Travel Reads: A Portrait of India through Four Scrumptious Food Books

From Mughal courts to meen curry in toddy shops in Kerala.  
Amritsar langar
Guru Ka Langar, the community meal served at Amritsar’s Golden Temple, feeds approximately 75,000 people every day. Photo: Kay Maeritz/Look/Dinodia

Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors

By Lizzie Collingham

This eye-opening book throws light on historical journeys of food and recipes across continents. It follows the adaptations of different dishes as they nimbly hop from one culture to the next: The ubiquitous biryani went from a dish prepared on the go for Emperor Babur’s soldiers to an elaborate part of feasts in the later Mughal court. Collingham’s stories trace cross-cultural strands in food like the colonial influences in Indian dishes or the popularity of chicken tikka masala in the U.K. As people travel or migrate, they take with them edible pieces of their homeland in the form of ingredients and recipes, creating a hybrid cuisine and culture in a new land.

Korma, Kheer and Kismet: Five Seasons in Old Delhi

By Pamela Timms

A Scotswoman goes on a journey of discovery through Old Delhi’s food lanes. Pamela Timms walks and eats her way through this ancient city of businessmen, adventurers, and some of the country’s best cooks. Through persistence and patience, she wins over kebabchis and halwais and becomes both confidante and chronicler of their culinary escapades. The result: a wonderful book that is part travel guide, part food memoir, and entirely mouthwatering.

Aslam Chicken Corner, Delhi

Aslam Chicken Corner in Old Delhi’s Matia Mahal area is one of many kiosks serving an array of non-veg fare cooked in tandoors. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint/Getty Images

Eating India: Exploring a Nation’s Cuisine

By Chitrita Banerji

This is a portrait of India through its food. The author delves into the history of the land, its seasonal and often peculiar culinary traditions, and the ingredients that appear and disappear across the vast subcontinent. For Chitrita Banerji, food is a mirror to Indian society and she captures its nuances on her journey through the country in search of authentic cuisines. The India that emerges through her book is rich in flavours and teeming with stories.

Following Fish: Travels around the Indian Coast

By Samanth Subramanian

This book makes the reader visualise India as a piscine map with different fish inhabiting its vast coastline. Visiting a handful of places on this map, the writer weaves an unconventional travelogue. From kappa meen curries in Kerala toddy shops to meetings with eccentric healers in Hyderabad who advocate swallowing live fish to cure asthma, each encounter encompasses geographical, historical, environmental, and cultural narratives. As this satisfying journey ends on an insightful boat trip off the coast of Gujarat, you might just find yourself saying, “So long and thanks for all the fish.”

Appeared in the July 2016 issue as “The Masala Library”.

  • Diya Kohli is the former Senior Associate Editor at National Geograpic Traveller India. She loves the many stories of big old cities. For her, the best kind of travel experience involves long rambling walks through labyrinthine lanes with plenty of food stops along the way.

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