I enjoy almost every book that crosses my desk (now a uni-leg computer stand from a Swedish lifestyle emporium). Some are simple but informative volumes, others are attractive and what I would describe as gift quality. Tasting India is in the second category but has raised the bar on that little phrase. It truly is a gift in every regard.
It’s just as much a travelogue as a cookbook. The recipes here are as inspiring as they are useful. All the recipes work marvellously, but you wouldn’t want to be taking this gold-silk-embossed stunner anywhere near a kitchen full of anything that resembles ghee, tomato, turmeric (that might be OK as it’s a matching colour) or anything described as gravy. No, keep this book safe, read from cover to cover and scan some of those delicious recipes for use later. You will want to make them.
A journey around the subcontinent
The book is divided by region and it takes you on a journey around the subcontinent. The photography is sumptuous and even if you are a stranger to the inside of the aforementioned kitchen you will find this book worthy of gracing your coffee table. There are views of elegant buildings, majestic landscapes, but the population of India is the undisputed star here.
Tasting India temps with the prospect of gentle adventure and food. One of the first 2-page images is of The India Coffee House in Kolkata. It offers so many instantly recognisable elements: naturally aged walls, slow moving ceiling fans, turbanned waiters and tables full of casual diners. This is the real and authentic India and it’s not polished for the tourist. The pictures draw you into a culinary adventure. One wants to sample the street food and to sip from the terracotta disposable cups.
There are a good number of simple and traditional recipes to go along with each chapter. At first glance the ingredient lists might look a bit daunting, but you will find a collection of half a dozen spices will enable you to make most of the dishes. They will all be available in your local Asian supermarket or even online. If you don’t often make Indian food then buy whole spices and grind them yourself in small quantities. Tasting India also offers a creditable number of desserts and sweets, which are more often than not overlooked in other cookbooks.
Give this to a friend
Tasting India is indeed a gift, even if only to oneself, but consider giving this to a friend before he or she goes off on that amazing trip. It will give inspiration to the traveller – places to visit, unique aspects of daily life, colour and tempo. Then there is the food to try: freshly brewed chai, fragrant kebabs, syrupy sweets. The author, Christine Manfield, has evidently done her homework and has thoughtfully included a directory at the back of the book which includes places to stay like The Manor Hotel in Delhi, and places to eat such as Indigo in Mumbai. Shopping is an absorbing pastime and there are plenty of suggestions of spots to splash the cash, from tea centres to silk boutiques. A list of local travel agents would have been handy as you will be booking that flight as soon as that ornate back cover closes.
This is a must-have for any collector of books on India, any lover of India and any serious cookbook collector. Christine Manfield must be a very proud author, and photographer Anson Smart must surely consider this as his masterwork. Beautiful.
Author: Christine Manfield
Published by: Conran Octopus
Travelogue and Cookbook review by Chrissie Walker © 2018