“Please teach me Indian cooking! I will bring ingredients and pay you for your trouble.
I would like to know about your culture as well.”
So reads the Craigslist posting that foodie, single mother and indiaphile Nani Power places on the internet. Before long her inbox is flooded with messages from Indian people of all ages inviting her to come cook with them. Rather sensibly, she sticks with Indian women (young and old) but mostly married with families, and thus begins her adventures with Indian cooking and friendships with people who graciously welcome her like a family member and teach her Indian dishes "in the same patient and loving ways their own mothers had guided them through the years"
Our 46 year old author even finds love with the younger brother of a lady who had invited Nani over to learn some Punjabi cooking. “a sexy Indian boy-man, half sage meditator, half texting, hiphop loving, an odd mix for a forty-something non-cougar writer who loves to write and cook.” That the boy was 25 years younger than Nani perturbs for just a short while but then she shrugs it off as destiny speaking as she describes how at the age of 12 her favourite book, "Cheri" by Collette, happened to be the story of a woman and a man twenty-five years apart. She ponders fleetingly on page 193, "Was I so impressed (with Cherie) as to seek it out or was I privy on some level to my destiny? One can only muse."
So what did I think of the book? LOVED the premise! I think it's so cool that at the press of a button you can summon to you a veritable little India willing to teach and guide in the ways of their foods and culture. It had me wondering if I would have the same luck had I wanted to discover, let's say, Mexico and Mexicans in the same way? Somehow I don't think so, for the simple reason I am not as adventurous as Nani, I'd be too scared to visit strangers in their homes...I mean, what if some crazies decide to answer the advertisement and then set a trap for me?
What else about the book did I like? The recipes are nice (more than 50 and all vegetarian)....most of them are recipes that we Indians would call "everyday" dishes...I didn't notice too many exotic dishes except perhaps for "Saam Savera" and "Navaratna Kurma" which are more infrequently made because of the time and effort that goes into it and also because it requires deep frying. I was very touched by the author's love and interest in India, but at the same time, she acknowledges that try as she might she couldn't just slip in to the role of a traditional Indian woman. Instead she describes herself a DESBY (wanna-be Desi) and here is how she describes herself (and others like her) in relation to being Indian:
"We crave the pageantry, tradition, history , connection and spirituality of India, yet with our independent, willful, over educated backgrounds, we would no doubt explode if seriously involved in such a duty-oriented society. We prefer to do Yoga, mediate, wear a sari, eat dal and play the role. We DESBYS are stuck in between worlds, seeing balance and continuity while our attention spans are pretty short and we are very accustomed to our freedom"
I also thought it was nice to view India and Indians through the eyes of an outsider On page 17 she makes a good observation about American and Indian kitchens: she laments that while American kitchens have shiny, state of the art technology most Americans do not really cook and because they mostly consume convenience food, cooking has been stripped of it sensuality. "We do not need to touch food to make a meal. We open packages. Salad and vegetables are packaged, as well as meat. We tear these open, slide them on a place. Dinner is done without a hand actually touching it."
In contrast, an Indian kitchen is a bee hive of activity...although the floors and the stove may be slightly greasy with well worn tools like a cutting board, knife, pressure cooker, blender etc. and cluttered with a lot of little tins containing precious Indian masala, the kitchen has a life and soul to it that maybe many American kitchens do not.
Having said all of that however, I found the book rather light and frothy...just like the buttermilk, the recipe for which is on page 171. I don't think any of her observations on men, marriage and so on are new or profound and I think her loving explanations of the Indian foods, rituals, Indian deities etc. would perhaps be more interesting to someone new to India and Indian food than to the Indian reader. Also, although the book starts off really well with the reader invited to meet some of the lovely Indian ladies and are privy to some of their family stories and histories etc, however, I found that when Nani meets V, her much-younger suitor, the focus gradually shifts from the Indian ladies to herself and her longing to understand her wants, needs and emotions.
I see all the foodies and bibliochefs lapping up this one and so they should! Bon appetit!