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classic Indian cookbooks


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let me add a plug for my favorite cookbook in this category - Rasachandrika. it's more at the maharashtrian end of konkan food (the recipe names are often marathi rather than konkani, for example - and tend to use fresh rather than roasted coconut) but they are authentic and a good place to start.

Rasachandrika is excellent for all the Saraswat dishes. Its now exactly 60 years since the Saraswat Mahila Samaj (Saraswat Women's Association) in Mumbai first came out with it, and it is still a standard presence in every Saraswat kitchen, however stained and tattered with use it may be. I'd put it up there with Samaithu Par as one of the bases for Indian cookbook writing. What are the other such books that people would nominate in other regional Indian categories?

I'm lifting this out of the Konkani cuisine thread since it might make for a good new topic. Which were the first Indian cookbooks that people encountered? Did your mothers and grandmothers (if they were Indian) use any? Did your mothers and grandmothers pick up recipes from anywhere else? Which cookbooks have you found the most useful? Any particularly interesting or unusual ones? Which of the new Indian cookbooks do you like best (we'll take it as a given that Monica's and Suvir's forthcoming one will feature on your list!)?


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With no modesty or regard for eGullet storage concerns, an article I'd written on this subject sometime back. It might provide some fodder for discussion. The Appadurai essay I refer to is well worth reading, if you can get your hands on it:

On Indian Cookbooks

Vikram Doctor

Trends in Indian publishing change all the time. Fiction, of the magic realist kind, shot up with Salman Rushdie, to be overtaken by fiction of the magic ethnic kind around the time of Arundhati Roy, then tiresomely confessional fiction by a number of women writers and at least one Bombay based male one, and then NRI fiction, and now it looks like desi thrillers are having their day. Non-fiction comes and goes, autobiographies alternate with biographies, translations should be up there more, poetry almost never does (thankfully, given the general quality) and children’s books are also always on the verge but never there.

And through it all, one category stays strong: cookbooks are low-key, but solid sellers, rarely producing a sensation, but always simmering away profitably. Any bookshop you enter will have a huge heap of cookbooks in a corner, paperbacks and hardcovers, lavishly illustrated or plain printed ones, expensive imported books and cheap local ones (though even local prices are on the rise, a sign perhaps that consumers now value them enough to pay more), books from star names like Tarla Dalal and Sanjeev Kapoor and books from humble local ladies associations, books for beginners and for chefs, books that revel in meat and books that shun it, books for mothers, bachelors, students and books in particular on every type of Indian cooking.

So plentiful are they that its hard to remember what a recent phenomenon this is. In the West cookbooks have a long history, from the collections of recipes made by Roman and mediaeval chefs, to the 18th century housewives manuals compiled by writers like Hannah Glasse and Maria Rundell, to the Mrs.Beeton’s doorstopping Victorian best-seller to all the many variants in the Twentieth century. By contrast, the Indian tradition is curiously bare. Its a fact highlighted in one of the few studies done on the written traditions of Indian cooking, but by a most eminent figure, the anthropologist and pioneer of popular culture studies, Arjun Appadurai, who’s currently Professor of International Studies at Yale.

In ‘How to make a National Cuisine: Cookbooks in Contemporary India’ Appadurai notes that ancient Hindu texts deal with gastronomic rather than culinary issues: “That is, while there is an immense amount written about eating and about feeding, precious little is said about cooking in Hindu legal, medical and philosophical texts.” He suggests reasons for this - that the writers of these texts were more interested in food as part of spiritual or medical practices, rather than the food and its preparation itself. he also considers that there were strong impulses to safeguard local variations in cuisine as part of hallowed local traditions, rather than to experiment and develop a larger type of cuisine. While conceding that texts might have been lost or damaged, he concludes that from all that is known of the Hindu science of cooking, “the impression of a minor genre is unmistakable.”

As with so much else in India, things change with new waves of people into the country. The Muslims brought the concept of an aristocratic cuisine with courts like Lucknow and Hyderabad particularly known for their food. In these courts it was possible for chefs to become celebrated and to make some record of their recipes. With the Muslim courts too, a common type of cuisine comes up across the country, although adapted to local ingredients - a Lucknowi biriani could be very different from a Hyderabadi one, but the common point was the same.

These trends get built upon and extended by the British who created two different types of cookbooks, each reflecting different facets of the Raj experience. On the one hand there were those writers who loved India and wanted to get close to it, and for whom the food was one of the easiest points of interactions. This was best exemplified by books like ‘Culinary Jottings from Madras’ by ‘Wyvern’, the pseudonym used by Colonel A.R.Kenney-Herbert, who retired from the Indian Army to set up an Indian cooking school in Britain. (This book is out of print and really needs reissuing). The other trend, exemplified by books like Flora Annie Steele’s Indian Housekeeper and Cook was to distance India, with the rather abominable intention of creating British cooking from Indian conditions. Pat Chapman, the British founder of the Curry Club and an all round enthusiast for Indian cooking, notes with horror that “Her book devotes just one and a half pages (out of 400) to what she dismissively calls: ‘Native Dishes - added by request’.”

These books may not have done much for Indian cookbook writing, but the British did indirectly influence their development through the number of Indian magazines and newspapers that came up during the Raj. The English language ones might have been mainly concerned with business and politics, but the vernacular publications were soon printing recipes from housewives. By contrast, professional chefs in India have rarely written recipes, perhaps because many were illiterate, but mostly out of a desire to hoard their knowledge for themselves and their children. “The biggest tragedy in Indian cooking is this refusal of chefs to share their knowledge. We have lost invaluable traditions due to this selfishness,” mourns Jiggs Kalra, the well known food consultant.

Whatever the consequences, the fact that these pioneering recipes came from housewives meant that their focus were determinedly practical. A friend recalls how one lady who was famous for the recipes she contributed to Marathi papers was famous for her extreme detail. “Her recipes would include warnings of every step where things could go wrong - and then had suggestions on would could be done with the stuff, if things did go wrong!” Not everyone went to these pessimistic excesses, but there’s a clear sense of practical care in these recipes that was greatly appreciated by their readers, who would cut and paste them in collections that were often handed down to their daughters.

Finally, people took the initiative to collate and print these in simple books. Quite often this impetus came from community organisations like the Saraswat Mahila Samaj in Mumbai, who first came out with Rasachandrika, a collection of Saraswat recipes in Marathi in 1943. A copy is now a standard item in every Saraswat kitchen. Another famous example is of Samaithu Par (‘Cook And See’), the standard book on Tamil vegetarian cooking, came out in 1951, in this case from a single author, S.Meenakshi Ammal. She had the benefit of the backing of her uncle, a pioneer of the library movement in the then Madras Presidency, and over fifty years later the book is still in print, in Tamil, English, Hindi, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam editions. The only changes have been minor ones, like the use of evocative old measures like ‘ollocks’ and ‘visses’ have given way to grammes and liters - and there is now a “Best of Samaithu Par” cookbook in the modern, well printed and illustrated form.

Samaithu Par illustrates another function of these books. Most people only buy the first volume that covers the Tamil vegetarian basics, but in fact there is another volume covering more detailed recipes and items like pickles, and a third one that deals with rituals and ceremonies - not just recipes to cook for them, but how to prepare and conduct them. The author writes that this section came about due to the number of requests she received from young housewives settled in far away places. Its a point noted by Appadurai, that many such cookbooks are either written by or for Indians uprooted from their native contexts and fearing a loss of traditions.

Appadurai notes however another, perhaps even more popular trend in cookbook writing. Women living in cities were increasingly interacting with women from other communities, in their new apartments, as the families moved out of their traditional dominant community neighbourhoods, or perhaps even at work (or in Mumbai, on the way to work in the trains). And when they interacted they exchanged recipes, and in time this leads to cookbooks. “In many of the introductions to these cookbooks, the authors thanks women they have known in various metropolitan contexts for sharing recipes and skills. In some cases, it is possible to discern a progression from orally exchanged recipes to full fledged ethnic or ‘Indian’ cookbooks.”

Looking at cookbooks in terms of the women they are written by and for, helps one identify other trends. Appadurai notes the emergence of specialised cookbooks for quick recipes, budget recipes or for recipes from leftovers as reflections of the realities of housewives’ lives. “Some of them explicitly recognise the dual pressure on working women to earn part of the family’s livelihood and simultaneously cater to the culinary sophistication of their families and friends.” The cookbooks serve larger social purposes as well - creating an idea of an ‘Indian’ cuisine overriding the earlier regional and community distinctions.

This might seem admirable, but Appadurai also points to the negatives. The cookbooks propagate stereotypes - Gujaratis put sugar in everything, Bengalis eat fish with everything - that drown the complex realities. He admits that the cookbook boom has seen the emergence of specialised cookbooks that claim to preserve the food of specific communities and regions, but says that a trade-off still takes place. To make this specialised cuisine seem attractive and worth attempting (and hence sell the cookbook) a simplification occurs. “When written by insiders, they represent fairly complex compromises between the urge to be authentic and thus to include difficult (and perhaps, to the outsider, disgusting) items and the urge to... popularise the most easily understood and appreciated items.” And when the books are written by outsiders to the community, he notes, the simplification is even more brutal.

Finally, at a larger level, Appadurai suggests a more brutal jockeying for position is happening with certain more visible cuisines - perhaps linked to the more visible, well travelled, communities they come from? - ousting less sales savvy cuisines. “Thus Telugu cuisine is being progressively pushed out of sight by Tamil cuisine, Oriya by Bengali cuisine, Kannada by Marathi, Rajasthani by Gujarati, and Kashmiri by Punjabi.” The other traditions have their cookbooks, of course, but they are losing out in the battle for the middle-class kitchen bookshelf. Appadurai’s article was written before the current restaurant boom, but its interesting to see how in some ways it corroborates his thesis.

Many of the new ‘ethnic’ Indian restaurants are started by professional restaurateurs with no link to that ethnic group - they just buy a cookbook and, inevitably, they go for those from the best known ethnic communities. Even when someone from a particular community starts a restaurant, they find it hard to sell to general consumers if they aren’t familiar with it (as anyone in Delhi if they have any idea of what Maharashtrian food is like) or have only extreme stereotypes (like the idea that Andhra food is so hot that it’ll mean lengthy lavatory sessions the next day!). Another dismaying consequence of this standardisation of local traditions is the disappearance of local ingredients. For example, most of the new cookbooks will specify ‘chilli powder’ without specifying which type of chilli (or at most distinguishing between mild - or tasteless - Kashmiri chillies and another, generic ‘hot’ kind).

In the process the amazing variety of Indian chillies is getting lost. Even in a city like Mumbai where its possible to get at least some level of variety like slim ‘Guntur’ or the fat, parrot’s beak shaped ‘Madras’ chillies, there are few takers. At Motilal Masalawala in Central Bombay, a very well known spice shop, I was told they didn’t stock them because there was no demand. They can only be found with a few sellers at Crawford Market, or otherwise community specific neighbourhoods like Matunga for South Indian chillies. To some extent this sort of standardisation is inevitable as people live in increasingly cosmopolitan settings. But cookbook writers could help too by trying to preserve and grow a demand for such variety, rather than just aiming, as Appadurai points out, for some vague ‘national’ mean.


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First, Thank you Vikram for a wonderful read.

Question: How frequently do you write in the Indian Media? Do you have an idea of how large your readership is? Not the readership of your newpaper but people who are interested in YOUR articles.Do they write back to you with comments observations feedback etc. I am curious as your writings are well researched and kind of deep and serious stuff and not the superflous ' backwas' written to appeal to the kittyclub housewife.

Now on the topic of my mother's cookbook.

I do not remember her having any. But she does have a notebook ( with lots of loose papers in it) in which she has jotted down reciepes of dishes she liked. These were shared by friends whose perperations she enjoyed. I think every one in her group had their collection. One thing I do remember most all had a reciepe for a version of pound cake, mayonnaise and russian salad besides ( if you were punjabi) some south Indian dishes.


Bombay Curry Company

3110 Mount Vernon Avenue, Alexandria, VA 22305. 703. 836-6363

Delhi Club

Arlington, Virginia

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My dad recently sent me my great great grandmothers handwritten recipe book -- for such an old book it has some very innovative recipes. I will share some here shortly. It is well written, very articulate and many of the recipes seem surprisingly simple

Edited by Monica Bhide (log)

Monica Bhide

A Life of Spice

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my mother was a horrible cook when she first got married (she's from a large calcutta family and as the youngest daughter never needed to cook--plenty of cooks and widowed aunts around to do that) but evolved very quickly to become a pretty good one. she is largely self-taught, i think. certainly she never used cookbooks for anything other than "continental" food. the food we ate at home was largely bengali (both west and east bengali stuff--my father being an east-bengali) with her takes on other regional dishes thrown in (see my earlier post about kali dal). my father's family consists of a fine collection of home-style epicures (almost all of them now have major medical problems related to food consumption) and my grandmother on that side may be one of the greatest cooks of her generation. my mother's only regret about not having lived in calcutta after her marriage is that she didn't get to learn my thakuma's recipes. the recipient of that privilege was my youngest uncle's wife who may, as a result, be among the finest cooks of her generation. oh to live a life without eating her dal-puri and alur-dom is like living a life of denial regardless of how many michelin starred restaurants you've eaten at. i've thought of asking her for a recipe and then observing her cook on my trips to calcutta but i abstain since i'd prefer not to taint my memories or torture myself with my takes on it and instead look forward almost religiously to eating at her house once every two years. only two more months!

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Vikram - thanks for posting that excellent and though-provoking article. Might I ask for the bibliographical information (magazine, issue, page) for your review in case I would like to cite it at some future time?

The Appadurai piece is fascinating and raises a number of crucial issues on the relationship between food and national identity. One of the most intriguing one is whether, like political nationalism, culinary nationalism tends to homogenizes regional distinctions. The interesting counterpoint is the contention that, in certain cases, culinary nationalism may also serve to heighten those distinctions, though at the cost of simplifying them to stereotypes and suppressing "weak" (in the marketing sense) cuisines in favor of strong ones.

This in turn points out one of the interesting characteristics of cuisine and nationalism. In mainstream contemporary discourse, one of the accoutrements of a proper national cuisine seems to be the existence of clear-cut regions, each with its own distinctive features, as well as a set of common features that bind the regions together. This may be in part an extension of multiculturalist ideals, but in many ways is much more stark with regards to cuisine than to other aspects of society. Why this is I'm not sure.

Any division of this sort brings with it oversimplification and arbitrariness in drawing boundaries. In some cases, it simply means identifying regional cuisines with political subunits, such as the division of France into Norman, Provencal, Alsatian etc. cuisine, ignoring the fact that there may be greater variation within certain provinces than between them. In other cases, regional categories are associated with certain "great" subcuisines, while variation that does not fall within these subcuisines is ignored. The prime case is the division of Chinese cuisine into Canton, Shanghai, Beijing, and Szechuan. Much of what gets eaten in China does not fall cleanly into any of these categories, and is hence ignored.

The problem, however, is probably most acute in India. This is because of the fact that social divisions in India society tend to be particularly complex and often unaligned with geography. Regional differences in culture are often less pronounced than religious or caste differences, which in turn are quite complexly intertwined in their own right. Hence any attempt to divide Indian cuisine into "regional cuisines" will necessarily ignore a great deal of variation, or privilige a superficial one based on geography over all others.

Any thoughts, comments, criticisms?

By the way, here is a cite for the Appadurai piece, in case anyone wants to look it up:

Arjun Appadurai, "How to make a national cuisine: cookbooks in contemporary India". Comparative Studies in Society and History 30:1 (January 1988), 3-25.

I would also recommend the following as well.

Arjun Appadurai, "Gastro-Politics in Hindu South Asia". American Ethnologist 8:3 (1981), 494-511.

Sun-Ki Chai

Former Hawaii Forum Host

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true story - my mom learned to cook as a graduate student from a book called "adventures in indian cooking" by mary atwood. i'd pay a pretty penny for a copy of that book now... she also used vimla patil's perennially sold out "working woman's cookbook". it might be an unfortunate name, and it might be somewhat dated in its particular brand of feminism - but again, simple, effective (and in the context of indian cookbook writing in english a somewhat rare feature) well tested and correct recipes.

many handwritten recipes follow - a few in my hand, trying to cajole her into making prawns with the shell in a maharashtrian (alibaug) style - a biryani recipe i made her fax me (again) recently. also more cookbooks - rasachandrika - a variety of the regional food books you mention... my parents seemed to rarely buy these cookbooks at bookstores - rather, the east indian cookbook was picked up at the goan cold storage, others at cultural events. consequently it's well nigh impossible to get other copies...

still, all of that began with mary atwood. anyone else even heard of her?

Dinner Diaries - It's what's for dinner!

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  • 2 months later...

Back on the forum after a bit of a break. I was in Madras for family reasons and rapidly got bored with accessing the Net over my mother's ancient dial up connection, but didn't have the time to go out and look for more high speed ones.

I did find the time to go out and eat in a few places, not enough to to do an in depth analysis on eating out in Madras maybe, but I'm happy to report that its still possible to get good Korean food there despite the much lamented closing of Arirang. (Going to Madras to eat Korean food might seem bizarre, but I love it and you get it in few other places in India. And as far as Tamil food goes, both veg and non-veg, I assume that as long as Saravana Bhavan and Woodlands is around for the former and Velu Military Lunch Home and Ponnusamy's for the latter, all will be well).

Hyundai and other Korean companies still have enough employees in the city to support a couple of apparently really authentic places - well, one assumes the food is authentic, since both Arirang and the places I went to this time, KyungbokChong would get zero for ambience as the best that can be said of them is that they resemble office canteens. But as at Arirang, the beef bulgogi was sensational at KyungbokChong and if the bibimbap was just OK, all the other pickles and small plates of things that go with the meal were good enough to make eating here really a good deal.

The other food related activity I did in Madras, and the reason for reviving this classic cookbook thread, is I finally managed to track down the publishers of Samaithu Par, the classic TamBrahm cookbook compiled by the near legendary S.Meenakshi Ammal. I had to go to the heart of old Brahmin Madras, in a small house in Mandaiveli near Mylapore an area which is mentioned by Marco Polo (long before Madras existed) and is TamBrahm Ground Zero. And since everyone on this forum must be used to my shameless posting of my own articles, here's the piece I wrote on it (which came, in a slightly cut form, in EcoTimes last Sunday):

Samaithu Par

Vikram Doctor, Mumbai, 31/12/2003

Its well known in Chennai that one of the standard presents for a newly wed bride is a copy of a Samaithu Par, the classic Tamil Brahman cookbook compiled by the legendary S.Meenakshi Ammal. First published in Tamil in 1951, with an English edition in 1968 - entitled, in a literal translation, Cook & See - the three volumes it consists of have the status of near holy writ. Anyone who’s grown up in the South would probably instantly recognise the woodblock print that was the all the cover of the volumes (till it was sadly dropped recently): a buxom young bride with long black hair who was cooking at a stove and looking so dreamily into space you knew her sari was going to catch fire any moment.

What’s less known is that apart from brides there’s another group of individuals for whom these books have become a required purchase. “Indian Institute of Technology graduates,” Priya Ramkumar, wife of Meenakshi Ammal’s grandson and current publisher of the book, tell us. “As soon as they get their visa and ticket to go abroad, they’re told to buy a pressure cooker and a copy of Samaithu Par.” From Poonamalai to Palo Alto, Samaithu Par evidently does it bit, ensuring that the iddli fed intellects that underlie India’s dominance in Silicon Valley don’t go hungry. Perhaps the government should consider giving the book an award on Pravasi Bharatiya Divas.

So potent is the book, so comprehensive its coverage of Tamil Brahmin dishes - vegetarian only, of course - from rasam-sambhar to obscure sweets and pickles, so strong its aura of grandmotherly kitchen wisdom, given physical form in the blurred black and white picture of its author on the back-cover gazing out at the world in bucktoothed benevolence, that its a shock to realise how young she was when she died. “She was barely 52 years old when she died in 1962,” says Ms.Ramkumar. In this, as in much else, Meenakshi Ammal resembles no one more than Mrs.Beeton of the classic Victorian volume on cooking and household management, who died even younger at just 28, but who seems to have an older, iconic status due to the authority conferred by her book.

But the lady had a tough life, so perhaps her early demise shouldn’t be surprising. Born in a small village near Madurai to an Aiyer Brahmin family, she was married around 19 years - late for that era - only to be widowed just a couple of years later. “Her husband died when she was just around 22, leaving her to bring up her small son and her husband’s younger brother, who was also quite young,” says Ms.Ramkumar. Luckily her family was a reasonably well off one, so she was able to sustain herself living as a widow with her mother in law.

Money apart, she was also sustained by her interest in cooking and other household matters. “She was a wonderful maker of kollams,” says Ms.Ramkumar, referring to the chalk powder designs that Tamilians draw outside their doors, an art that’s always been a preserve of women. “She also got the reputation of being a wonderful cook, so her relatives were always asking her for recipes.” That was the time when people had started leaving Tamil Nadu to work in Mumbai or other places, and the one thing they found hard to get was south Indian food. Meenakshi Ammal would duly sit down and write her recipes on inland letters to send out to all her relatives.

As her son and brother in law grew up, they both did well at school, winning scholarships for higher studies. Her son got a place in Chennai’s Loyola College, the foremost college of the Raj era in the huge southern province known as the Madras Presidency. To help him attend it, Meenakshi Ammal moved herself to Madras, taking a small house near the Brahmin heartland of Mylapore. It quickly became a centre for the family, says Ms.Ramkumar, with mealtimes always full of people who had dropped in to sample Meenakshi Ammal’s cooking.

Weddings always saw her employed in producing the vast quantities of food required, a task that she was suited for, says Ms.Ramkumar, because of her instinctive skill in organisation. “She was really good at getting all the ladies to help, and directing them all, and making sure they didn’t fight with each other. And once it was all over, she made sure that she treated them by taking all to the cinema!” These communal cooking sessions were excellent training sessions for many of the girls, and even today says Ms.Ramkumar there are old ladies who boast of having learned to cook from “Meenakka”.

One of Meenakshi Ammal’s fans was her uncle, K.V.Krishnaswami Aiyer, an important person, a Rao Bahadur and a leader in the establishment of public libraries in the south. He’s the one who pushed her to compile and publish her recipes, and who was able to use his influence with publishers to help her. She still had to raise capital though in the time honoured Indian way of selling some of her jewellery and had to deal with plenty of people telling her it was a waste. “The idea of people buying cookbooks just wasn’t there at that time,” says Ms.Ramkumar. “Everyone asked her who would pay for recipes which everyone knew anyway.”

But as those inland letters had indicated, Meenakshi Ammal was on to something. The first volume came out just a few years after Independence, when things were about to change. A new Indian middle class was taking shape, still connected with their communities, but because of now living in cities, often far from their roots, they were no longer able to follow its traditions as easily. Tamil Brahmins in particular were gravitating to new opportunities in the civil services and professional jobs that took them across the country and beyond.

Samaithu Par fitted in perfectly to this exodus with its exhaustive descriptions of a community’s food. Between her uncle’s influence, and the efforts of her son, who went from shop to shop persuading them to stock it, the book got its distribution. And almost immediately it was snapped up. This was what all those young Tamil housewives living on their own were looking for. If anything, they wanted more than just food. By the time she wrote the third volume Meenakshi Ammal had moved from food to rituals (the second focuses mostly on sweets). The book starts with mango soup and goes on to all the menu required for a marriage, and ways to conduct fasts and other ceremonies and finally - in a supplement added by her son - all the steps involved in carrying out a marriage from how to decide the marriage hall, hire the musicians and even conduct the ceremony, perhaps in case a purohit wasn’t present.

All these instructions were given in the almost obsessively detailed style set by Meenakshi Ammal in the first book, quite different from the near clinical style of many cookbooks. “She makes you feel like you’re standing next to her and seeing how its done,” says Ms.Ramkumar. Its a very intimate, hands-on style, with plenty of helpful - if somewhat exhausting - digressions on alternative ways of doing it, shortcuts and suggestions on what to do if things go wrong. Here she is, for example, in the first recipe of the first book which, in a clear indication of south Indian priorities, starts with sambhar:

“Choose a stone-ware or vessel with a very narrow mouth. Wash dhal. Clean and remove stones, if any. Boil water in the vessel. Add dhal, a pinch of turmeric powder and 1 teaspoon of gingelly oil. Cover with a lid or a cup, filled with water. (Add this water to the dhal, if needed). Cook till very soft. (If the dhal is cleanly husked it need not be washed). (Some dhals do not cook soon. If so, add a pinch of baking soda. If baking soda is added, do not use turmeric powder, as the colour of the dhal will be spoilt).” And that’s just the start!

Its clearly not a style for everyone, and its not surprising that when Penguin India approached the family to do a Best of Samaithu Par anthology, Ms.Ramkumar admits she simplified the recipes slightly. The main books still have the original instructions though Ms.Ramkumar had made one other important change. The original editions all used traditional Tamil measures like maunds, seers, ollocks and visses; today they are all the standard grams and liters, an understandable change even if caused a certain loss in the book’s style.

Apart from English, the book has been translated into Hindi, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam. And now Ms.Ramkumar is planning, for the first time, on adding two more volumes. “I want to include many of the recent changes in people’s eating habits,” she says. So one volume will include more soups and salads and - one can’t help shuddering slightly - Mughlai food. A fifth volume, she says, will consist of the same old recipes adapted for the microwave. This might seem like quite a shift for a book that starts off with illustrations of all the heavy brass utensils that were the pride and joy of every Tamil kitchen of that time.

But perhaps Meenakshi Ammal wouldn’t have objected to microwaves too much. The aim of her book was to ensure that the food she loved cooking so much wouldn’t die out in the shift from simple village stoves to modern urban kitchens which is why she spends as much time on telling you how to light charcoal or firewood ovens, as handling the new fangled gas stoves that were cutting edge in her time. Microwaves are just the latest manifestation of this and she would surely have taken them in her stride (the Mughlai recipes are another matter) giving precise instructions to a new generation of Tamilians - and not just brides now - on how many seconds to time the iddlies or the best way of making sure that uppuma comes out just right.


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I'm surprised that Mrs. Balbir Singh has not been mentioned. I have a copy of her cookbook, Indian Cookery, that was first published in 1961, revised in 1975 and, as of 1990 (the date of my book) wa in its 13th printing. Is anyone familiar with this one? Its a bit disorganized.

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I'm surprised that Mrs. Balbir Singh has not been mentioned. I have a copy of her cookbook, Indian Cookery, that was first published in 1961, revised in 1975 and, as of 1990 (the date of my book) wa in its 13th printing. Is anyone familiar with this one? Its a bit disorganized.

Sandra, my mother, and those of many people I have come to know from Delhi, living in the US, whose parents are my parents generation, have grown up either cooking from her books, or like my mother, also having taken private lessons with Mrs. Balbir Singh.

My mother had her books. But they never were opened. She had diary after diary of recipes from her classes with Mrs. Singh. These were recipes to Indian dishes she had learned, and also to flans, souffles, casseroles, mousses, parfaits, cakes, shortbread cookies, puddings and classic creme brulee.

She was a very important player in the world of my mothers generation from Delhi at the least. And it is funny how I could be meeting a friend I have made in the last ten years, have nothing in common with them, but when I meet the mother, and if she is close to my mothers age, we then have Mrs. Balbir Singh stories to trade.

We have chatted before in this forum about her recipes and books. I remember you telling us then that you had used her book in your Indian cookery. :smile: Happy New Year to you and yours Sandra. :smile:

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A few of my favourite cookbooks are:

The Chef by Isidore Coelho (available only at the Examiner press in Bombay at Dalal Street) - this book is a must and will be found in EVERY Indian Catholic house. I got two copies one worn out hand written one handed to me by mum (who is hindu !) and one I got for myself. Gives you most Manglorean, Goan and East-Indian recipes.

Modern Cookery Vol I & II by Thangam Philip (basically a Catering College text book)

Rotis & Naans of India by Purobi Babbar (95 bread recipes! )

I also have in three Malini Bhisen books (one on veges, one on snacks and one on sweets) - sorry I don't have them here so I cannot give the exact names

I have some Marathi books that I just love:

Annapourna by Mangala Barve

Ruchira Vols I & II by Kamalabai Ogale

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The Chef by Isidore Coelho (available only at the Examiner press in Bombay at Dalal Street) - this book is a must and will be found in EVERY Indian Catholic house. I got two copies one worn out hand written one handed to me by mum (who is hindu !) and one I got for myself. Gives you most Manglorean, Goan and East-Indian recipes.

This is a good one and you can get it a bit more widely than that. Try, for example, the Mangalorean specialty shops in places like Santa Cruz. Apart from the books they have interesting ingredients you don't get elsewhere. I once bought some fascinating spiced jaggery from there - the spices included pepper so you if you put a crumb of it on your tongue and let it melt, you'd get this sweet-hot sensation - the exciting rawness of jaggery with the bite of pepper.


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I once bought some fascinating spiced jaggery from there - the spices included pepper so you if you put a crumb of it on your tongue and let it melt, you'd get this sweet-hot sensation - the exciting rawness of jaggery with the bite of pepper.


I remember this jaggery - covered in some palm leaf. These Canara stores also have occasionnaly sukeli (dried bananas, yum), turmeric plant leaves for us to make pateleos (yum, yum) and instruments like shevgo (rice vermicelli) machines (not the usual chakli sancha) to make shevgo (rice vermecilli served with jaggery sweteened coconut milk (yum, yum, yum)!

Now I'm drooling all over my desk! :wacko:

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I am a Gujju mrried to Ghadwali. I had the most fascinating time driving from Dehra Dun to Delhi recently. I saw Jaggery being made for the first time. The weather was cold and foggy and smoke billowed up from the boilng jaggery and carried on it the aroma of molasses. (delicious) My husband goes into rapture over descriptions of times when he and his companions have stopped along the way and been handed jugs of hot molasses to sample. I have not had a chance to actually try that out but I intend to someday.

I also recently sampled some jaggery like the one Vikram refers to in an earlier post, except that it had a whole lot of spices in it. Though Fresh Jaggery in itself is delicious, (we eat it in the winter in Dehra Dun as it is considered warming), this was even better. The same sweet hot flavour vikram describe but with some spice thrown in. I am not sure if it is available all over the hill areas of India but I know this lot came from Mandi in Himachal.


Edited by Rushina (log)
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I am a Gujju mrried to Ghadwali. I had the most fascinating time driving from Dehra Dun to Delhi recently.

Lansdown (sp?) Terri Garwal (sp?) I was born in that area bazzillion years ago :)

Gur (Jaggery ) is prepared in most sugarcane districts in India, and many (in my era) treated the gur (jaggery) differently depending on their local weather and village life-style --Fascinating to see hugh pots bubbling :wink:


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... Were you just born there or are you a pahari?


Just born there :smile: I am a punj. I gather that area is now part of a different state ? It used to be DehraDun U.P., now it is DehraDun, SomethingElse.


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