Jul/Aug 2003 Book Reviews

Monsoon Diary

Shoba Narayan
Bantam, Random House (June 2003) 223 pages
ISBN: 1 86325 413 7

reviewed by Ann Skea

For one who eats so little, my father had an unquenchable fascination with food

So begins Shoba Narayan's very personal memoir of growing up in India, of her family, and of the food around which so much of her life has revolved.

She starts with the "rice-eating" ceremony at the Guruvayar temple in Kerala, where she was persuaded to eat her first solid food; progresses through shared multicultural foods at school and on train-journeys; shares the anxieties she endured over a money-raising banquet she created as an impoverished foreign student in America; discusses her Indian arranged marriage; and ends with the "Descent of Relatives" on her American home. Food and culture are inextricably mixed, and this is a mouth-watering memoir.

The recipes, however, look daunting, even for someone like me who frequently cooks Indian meals in the traditional way and has a wide range of Indian spices in my cupboard. There is an ingredient, cilantro, which I do not recognize, and which is not in any of my cookery-books, even those I bought in India. And there is an instruction to fry urad dal and channa dal in hot oil, which leaves me confused: are the raw lentils to be fried or should they be cooked first?

But I do wonder how many readers of books like this (and Like Water for Chocolate, to which it is compared on the cover) actually get around to trying the recipes. Maybe just reading the stories and savoring the wonderful food descriptions is satisfying enough.


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