Travel Reads: A Portrait of India through Five Scrumptious Food Books

Photo credit - Irfan Nabi

Photo Credit: Irfan Nabi for Calcutta On Your Plate: By Nilosree Biswas

From Mughal courts to Bengal’s traditional gastronomy, these titles have something for everyone.

Calcutta On Your Plate: By Nilosree Biswas

What is known as Kolkata’s food today has its backstory embedded in 250 years of political, social and cultural history—a fascinating testimony of self-fashioned Bengali baboos, whose aspirations pushed the boundaries of Bengal’s traditional gastronomy, resulting
in a new food universe.From the private kitchens of an exiled king and the homes of a handful of upper-class Bengalis, how some dishes became so popular is a thrilling story of taste, smell and savouring. To think that some of today’s signature dishes such as dum biriyani, kebabs, fish chops, kabirajis, cutlets, kathi rolls and Moghlai paratha were once exclusive to those who had access to the ingredients or for whom it was their ‘home food’, is perhaps overwhelming at some level.

Photo credit - Irfan Nabi
Photo credit – Irfan Nabi

With influences of mostly two cooking styles—the English and the Mughlai-Awadhi, aided by contributions of the Portuguese, and a pre-existing food habit from the medieval times, Calcutta’s foodscape underwent a sea change, impacting people’s lives, food habits, food procurement and the ways of social engagement.

Calcutta on Your Plate touches upon this incredible journey of tastes, innovations, acceptance, indulgences and celebrations.

Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors By Lizzie Collingham

This eye-opening book throws light on historical journeys of food and recipes across continents. It follows the adaptations of different dishes as they nimbly hop from one culture to the next: The ubiquitous biryani went from a dish prepared on the go for Emperor Babur’s soldiers to an elaborate part of feasts in the later Mughal court. Collingham’s stories trace cross-cultural strands in food like the colonial influences in Indian dishes or the popularity of chicken tikka masala in the U.K. As people travel or migrate, they take with them edible pieces of their homeland in the form of ingredients and recipes, creating a hybrid cuisine and culture in a new land.

Korma, Kheer and Kismet: Five Seasons in Old Delhi By Pamela Timms

A Scotswoman goes on a journey of discovery through Old Delhi’s food lanes. Pamela Timms walks and eats her way through this ancient city of businessmen, adventurers, and some of the country’s best cooks. Through persistence and patience, she wins over kebabchis and halwais and becomes both confidante and chronicler of their culinary escapades. The result: a wonderful book that is part travel guide, part food memoir, and entirely mouthwatering.

Also Read: 10 Travel Books That Will Give You Serious Wanderlust

Eating India: Exploring a Nation’s Cuisine By Chitrita Banerji

This is a portrait of India through its food. The author delves into the history of the land, its seasonal and often peculiar culinary traditions, and the ingredients that appear and disappear across the vast subcontinent. For Chitrita Banerji, food is a mirror to Indian society and she captures its nuances on her journey through the country in search of authentic cuisines. The India that emerges through her book is rich in flavours and teeming with stories.

Following Fish: Travels around the Indian Coast By Samanth Subramanian

This book makes the reader visualise India as a piscine map with different fish inhabiting its vast coastline. Visiting a handful of places on this map, the writer weaves an unconventional travelogue. From kappa meen curries in Kerala toddy shops to meetings with eccentric healers in Hyderabad who advocate swallowing live fish to cure asthma, each encounter encompasses geographical, historical, environmental, and cultural narratives. As this satisfying journey ends on an insightful boat trip off the coast of Gujarat, you might just find yourself saying, “So long and thanks for all the fish.”

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