I love food memoirs. I mean what is not to love…lovely food with generous doses of nostalgia. I got introduced to food memoirs through Chitrita Banerji’s Eating India and I was hooked.
So when Hachette India very graciously sent me Mrs LC’s Table- stories about Kayasth Food And Culture I couldn’t contain my curiosity. This book authored by Anoothi Vishal is a peep into the vast food repertoire of the Kayasth community.
Mrs LC or Swaroop Rani Mathur is the author’s grandmother. It is through her that the author has learnt to cook and experiment with Kyastha food. The stories are richly woven around food, family and culture. One thing that irks me throughout the narrative though is that the author constantly says that her grandmother was not a good cook but a good manager of the staff she had at hand. The food was prepared by this staff. That makes me wonder – how then, could it be Mrs LC’s table. Anyways.
Grandparents always have a wonderful impact on our memories- even food memories. My great granny used to eat in a silver thaali with a big silver bowl (katora) for dals etc. I still have vivid memory of her taking green chillies and mashing them in her bowl of dal with her deft fingers. So I completely understand the heavy dose of nostalgia that is prevalent throughout the book. However I did find the narration bit jumpy at times. It kept moving forward and then going back to the same topic randomly.
My favourite chapter in this book is ‘’Sab Naqli hai’’ – The vegetarian dishes prepared in such a way that they appear to be non-veg preparations aptly named ‘’paheli ka khana’’. I remember a very unique preparation in our household called ‘’Dhoka’’ which was just like the ‘’false liver’’ mentioned in the chapter and was aimed at miming kaleji. A pulp was made out of soaked ‘’amla’’ or gooseberry and then it was mixed with gram flour and all the spices. The prepared dough was then cut and steamed and then added to a rich gravy. The dried amla gave it that unique ‘’brown-black’’ colour which made it look exactly like liver.
I love that the author talks authoritatively about various khichdis (arhar daal khichdi- dry, whereas moong dal one can be bit soupy) pulaos and biryanis. I agree to her wholeheartedly when she says that biryani is ‘’just a more robust wannabe’’ as compared to more nuanced, more delicately flavoured Yakhni Pulao.
The narratives of achaar making, vadi making, feasting and fasting are very engaging and keep you hooked (and drooling too). It makes me extremely happy when long forgotten words which I used to think were only used in my household like ‘’goojha’’ (gujhiya or karanji are more frequently heard) or ‘’kasaar’’ are used in this wonderful book.
Now, coming to that ONE thing in the book which irked me to no end. The place where the author has quoted Harivansh Rai Bacchan.
- The Hindi font used is bad. It is full of spelling errors. Have a look.
- Now, look at the English translation. To the best of my knowledge, when he says ‘’मेरे पुरखों ने इतना ढाला’’ the word ‘’dhala’’ is used to signify ‘’Pour’’ and not ‘’shaped’’.
My ancestors have poured so much (used to drink so much)
That my blood is 75% alcohol.
The mismatched translation made the reader in me (one who has grown pondering over the beauty of ‘’Madhushala’’) so agitated that I wanted to call up somebody –anybody related with the book and tell them so! This is also because the rest of the book is so well-written that I cared enough to feel let down.
Last but not the least-
Harivansh Rai Bacchan was a COMPLETE teetotaler. He had never tasted even a drop of the famous ‘’Haala’’ he waxes eloquent about. Isn’t that the highest level of creativity? And anyways, being the ‘’छायावादी’’ poet, the ‘’Haala’’ that he keeps referring to, isn’t Wine-wine. I was let down by the fact that the author in her previous para talks about Bacchan being a teetotaler and in the next para she says ”Like Bacchan, we may not drink that much or that regularly” – left me bit confused!
But yes, this book is definitely a labour of love. The recipes are heirloom precious and yes your diet will go for a definite toss after reading all those food stories interwoven lovingly with memories and nostalgia. Do read.