Monday, January 01, 2007

Climbing The Mango Trees: A Memoir of a Childhood in India

# Category:
Biography & Autobiography; Cooking - India; Cooking - History

# Format: Hardcover, 320 pages

# Price: $25.00

# Publishers: Knopf

When Madhur Jaffrey (famed cookbook author and actress ) was born in her grandmother's house in Delhi, her grandmother welcomed her into the world by writing "Om" (a Hindu sacred word) on her tongue after dipping her finger in honey, which the baby Madhur promptly licked clean,it was perhaps that little gesture which prompted her father to name her "madhur" which means, "sweet as honey" . . When you look at Madhur's achievements today in the cooking world, the same seemed highly prophetic -as she puts it, "I was left with honey on my palate and in my deepest soul".

"Climbing the Mango Trees" is the utterly delightful and charming story of Madhur's childhood in India. Madhur, her parents and her five siblings all lived in her grandfather's house in Delhi in a joint family amidst dozens of cousins (many times it was almost 40 of them sitting down to an everyday family meal). Madhur's father wasn't exactly happy to live under the domineering eye of his father, but tradition demanded that he did and all of them living together made for some very interesting family dynamics as those of us who have lived in joint families before will attest to.

Although the author and I are separated by at least a generation, I found so many things in her childhood that could have been taken from my own - the convent education; the tiffin box lunches; climbing the guava trees in our compound rushing the fruit to the kitchen where my mother would prepare plates of "Guava chaat" (diced ripe guavas seasoned with salt,pepper,ground roasted cummin seeds, chilli powder, lime juice and a little jaggery),and who could forget the toffeeman? The toffeeman or toffeewallah(a street vendor hawking sweets in an aluminium trunk which he would lug from house to house) was a permenant fixture of Madhur's childhood and mine, when he would visit our home my favorite thing to eat from among his appetizing wares was the candy pink coconut ice cut into chunky diamond squares - mmmmm, delicious; my mother, like hers, also believed in the power of almonds to nourish the brain and I had to eat almond sweets before every school exam! The similarities go on and on, but I will stop here to let you, the reader, discover for yourself these delicious childhood memories that Madhur Jaffrey so evocatively captures in this enchanting memoir.

(pic courtesy:
What I did not have in common with the author was living through the Partition of India (it was way before my time). In her book she explains how Delhi, her city, changed as her Muslim school friends left for Pakistan taking with them their fabulous kheema dishes (spiced ground meat) and making place for Punjabi refugees from Pakistan who arrived in Delhi with their tandoors (clay ovens) in which they baked a variety of bread and roasted succulent meat. As a result Delhi was the first city in India to boast of a tandoori restaurant- the famous "Moti Mahal" - a huge claim to fame when one considers how popular tandoori food is all over India, and indeed, all over the world.

Jaffrey's memoir which is infused with delicious associations with food, spiced with family gossip, peppered with family recipes (32 of them), seasoned with thoughtful and humorous observations and garnished with beautiful black and white pictures from the family album, makes you want to devour this book in a single sitting, but instead of gulping it down, try to savor it page by page, and you'll discover how sweet it is to see the past re-created through food.


Heather said...

What a wonderful review! I wish you a honey-filled new year!

Hollydolly said...

Lovely, lovely review Anjali.
I too have this book!, and can't wait to get to it. The food descriptions must make for a permanent mouth watering. Funnily enough, one of my favorite candies in my childhood, (i grew up in the UK), was pink and white coconut ice, oh, i loved that.
Have a happy, peaceful New Year.

Nabeel said...

the picture is .. well it stirs feelings inside .. of memories, childhood and the olden and golden days. I am not going to read the book but I do remember climbing trees, in search for cricket balls.

karmic said...

Great review. A lot of our feelings for food (love/dislike) are closely linked to our childhood experiences as Ms. Jaffrey talks about.
Another one to add to my TBR list.
Have a happy new year!

david mcmahon said...

Hello from Melbourne, Australia,

Like you, I was born in India and migrated. Like you, I have a deep passion for the land where I was born.

I grew up in Calcutta - a city that plays a sizeable role in my debut novel, `Vegemite Vindaloo' (Penguin) which has been on bestseller lists in rather exalted company!

I have a blog that is updated every day - at

I wonder if you are the person who mentioned my novel on

If you did read the book, do let me know what you think.

All the best for 2007


Anonymous said...

Ah, I was looking at the book when it came out. It looked interesting, but I was undecided.

Worth reading? Will check out the library if it's available.

Another book that I happened to be looking at, around the same time as "Climbing the Mango Trees" - "Curry" by Lizzie Collingham. Ever read that?

Lotus Reads said...

Heather Thank you! And the same to you, too, happy 2007!

Hollydolly I thought of you as I was reading this book, you will love it! Yup, I think the coconut ice or coconut burfi as it is sometimes referred to in India may have come from the British. The toffeeman still visits my mother's house in Bangalore with the coconut sweet...I hope his kind never disappear! A fun-filled and healthy new year to you, too, Sylvia!

Sanjay Where in India did you grow up? I just love childhood memoirs filled with food, it makes me so nostalgic for my own. A very happy new year to you and A - have a truly wonderful 2007!

Lotus Reads said...

nabeel I agree, a very evocative cover. I'm so glad you mentioned cricket! I used to play a lot of it in my childhood and I was waiting for Madhur to mention it as well, but she never did. I'm really surprised that with a large family compound such as hers, they never played huge rounds of cricket - unthinkable! :)

David Thank you for writing in! I may have mentioned your novel "Vegemite Vindaloo" on bookcrossing ( I know I registered it on my virtual bookshelf). I bought it in Bangalore in August, but due to baggage restrictions I was unable to bring it to Canada. It's at my mom's house and I am hoping she will send it to me with a friend who travels there in March. I so look forward to reading it, because, as I remember, it got some glowing reviews in the Indian newspapers - will visit your blog soon. Thanks for the headsup! Wishing you all the best for 2007, too!

Dark Orpheus Hello! I have Lizzie Collingham's "Curry" but I haven't got to it yet and with all these challenges coming up, I'm not sure when I'll get the chance, but it does look like a great book! Are you planning on reading it?

karmic said...

I grew up in Bombay, and we could not afford to eat out. I gre up mostly on home cooking and sampling foods from friends and family who had us over. What about you?

Beenzzz said...

Hi Lotus, this sounds like a wonderful book. I tend to enjoy books that use food as sort of a metaphor for life. This sounds like a rich story that I would love to read. I just started the "Namesake," and I like it so far. I have one more book to read after that and then hopefully, I can track this book down on Amazon and have a good read. Great review by the way!!!

ML said...

Lotus, I love food books especially with a great story attached! Thanks for the great review.

I finished reading Eat, Pray, Love, but haven't reviewed it yet. I'll do that in the next day or two. Also, I guess I failed in my book challenge. The other two books I meant to read, never made it to the library in time. So, I started reading The Book Thief instead. It's already an amazing book!

Lotus Reads said...

hi Sanjay I grew up in Bombay, too (Santacruz) and yeah, I don't recall to going to restaurants either, unless it was the local Udipi joint for Dosas. Our food, too, was always cooked at home or I ate at the neighbors' (we lived in a Gujarathi neighborhood so I grew up eating a lot of Jain food!). So happy to see a fellow-Mumbaikar here! :)

hi beenzzz So glad you started "The Namesake", I hope you're enjoying it so far. From reading some of your posts about food and childhood, I know you will enjoy Madhur Jaffrey's memoir, heck, you might even be prompted to write your own food memories!

hi ml Shhhh, don't tell anyone, but I think I failed the Winter Stacks challenge, too! These challenges are a lot harder than I imagined they would be (guess that's why they are called "challenges",lol). You have some excellent book choices - from what I see, "The Book Thief" has been rated very highly by everyone who has read it. I know you will enjoy it, too. Happy to have you back! :)

kimananda said...

What a wonderful book this sounds...I could start a 'to be read' list just from your blog! But you can see that I've got enough on my list as it is.

Happy New Year filled with joy, love, and lots of good books! :-)

Sugarlips said...

Lotus this pic reminds me of my mom's older pics from her college life :) I always get Madhur Jaffrey's cooking books from library to try something new. You made me miss guava chat with lots of chaat masala & tiffin reminded me something about school days ;) I was in 6th grade or so in kindergarten section kids were so innocent & very often I stole lunches from their lunch boxes like french toasts & unda paratha *Confess* when their teachers stepped out of class to run few errands,I had enough time to bulgarize :)

Lovely post :)

Stay Beautiful...!!

TNL said...

What a great review....! I have always admired Madhur Jaffrey's passion for cooking,and have followed many of her recipes. Guava Chaat is something so familiar-Love it!
I will look for this in Chapters the next time I go there....

Thanks for visiting...Glad to see another Rahul Sharma fan.

Best wishes for 2007,

david mcmahon said...


I'm glad you noticed that `Vegemite Vindaloo' got good reviews in the print media.

I was very happy with the media reaction, especially as I was not there doing the ``author tour'' launch spiel. I guess that means the novel got reviewed strictly on its merits, not on PR spin!

Hope your mother reads the novel before passing it on to you in Canada.

BTW, there is a lot of Canada content in the early weeks of my blog because I had just returned from photographing parts of the country for the Canadian Tourism Commission.

In fact, my next novel is based partly in northern Ontario and is called `Muskoka Maharani'. You read that revelation here first!


Laura said...

Thank you for visiting my blog! Your blog looks so very interesting!!! I am going to be back to study it! I love books set in India or about people from India living in other cultures. My most favorite book of all time is A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. Like you, I love to learn about other cultures and will be looking at your other blog as well! I feel I have found something very special here in your blog!

Anonymous said...

Hi Lotus. Yay, I really want to read Collingham's "Curry" - but resisting the urge, at least until I'm done with my Books Challenges.

This year I want to read more food writings, and I've always enjoyed books that gives a historical perspective to fun topics. Curry, is definitely a VERY fun topic. ;)

Booklogged said...

This another book going on my list. You write such delicious reviews, always tempting me and the mention of food is another drawing card.

Do you know that we have been so busy with family for the holidays that dh and I have not had a chance to watch Water yet. My daughter is heading home tomorrow, so maybe this weekend, I hope.

Hope your new year is filled with lots of good books and lots of good memories-in-the-making.

Sai said...

Beautiful Review! Madhur, you and I have the same convent education, family dynamics (mine was a nuclear family though) and guava chaat in common.

I heard her interview on NPR last month when she spoke about her cauliflower recipe. I tried it and it was fabulous!

Lisa Johnson said...

Wonderful review! Like Sai, I heard her interview on NPR and figured you'd be reviewing the book soon. I definitely plan to read it when I get a chance.

Anonymous said...

there, you did it again, beloved Lotus! fast reading, fast cooking and mouthwatering reviews!

The Traveller said...

Oh...I haven't had breakfast yet, and my mouth is watering! I want to read this just for the descriptions of the food. (I wish my parents had made me eat almond sweets before exams. I'm sure it would have done me the power of good!)

Milan-zzz said...

Your reviews are so beautiful (although I’m posting here for the first time) that I have need to increase my wish list whenever I visit your blog (which I’m doing quite often)

Wishing you all best in New 2007!
Cheers from Serbia!

Lotus Reads said...

kimananda And the best of 2007 to you, too! Thank you for all the informative and entertaining blog posts from last year - I am going to check out your TBR list soon, I am sure I'll get lots of book suggestions from it!

hahaha sugarlips mmmmmmmm, french toast, I think I would have stolen that, too! :) What was your favorite food to take to school as a child? Mine was definitely aloo paratha! Even now I can eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner and not crave anything else!

Trupti That's a lovely profile pic! You know what's weird? I haven't really tried any of Madhur Jaffrey's recipes - I own many of her cookbooks but so far I have been more content to follow your blog and Asha's (Sai's and Anali's, too) for recipes while her recipe books seem to be collecting dust on my shelf. After reading her memoir, I definitely want to try some of her family recipes.

Hi David! "Muskoka Maharani",that's a great title for a book! I am excited that it is to be based partly in my province (Muskoka, as you know, is a hot favorite with the cottage crowd) - thanks for the scoop! ;) Yes, I am going to have to tell my mom to read "Vegemite Vindaloo", if she hasn't already - she's quite the reader!

Laura Thanks so much for visiting and for your kind comment. If you love reading about India and the subcontinent, you'll get a lot of suggestions here! "A Fine Balance" is a masterpiece! I just wish Rohinton Mistry was more prolific though - it's been over 5 years since his last novel!

Lotus Reads said...

Dark Orpheus I once heard Lyzzie Collingham give an interview - it was only 15 mins long, but I felt like I learned so much about curry in those few minutes. I think her book will be a real treat. If we had a non-fiction challenge, her book would lead my list! :)

Hello,booklogged! Thank you for all the kind things you say. I wish "Water" was a more cheerful movie, but it isn't. I just hope it doesn't make you too morose - I wanted you to watch it because it is a beautifully-made movie, and also, I felt happy to be able to share a little bit of India with you. :)

Hi, Sai Ahhh, you make me so envious everytime you speak of NPR. Wish we could get it here. There are two cauliflower recipes in her memoir - one is titled "Everyday Cauliflower" and the other is her grandmother's recipe "Cauliflower with Cheese", which one did you try, Sai?

Hi Anali! You have my reading tastes down pat! :) Regretfully, I don't get NPR, but the next time they speak about a book you think I might be interested in, let me know and I will check the archives. NPR seems to highlight some really great books and I would hate to miss out. Thanks so much!

Awww, sweet anocturne, Thank you, but you know my pen can't match yours! Thanks for getting that stuff to me in the mail, I will send it out today. *hugs*

The Traveller, I'm living proof those almond sweets didn't do any good! :)) Thanks so much for stopping by!

Milan-zzz! Delighted to see you here and all the best for 2007! You have a great blog, too! I must bookmark you so I can visit more often.

karmic said...

I am from Mulund BTW. It supposedly is a happening suburb. Not sure what that means to a visitor like me. :)

Lotus Reads said...

I know Mulund because it was on my train route. I have no doubt it's a happening suburb! Yeah, true, not having visited Bombay in ten years (my parents live in Bangalore now), I would feel like a visitor myself...the plans are to go in Dec of this year. Can't wait!

Cassiopeia Rises said...

Lotus, this sounds like a book for me. I love to learn more and more about your homeland. It also lets me know what your life was like as a girl. I can't wait to read it.

Lotus Reads said...

Hi Beloved! Yes, I think you will enjoy this book. Childhood memoirs are always so engaging and sweet. Thank you for your nice comment.

hellomelissa said...

sounds like we could learn much about india AND about lotus by reading this memoir! just the review was a wonderful taste.

FH said...

Hi Lotus,I am back!:) Hope you had a good time on the first Jan.We mostly drove that day!
I do have many books of Madhur Jaffrey.Might get this too.
I bought Indian Spider-Man book in FL and it is hilarious!
Happy reading in 2007!:)

J said...

Oh, you have me tempted with your beautiful review. :) Looks like it would be a wonderful memoir.

Lotus Reads said...

Hi, Melissa Happy New Year, I have missed much!

Asha! Welcome back! Did you have a good time? Silly question, how could you not, Orlando is always such great fun! :) What is the Indian spiderman book, do tell!

J It was a post on your blog that prompted me to get to this book quickly (it had to do with mangoes and the nuclear proliferation treaty! :)

david mcmahon said...

Hello from Melbourne again.

I'm glad you liked the fact that your blog scooped the title (`Muskoka Maharani') of my next novel, to be published by Penguin.

More to the point, I'm interested in the fact that you are a Santa Cruz person. Santa Cruz is my backyard. I'm a Calcutta bloke myself, but visited Bombay several times a year - and I could find myself around East and West Avenues while blindfolded. I have several close Santa Cruz and Bandra friends whom I always keep in touch with.

Don't forget to check my blog. It's at and it's just light-hearted stuff and a bit of humour. Do leave a comment so that I know you've visited.



Prithi Shetty said...

Great review. I liked the way you found your nostalgia in hers. And the tandoor story.

Wish you a very Happy & Prosperous New Year !

Sugarlips said...

Lotus I hope you are not
going to call my school
pricipal Mr Gasper :D
I love allo paratha so yum!

Stay Beautiful...!!

Anonymous said...

This sounds wonderful. I love biographies about people of different cultures--it sounds so exotic to me. I need to read more books like this! Thanks for the heads up--you always read such interesting books that I don't see everywhere else!!

Lotus Reads said...

Hi David Wow! Great to know someone who remembers Santacruz so well! :) I lived on the border of Santacruz and Juhu, but I am very familiar with the avenues you mentioned because I had good friends that lived there. Small world!

Hi Prithi Overjoyed to see you here! How have you been? I will be in Bangalore in December of this year, can't wait! :)

Awww, Danielle thanks! Always happy when you stop by for a visit.

Lotus Reads said...

Lol Sugarlips We wouldn't want to make Mr.Gasper, gasp, now, would we? :)

Framed said...

I loved this review. I have been looking for more autobiographical books to read and this looks like a winner.

Bookfool said...

Hi Lotus!!!

I'm in a new coffee shop that has free wireless access! Wahoo! It's so nice to be able to view your page. :) I've just finally written down this title. What a lovely review. I definitely want to locate a copy of this memoir. Thanks for a terrific review!

Sherry said...

I added a link to your review to my Saturday Review of Books at I try to collect reviews from bloggers all over the internet each Saturday, and you’re welcome to participate by adding your own link any Saturday.

Joy said...

Great review, Lotus. It sounds very interesting and I haven't read much about India. I'm going to look into this one some more! Thank you.

I hope you have a wonderful day! Happy Reading!

Bhaswati said...

Lotus, you don't know how timely this review is for me. I am looking to buy a few memoirs and needed some recommendations. Your review tells me I have to read this book. sweet it is to see the past re-created through food.

Beautifully put and so apt, too! Thanks a ton for sharing this. Much appreciated. :-)

a.c.t. said...

Lotus, thanks so much for this post, I would never have known about this book otherwise. I love Madhur Jaffrey and this biography sounds wonderful. I love reading about food and especially when its beautifully written with a mixture of pictures, history and personal memoirs. I got a book token for Christmas I didn't know what to spend on so thanks. :-)

Lotus Reads said...

framed I'm sure you won't be disappointed! Have you tried any of the author's recipes?

bookfool You're so welcome! You make me want to invest in a laptop - I like the idea of sitting at a Starbucks or wherever and reading my friends' blogs with a nice latte by my side.

Sherry Thank you so much! How wonderful of you to do this for the book blogging community. I look forward to stopping by and reading the different reviews!

Joy Thanks so much! I'd be ever happy to introduce you to books on India whenever you're ready.

Bhaswati Lovely to see you here! You will love this book and having grown up in Delhi yourself, you are bound to see a lot of commonalities. Enjoy!

act You're welcome, glad to have been of help! This is truly a wonderful memoir - foodies and non-foodies alike will enjoy it.
Do share your thoughts on the book after you read it.

nessie said...

I love the idea of bringing together her career with her life & tying it together. It is amazing that she is able to do so eloquently which you suggest with your post here.