Friday, January 29, 2010

"Mangoes & Curry Leaves"

When this book was published, reviewers made it sound very appealing, but it's huge and expensive so I didn't buy it. At the library today, I browsed into a copy and hauled it home.

Mangoes & Curry Leaves is an enjoyable culinary journey through the Indian sub-continent. I think it reads more like a blog than like a narrative. The two authors have a strong and distinctive point of view, but the vignettes about their lifelong travels in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and so on don't cohere into a single narrative voice.

Unfortunately, the book design gave me problems. The huge page format (around 10" high and 12" wide) is awkward for layout. Some terrible typographic choices make reading challenging (pale yellow type on a red-orange background, with the first line on the page an even paler yellow -- Puh-leeze.)

The contents are organized not geographically but by recipe types, beginning with the chapter on "Chutneys, Salsas & Sambols." Travel bits are interspersed among the recipes and also given as introductions to some recipes (adding to that blog-like feeling). This is another reason why the book doesn't seem very coherent.

All the book's descriptive information about food, along with the recipes, does create a very appetizing read, and often very informative. The names of all the varieties and preparations of plain rice took me by surprise, since rice to me always seems pretty much of a background item. The authors comment on the wide range of fruits, vegetables, and spices in the subcontinent, and how regional differences in climate and varying religious taboos affect the choices, especially of meat. They mention particularly what a large overlap there is with the American diet. Potatoes, they point out, are a staple in India. One finds them much more frequently in the local and even tourist restaurants one encounters than in Indian homes -- but after all, they remark, that's true in North America too.

Since I just obtained and skimmed the book this afternoon, I didn't try any recipes, just daydreamed about getting right back in the car and heading toward the Indian food market, which ironically is very near the library branch where I found the book.

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