Book Box | Food books for a festive Christmas and holiday season - Hindustan Times
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Book Box | Food books for a festive Christmas and holiday season

Dec 24, 2023 08:00 AM IST

Six food books to gift the food lovers in your life at Christmas and New Year

Dear Reader,

Indian Christmas(Author) PREMIUM
Indian Christmas(Author)

My family doesn’t celebrate Christmas. I managed to get around that hurdle, by the judicious act of entering this world on Christmas Eve. I went to school in a Catholic Convent with nativity plays and cake to mark the day. Thus topping nature with nurture has ensured my Christmas week stays about food, festivities and presents.

Lately, I have ratcheted up my gift quotient, by giving people ‘return presents’ on my Christmas Eve birthday. It seems the thing to do, and since everyone is in the mood for food, it is food memoirs and anthologies. I considered illustrated cookbooks as well, but then I wonder, does anyone cook from recipe books anymore?

So here instead, are six books that have stories; dip-into-reads that are collector items for your kitchens. They make great presents, for you, your Secret Santa project, for your family or friends.

Book 1 of 6: Meditations on Food and Community

Be My Guest(Author)
Be My Guest(Author)

Priya Basil grew up in Kenya, has roots in India, is a citizen of the UK, and lives in Germany, and her food stories dip into the rich flavours from these countries. She begins Be My Guest by being petulant. "One day I went home and there was no kadhi... No doubt my face had betrayed my disappointment, which was not just about the setback to my stomach – substantial though that was – but the letdown of love… I felt her (my mother’s) mortality, a frightening chill," she says.

Having been guilty of such grumpiness myself, when I visit my parent’s house and find it bare of home-baked banana bread, biryani and other remembered delicacies from my childhood, I so related to this story. Other gems in this beautifully written slim volume, include eating ‘red devil’ ice-cream lollies in Kenya, and a gurudwara langar meal in Berlin.

Book 2 of 6: An Economist Writes a Cookbook

 

Cooking to Save Your Life(Author)
Cooking to Save Your Life(Author)

Bengalis are famously known as foodies, and so are certain economists. The intersection of the two produces a delightful book. Cooking to Save Your Life by economist Abhijit Banerjee, is expensive at 1,499, but is worth the splurge. Recipes include fried figs and kabuli pulao, there’s also tomato soup and moong dal with cauliflower. What sets this book apart are Banerjee’s edgy commentaries, his laying out of the socio-political contexts of foods and his easy banter. 

The cook, he says, may want to assuage hunger, impress someone, or just get through the evening without a disaster, and she has her constraints: busy, tired, happy, distracted. "So the meal has to work on all that, economise on the scarce resources, generate the greatest good for the greatest number," he says.

Book 3 of 6: Lessons in Chemistry

Masala Lab(Author)
Masala Lab(Author)

To make boiling, broiling, toasting, roasting et al sound like the magic it is, look no further than Masala Lab. And if you are a fan of the novel Lessons in Chemistry, this is your non-fiction go-to on the science behind it all. Food nerds, science, recipe nerds or laypeople looking for something fascinating, here is where Krish Ashok deconstructs the chemistry behind cooking. This book has a new illustrated hardcover version out this year, at 1,299, it’s five times the price of the paperback, but then it is a collector's item.

Book 4 of 6: A International Food Anthology

Secret Ingredients(Author)
Secret Ingredients(Author)

I hoard old copies of The New Yorker like my parents’ generation hoarded Reader's Digest and Woman and Home. Which makes a book full of New Yorker food feature a bounteous bonanza. Secret Ingredients: A New Yorker Book of Food and Drink occupies pride of place on my bookshelf. Read in this one volume, Chang-Rae Lee on eating sea urchins, Anthony Bourdain on restaurants, Malcolm Gladwell on ketchup, and the snarky Anthony Lane making fun of it all. And if that’s not enough thought for food, there’s fiction, with stories from greats like John Cheever and Julian Barnes.

Book 5 of 6: An Indian Christmas

Indian Christmas(Author)
Indian Christmas(Author)

If you’ve read all the classic Christmas food books, and are looking for something new and regional, Indian Christmas is your go-to. Edited by the talented duo Jerry Pinto and Madhulika Liddle, it’s filled with food essays. I especially loved ‘Memories of High-Altitude Christmases in Kodai, Valparai and Darjeeling’ by Minoo Avari and also ‘In Search of an East Indian Christmas in Mumbai’ by fellow book clubber Deborah Rosario.

Book 6 of 6: An Indian Food Anthology

Chillies and Porridge (Author)
Chillies and Porridge (Author)

This anthology of food writing begins with the writer Janice Pariat on the subject of porridge, a congealed concoction that I have subjected my children to, at the start of every new day, in the name of nourishment. Her descriptions of this ‘grey, gloopy mess’ made me nostalgic. Swirl it up in double cream, cinnamon and even a tot of whisky, she says, and porridge can be scrumptious; a tip that, had I known it in time, might have made breakfast blissed out rather than the brouhaha it tended to be.

Chillies and Porridge has writings on eating local, eating birds, the Bengali bonti, and growing up a ‘bawi in Bongland’. I can’t miss out on the making of mahua in ‘The Sound of Flower’ by Jhampan Mukherjee. And an elopement story by Anita Nair, that features rasam and the theatre of the table.

More from Mita Kapur next week, this food writer and editor is also a literary agent, and chats about her reading, and her food stories as well as advice for writers.

Merry Christmas, and until next week, happy feasting and happy reading!

Sonya Dutta Choudhury is a Mumbai-based journalist and the founder of Sonya’s Book Box, a bespoke book service. Each week, she brings you specially curated books to give you an immersive understanding of people and places. If you have any reading recommendations or suggestions, write to her at sonyasbookbox@gmail.com

Books referred to in this edition of Book Box

 

Be My Guest by Priya Basil

Cooking to Save Your Life by Abhijit Banerjee and Cheyenne Olivier

Masala Lab by Krish Ashok

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

Secret Ingredients: A New Yorker Book of Food and Drink edited by David Resnick

Indian Christmas: An Anthology edited by Madhulika Liddle and Jerry Pinto

Chillies and Porridge: Writing Food edited by Mita Kapur

 

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