Indian cookbooks

Time Out reviews the best new recipe books to spice up your suppers

The Settler's Cookbook: A Memoir of Love, Migration and Food

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, Portobello Books, £20

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The story of the South Asian community in East Africa is one of the greatest migration tales never told. A story of displacement, adversity, repression and triumph, its appearance in literature has been thin and fractured: until now. In this culinary memoir, journalist and political commentator Yasmin Alibhai-Brown uses the canvas of food to tell her personal history – and that of her kith and kin in Uganda and Britain.

Coming from a fine writer, with a keen interest in cooking, this is in some ways an Indian version of ‘Like Water for Chocolate’. Alibhai-Brown intersperses every few pages of narrative with a dish from her personal cookbook that is intrinsically linked to the action.

So a recipe for watery dhal is preceded by a description of the dukanwallahs (shopkeepers) who formed the cornerstone of the community; the tale of a formidable local matriarch, Mama Kuba, is hemmed by her recipe for moon dhal bhajia; and an account of Alibhai-Brown’s last, troubled days in Uganda before Idi Amin’s expulsion order forcing Asians to leave features a recipe for biriyani.

If you are not a fan of Alibhai-Brown’s grandstanding, her recipe for spicy gora chicken is unlikely to make you warm to her; she claims that Indians upped the chilli content of dishes to unpalatable levels for goras (white people). And for someone so often maligned for ‘political correctness’ her one-dimensional depictions of Uganda’s other communities is at times difficult to swallow.

This is an otherwise admirable, highly personal endeavour packed with some evocative recipes, but those wanting a more definitive history of the East African Asians will have to wait a little longer.

Tamara Gausi, Time Out London Issue 2017: April 16-22 2009

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