Tag Archives: food

Book Review: Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual by Michael Pollan

Food Rules - An Eater's Manual by Michael Pollan Title: Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual
Author: Michael Pollan
Publisher: Penguin Books
ISBN: 9780143116387
Genre: Health/Nutrition
Pages: 140
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I was always interested in reading Michael Pollan’s small book of food habits and what to eat and how called, “Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual”. I somehow never got around to it. Perhaps I was scared that it would all be clear – what I eat is unhealthy and maybe I would be forced to think about what I eat, how much I eat and how I eat. I was certain that life would not be the same after reading this book and I was right to a very large extent. At the end of the book, I wanted to change the way I eat and I hope I do.

“Food Rules” is a book that pretty much tells you what you already know. It deals with the basics or rather it gets to the basics of food and our dietary habits. The book is divided into three parts and each part tells the reader a little more towards healthy living. At the same time, Pollan does not discourage eating something sinful or pampering oneself, once in a while; however we need to understand that it is just once a while and not every single day. I guess that is where the major difference actually lies.

The basic premise of the book (according to me) is that eat what your grandmother or your ancestors would recognize as food. The idea is to rid oneself of processed foods or anything that comes in a can or a bottle. Eat fresh and eat plants and vegetables is at the core of the book and rightly so. There are sixty four rules in the book and one might even ask: Do we need rules to eat? Does someone need to teach us what to eat and how to eat? The answer to these questions in today’s time and age is probably a big, fat, YES! Pollan stresses on chewing food, eating smaller portions, eating together and simple food wisdom which he has observed from various cultures and applied over the years.

“Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual” is not a ground-breaking book. However, it does make you realize how you have been abusing your body and mind with what you eat. It makes you realize that supermarkets aren’t the answer to all your food needs and neither eating more means that you are well-fed. It looks at the basic aspects of eating – how much to eat, and when to eat. It breaks the myth of different foods and what the concept of healthy and fit really is. Pollan draws from traditions and simple food wisdom, which I said before, we are all aware of more or less but forget to apply it somewhere down the line. May be that is why we need a book like this to keep informing or rather reminding us from time to time, about what we should eat and how. A must read for people who want to know more about food and its implications and how it changes lives.

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Book Review: Eating Women, Telling Tales : Stories about Food by Bulbul Sharma

Eating Women, Telling Tales by Bulbul Sharma
Title: Eating Women, Telling Tales: Stories About Food
Author: Bulbul Sharma
Publisher: Zubaan Books
Genre: Literary Fiction, Short Stories, Women’s Literature
ISBN: 9789381017890
Pages: 115
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

You come across fiction all the time. You also tend to pick up a lot of which is highly recommended and then sometimes as a reader you are disappointed and do not know what to do with the person who recommended a book to you. Should you be honest enough in letting the person know that you did not like the read? Or do you not talk about the book or the author ever again to that person? But there are also times when people ask you to read a specific book and you love that book beyond anything that you might have read recently. This happened to me after I finished reading, “Eating Women, Telling Tales” by Bulbul Sharma.

“Eating Women, Telling Tales” was first published by Zubaan in 2009 and now to mark their 10th anniversary, they have reprinted this classic with a new cover. There are 9 such titles as well to the collection. Now to talk about the book. The book is beautifully and poignantly written. There are about seven women who come together to cook a meal for guests on the occasion of their male relative’s death anniversary. They cook and while they cook, each of them tells a story. These stories are either of themselves or of women they know and somehow food is integral to each and every story.

The vignettes are beautifully written – from tragic to funny to sometimes a satisfying turn at the end, each story is about food and women. Bulbul’s writing is clear, sparse and illuminates almost every aspect of life and what it takes sometimes to be away from home or to try too hard to be loved. Her women are traditional, grappling with the modern, trying to fit in and at the same time do not understand the new. They rather be embraced with their thoughts and mindsets, which but of course the only way it should happen. Even though in one story, a man takes the center stage, it is but the wife who is the strongest in it. Bulbul’s writing is playful and also mostly shows the mirror to the society and its inhabitants, who formulate such rituals which ultimately have no meaning and it is human life which is of most importance. A read to be reveled in and cherished for a long time to come.

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Book Review: Following Fish: Travels Around the Indian Coast by Samanth Subramanian

Following Fish Title: Following Fish: Travels Around the Indian Coast
Author: Samanth Subramanian
Publisher: Penguin India
ISBN: 9780143064473
Genre: Non-Fiction, Travel, Food
Pages: 184
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

I believe in discovering books on my own. I do not believe in recommendations because I am scared that most people do not know what I love to read or do not care to ask. It is a fact. Most people just put a book in your hands and tell you, “You must read this.” There is nothing more to that interaction. And yet there are times when I am completely taken in by a recommendation and love it to the core. This was the case with, “Following Fish” by Samanth Subramanian that was highly recommended by a dear friend and rightly so.

“Following Fish” is a lot packed in one book. It is about food and about travel and about empathy and about different cultures existing in one country, which is India. Subramanian travels the length and breadth of the coastal parts of the country and discovers Fish, right from how the process of catching fish goes on to the making and to the cultures that influence this category of “sea food”.

What I loved about the book was its simplicity of language and at the same the core remained intact. Not at any given time does Samanth move or change tracks rapidly. Even his travels were planned and thereby the writing that emerges is fantastic. The writing is easy and not at all taxing. In fact in most places it is even funny given the nature of a travelogue when infused with food at its core. He speaks of tragedies such as tsunamis and he also talks of happy times. In the most basic way, the balance is created and maintained.

My most favourite part in the book, but obviously had to be about Mumbai and its fish. About how fish is revered in the city and what place does it have. What I also found most endearing was the way Samanth combines history with all of this. I am a firm believer in the concept of the past and how it links to everything we are made of, so this worked for me superbly while reading the book. The good thing is that this book reads very simply so and at the same time speaks of so many different things. A read if you love to travel or love food or love both.

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Book Review: Confessions of a Serial Dieter by Kalli Purie

Title: Confessions of a Serial Dieter
Author: Kalli Purie
Publisher: Harper Collins India
ISBN: 978-93-5029-184-9
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 225
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3.5/5

This book is not meant for all. I read it, however the question remains: Was I its target audience? Yes I am a little overweight, but I certainly don’t think the need to diet (sometimes I do, but those times are rare). So clearly, I read the book and it seemed fine to me. May be actually taught me something as well, which I have to start implementing soon.

Confessions of a Serial Dieter is a weight loss memoir – technically as the book cover states, secrets from 43 diets and workouts that took the author from 100 to 60. The book is a funny take on the author’s (Kalli Purie) journey from when she was four (and did not know about dieting) to when she realized what it mean to be fat or thin and how it impacts how others view us.

The diets in themselves are funnily named – from The Champagne Diet to The Cabbage Soup Diet to The Wedding Diet, each chapter gives the reader something to mentally chew on and what it takes to shatter myths and emotional issues related to weight loss. It is not all superfluous. It also takes into account the fallacies and truths related to the “Dieting Industry” as it has become today.

Kalli Purie knows the craft of writing and how to use it aptly to her audience. Her writing is simple and accessible to all. The personal touch in this book is what makes it so endearing at most times. There are also select recipes in the book with the calorie count and all (like every other book) and some weight wisdom (unlike every other book). The book is detailed with therapies, exercises (some worth it and some not) and all of this has been written with a funny bone. I would recommend this book as a one-time read and also as something you can keep going back to in bits and spurts for the necessary dietary information.

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Book Review: Hot Tea Across India by Rishad Saam Mehta

Title: Hot Tea Across India
Author: Rishad Saam Mehta
Publisher: Tranquebar Press
ISBN: 978-93-81626-10-8
Genre: Travelogue, Non-Fiction
Pages: 191
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3/5

A travelogue according to me is the most difficult to write. How can one capture images, beauty, and memories in a book? How much would it take to conjure every detail on the trips that you have made and the people you have met? I always marvel at the skill of writers who accomplish writing a travelogue to the smallest details. I started reading, “Hot Tea across India” on a cold night in December and it was a great experience.

I have always been wary of travelogues written by Indian writers, not for anything else, but for the fact that I feel the details are missing most of the time. So I started this one with trepidation, however all my fears were laid to rest.

Hot Tea across India is a book about tea all over the lay of the country. It is about the author’s obsession with travelling on his Bullet and otherwise and exploring lands, and while doing so drinking tea as he and his friends go along journeys over periods of time. Tea is something which is available anywhere in India. It is almost the staple or national drink of the sub-continent and it is around this that the author weaves his travelogue. Tea as tasted across his journeys. From Manali to Rajasthan to Delhi to Mumbai. The experiences are varied and brilliantly accounted for in this book.

Rishad Saam Mehta was working with Autocar India and it is through them that he took to writing and photography. The pieces are well-written, though not all talk about tea and that’s what one will expect, given the title. At the same time, the writing is very good, especially when Mehta describes scenery and breathtaking Himalayan ranges as he is riding past them or setting camp. My favourite chapters in the book were about food – what is available on the highway roadside eateries to what can be cooked by strangers who become acquaintances and then friends.

Throughout the book, I wondered how good it would be if the book could be substantiated with pictures. That would be a reader’s delight. All in all Hot Tea across India was a good reading experience to start off the year.

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Book Review: The Restaurant of Love Regained by Ito Ogawa

Title: The Restaurant of Love Regained
Author: Ito Ogawa
Publisher: Alma Books, Penguin
ISBN: 978-1846881497
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 193
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

There is comfort food and there are comfort books. Books that literally warm the cockles of the heart and leave you with a feel good factor. Books that do not depress and sometimes I think we all need that comfort reading. I have always enjoyed reading books that talk about food or have some element of food in them. I remember reading “Like Water for Chocolate” in one sitting and after every chapter; I only wanted to eat what Tita was cooking. When I finished reading, “Eat Pray Love” (which I didn’t enjoy at all), I wanted to take the next flight to Italy and only eat. Forget the Praying and the Loving. Food does wonders and food in books does better wonders.

“The Restaurant of Love Regained” by Ito Ogawa is one such book. On reading the synopsis, one might think that it is the usual run of the mill story of a girl who loses it all and wants to regain it by coming back home. Well in parts it is that, and in parts it takes you completely by surprise. Let me try telling you what it is about without any spoiler.

Rinko returns from work one day and finds everything gone. Her Indian boyfriend has taken everything away and nothing is left behind, including the old Meiji mortar she inherited from her Grandmother and the Le Creuset casserole she bought with her first salary. So she goes back home to her mother and her native village, who she left fifteen years ago. There she decides to open a very special restaurant, the one that serves food for only one couple every day based on their palette and wishes. The name of the restaurant is, “The Snail” and the food that Rinko serves acts as healing potions and cures customers’ heartaches and helps them find love again.

Food as I suggested plays a major role in the book and not to forget Rinko’s culinary skills that add to the charm of the book. Having said that, I also felt at times that the translation could have been better in certain places. For instance, the part when Rinko conjures the idea of The Snail could have been translated keeping the original structuring in mind, which I felt was lost out on.

The highlight of the book for me was the letter written to Rinko by her mother. At times barring the food and restaurant concept, I was quite tempted to compare the book to The Joy Luck Club, but then that is where some of the similarities ended and did not take over the book.

All in all I quite enjoyed The Restaurant of Love Regained. The book may not be a brilliant read for sure, however it is quite a comfort read. Read it on a rainy day and let the book work some of its magic on you as well.

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Gourmet Rhapsody by Muriel Barbery

Ms. Barbery’s second novel is hardly a novel in form. Much is similar to her prior triumph with which I was so taken, “Elegance of a Hedgehog”. We are in the same fine apartment building, but in a different room. This could go on forever. Right up front, I should say this work of literature is for those who are not bothered by the absence of plot, action or dialogue. No, it is not “experimental” or “avant-garde.” But it is beautiful writing; and the translator is the same excellent one as last time. But we go from the teen to the doddering, both of course obsessed with death. That apartment building must have something in the wall paper. And my previous favorite, the curmudgeonly old concierge put in a brief appearance. She is Barbery’s philosopher avatar.

The streets are real as are several other things Ms. Barbery uses them to geographically anchor her work. You can visit all these. If you know central Paris, you have walked here, probably. It makes sense to me that she locates places carefully as she is from Casablanca of the old days and values place. More about this later.

The protagonist is the greatest food critic in the world, now on his death bed. He sets the stage by spluttering stuff about his greatness. He would otherwise be craven enough to sport for the Guise (ok, I should say ‘guide’) Michelin. The careful writing that comes through in this translation even lets us appreciate that he fancies himself as the Sun King. “Le Etat ce Moi”. Or as an old boxer has said “I am the greatest”.

Turns out that, in his final hours, he is groping for his culinary equivalent of the lost chord. But early on you have the clues something is not quite right with his image as suffered by others or imagined by himself. He characterizes daube and pot au feu as extravagant. Huh? I think we are in for a ride.

The structure of the book is a series of monologues, short, by each character. This is a kind of “Spoon River Anthology”, where all the characters come to say their piece. It could be a radio play. Each circles back to the “Great Man”, every other chapter. Chapters are short, from less than two pages to perhaps five from the protagonist. I have never seen mayonnaise used as a device of foreshadowing.

In his tomato homage, he no sooner reflects on fresh ones honored by oil, than he reverses himself and proclaims the nobility of oil to be false. Something deeper at work here. Words are never wasted; Flaubert would smile. I had to run out to my kitchen and eat three right on the spot!

This book is not for foodies. There is remarkably little actual discussion of food, despite the title. But she does give her thanks in a final note to Pierre Gagnaire, who may be found on 6 Rue de Balzac {Balzac? no coincidence there). The bakery Lenotre can there be found there as well. But Ms. Barbery’s musical reference bears mentioning as well. Laure’s entry, late in the book, begins with a song from 1964 . You can find the North African version by Natasha Atlas (as in the African mountain chain) here on Amazon. This is the one Ms. Barbery is likely to have grown-up with, but you can search for a more euro version y Francoise Hardy. In any case it is a song about life fleeting from the point of view of a droplet of dew.

Even sans plot, there is an ending I shall not spoil. Having said that about gastronomy, it should be remarked that the underlying theme of this story is brilliantly expressed through recollections by different voices, alternating with that of Pierre Arthens as he lay dying. Who the reader will discover in Pierre Arthens is a heartless, self-absorbed, arrogant hedonist who represents selfishness, vulgarity and excess of the “elite”. The irony that as he finds himself dying, his final desire is for one more, elusive taste sensation ~ “the only truth to be told” of his life, is a powerful statement, one to truly reflect upon.

Ms. Barbury has achieved an elegant work of small literature. Her focus is on each voice, uninterrupted. More, please.

Gourmet Rhapsody; Barbery, Muriel; Europa Editions; $15.00