Monday, July 13, 2009

Monsoon Diary - Delicious South Indian Brahmin Specialities

I seldom blog about a book before finishing it. But I am finding Monsoon Diary by Shoba Narayan a terrific read. It contains my five essentials about an entertaining book, food, culture, graphic descriptions, childhood stories, and most important of all, humor without irony.

Shoba describes in the book, childhood memories of growing up in Adyar, Madras with her parents and Shyam, her younger brother. She spices it up with gorgeous bits of details about South Indian behavior and culture, her unique family members, legends together with her own (vegetarian) recipe inserts.

"The most important thing when traveling by train in India is not the location of your seat (first-class is more comfortable, second-class more congenial), whether you have confirmed tickets or even your destination. The crucial element is the size of your neighbor's tiffin carrier. If you're lucky, you will be seated near a generous Marwari matron whose method of marking your acquaintance is to hand you a hot roti stuffed with potato saag.

I was twelve when this happened to me, and I still remember biting into the soft, ghee-stained roti and feeling the explosion of spices in my mouth as I encountered cumin, coriander, ginger, green chilies, pungent onions, and finally - like a sigh - a comfortingly soft potato. It was dawn. The train whistled mournfully as it click-clacked its way through the misty countryside. A cool breeze wafted through the open window and teased the curls behind my ear. Fragrant turmeric-yellow saag dribbled down the corner of my mouth. A perfect symphony for the senses."

Of all the dishes described so far, I find Vada Pav the most fascinating. Shoba described it as "Bombay's version of a hamburger, a deep-fried potato pancake spiced with ginger, garlic, green chiles, and cumin and served on a sliced bun with spicy chutney on the side". I am inspired.

[source: Diary of a White Indian Housewife]

DDN: 641.5954 NAR - [COO]

I finished the book some time back but I forgot to mention this. While I can fully empathise with the author on the cruel disregard of the examiners to her aesthetic, I felt that the American years should be covered in another book, because it threw me off for a while, then suddenly we were back to Kerala for her wedding. Perhaps the author wanted to have a start and an end to her "diary", but it's quite a distraction.

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