm was really too big to fit on my kitchen bench)

kitchen hand said...

Yes - buy several of these and it starts to get pricy!