Time Out reviews the best new recipe books to spice up your suppers
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Chitrita Banerji moved from Bengal to the United States as a student, but too late: she had already caught the Bengali obsession with food. This stood her in good stead as she has since become one of the acknowledged experts, and certainly the best writer, on Bengali food.
This latest book is a departure for her. For the first time, she ventures beyond her familiar West Bengal, to other areas of India with different culinary and social customs. It is a real anthropological exploration of where regional Indian food is today, but it’s also autobiographical, and describes her personal journey too.
Some themes recur: that Indian food, like all cuisines, is in constant flux; and that there is no such thing as ‘Indian food’, as the sub-continent is so vast, and ethnically and religiously diverse. Anyone who has read Salman Rushdie or William Dalrymple will already know that much. But Banerji has a special gift for making the cuisines and the dishes come to life: she puts them into the contexts you find them in today, and also makes the dishes sound mouthwatering. This is a rare gift.
Her writing, although scholarly, has a light touch and is very readable, and will surprise even those who think they know ‘Indian food’. It may lack the social insight into everyday India of a writer such as Pankaj Mishra (of ‘Butter Chicken in Ludhiana’), but I’ll bet Banerji is a far better cook.
Guy Dimond, Time Out London Issue: 1965 April 16-25 2008