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the india trip is over--the orgy of eating has come to an end. i didn't just eat on this trip though; i also bought some cookbooks. among them are two from penguin's regional cookbook series: "the essential kerala cookbook" and "the essential north-east cookbook". i obviously haven't tried anything from them yet but i have browsed them and they look pretty good. both have nice introductions which provide both a sociological context for the food, detailed ingredient, tools and methods breakdowns, and, of course, recipes themselves. what they don't have is pictures--which is not a problem for me with the kerala book since i know what most of those dishes look like, but may be with the north-eastern book. the recipes seem clear, consistent and well-organized.

we've had some discussion on this forum of food from kerala, and a brief mention of everyone's lack of knowledge of north-eastern cuisines. the latter cookbook should go a long way to dispelling at least my ignorance--i've already learned a lot by just skimming the intro. as for the kerala book, i think it may start me on finally cooking some of my favorite malyali dishes at home, instead of pining for years between trips to india.

anyway: has anyone else come across these books or others in this series? have you cooked from them? if so, and if not, what do you think of them?

others: they're all available on indiaclub. i'd wanted to get the "recipes of the spice coast" book as well when in delhi but it wasn't available. i hesitate to buy it online now because of the hideous mark-up. ah well.

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Mongo, I have the Parsi, Dehli, Calcutta, Andra, Anglo-Indian, Kashmir, and Goa volumes, and am trying to get the whole set. Among the ones I have, here are some highlights:

The Calcutta volume was co-written by the late Kewpie, and has chapters on each of the city's various communities.

The Dehli volume, by Priti Narain, features generous extracts from a wonderful old Urdu cookbook called Pukht-o-Paaz Shehzada Mirza Mohammed Baker Ali Khan Sahib Bahadur ke Daroga Bawarchi, Janab Sheikh Ahmed Ali Sahib ka (!)

The Parsi volume, by the overall series editor Bhicoo J. Manekshaw, has encapsulated within it pretty much a full tutorial on Parsi customs and rituals.

The Kashmir volume is pretty much recipes-only, and is a reprint of a volume published a couple decades ago by the late Krishna Prasad Dar, father of cartoonist Sudhir Dar, who has added illustrations.

The Andhra volume focuses primarily on Hyderabad, but does attempt to include some rural recipes as well.

I've got a few of them via Indiaclub, but when I have a lot to order, I go through Rediff Bookshop, which charges no markup, but adds on the actual cost of FedEx international shipping. What this amounts to is that the shipping cost usually exceeds that of the books themselves, but as long as you buy in large quantity each time it's still a lot cheaper than buying through a U.S.-based retailer.

Sun-Ki Chai
http://www2.hawaii.edu/~sunki/

Former Hawaii Forum Host

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I have all the books in the series except Kerala and they are all excellent. The authors (all women, I think) are very knowledgeable and write extremely well. I was so excited to buy the Northeast book recently, although I haven't 'tried the recipes. India's tribal population is asl arge as the population of France yet most people know or care little about their food. I visited Bastar many years ago and watched someone pound red ants into a very spicey pickle (which, I'm ashamed to say, I didn't try.) But we did imbibe vast amounts of sulfi, the local drink, which changed its character as the day went on!

Thanks for the wonderful report on Calcutta restaurants, Mongo. We will probably go there later this year and will certainly check them out.

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like i said, i've only got two of the more recent books in the series and have only barely skimmed them so far. therefore what i am about to say may not apply to the series as a whole. but from what i've read so far in these two books i already see a very refreshing change from the average indian cookbook as produced in the west: there's very little exotica in them. no "charming" stories about weddings and religion; no anecdotes about entire villages getting together to pound spices or make pickles or what have you: just clean, simple recipes. i suppose that's the difference between an indian cookbook aimed at an indian audience and one aimed at a western one. personally, i'm always highly irritated by the highly dubious cultural glossing that goes on in the margins of almost every glossy indian cookbook published in the west, and also in articles about indian food. then again the western books have prettier pictures.

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I guess I have to confess to being one who enjoys the "cultural gloss", albeit not of the "highly dubious" kind. However, I do recognize that there is sometimes a certain preciousness to a lot of it and often the recipes take a backseat.

I would think that of all the cookbooks published in India, the Penguin series tends to have more cultural background than others, certainly more than a Tarla Dalal or Aroona Reejhsinghani book. That's part of what I like about the series.

BTW, here, I believe, is a list of all the books in the series, with live links to the publisher. Did I miss any?

Anglo Indian Food and Customs - Patricia Brown

The Calcutta Cookbook - Bunny Gupta, JayaChaliha, Meenakshi Das Gupta

Curry, Curry, Curry - Ranjit Rai

The Essential Andhra Cookbook - Bilkees Latif

The Essential Delhi Cookbook - Priti Narain

The Essential Goa Cookbook - Maria Teresa Menezes

The Essential Kodava Cookbook - C B Muthamma, P. Gangamma Bopanna

The Essential North-East Cookbook - Hoihnu Hauzel

Kashmiri Cooking - KrishnaPrasad Dar

Parsi Food and Customs - B.J.Manekshaw

A couple other regional cookbooks published by Penguin India but apparently not part of the series:

Flavours of the Spice Coast - K M Mathew

Great Goan Cooking: 100 Easy Recipes - Maria Teresa Menezes

Note: Edited because I posted prematurely!

Sun-Ki Chai
http://www2.hawaii.edu/~sunki/

Former Hawaii Forum Host

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I guess I have to confess to being one who enjoys the "cultural gloss", albeit not of the "highly dubious" kind. However, I do recognize that there is sometimes a certain preciousness to a lot of it and often the recipes take a backseat.

I would think that of all the cookbooks published in India, the Penguin series tends to have more cultural background than others, certainly more than a Tarla Dalal or Aroona Reejhsinghani book. That's part of what I like about the series.

i think there's a huge qualitative difference between the cultural background in at least the two books i have at hand and the exotica i was referring to in the general west-produced glossy indian cookbook. both the kerala and north-east books provide more of a sociological context for the food than vignettes that would sit better in an indian tourism ad.

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I have the Calcutta Cookbook, it was pretty interesting reading, but then I do have a great fascintion for the origins of food and its evolution. I must get my hands on the others. Incedentally, The Strand Book Stall in Bombay and Banglore periodically has sales and their discounts are AMAZING. The Bombay branch is having a sale at the moment, at the Sunderbai hall near Churchgte station. I was in there the other day nd i think I spotted some of these books on sale. If you want to get your hands on any books you could ask someone in Bombay to pick them up for you. The last date is the 24th if I am not mistaken.

Also they have a very good website, that takes orders and mails stuff. I can't comment on costs of mailing etc because I live in Bombay but you could check it out, www.strandbookstall.com. I can vouch for them being really reasonable pricewise because they generally have 20% of on any book.

All the best.

Rushina

PS I am looking for the book on the history of Indin cuisine by K.T. Achaya, any ideas on where I might find a copy?

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