Review: Tasting India by Christine Manfield

Eggs On The Roof Reviews

Tast­ing India by Christine Man­field
Pub­lished by Con­ran Octopus, Novem­ber 2011, £40.00
Pho­to­graphy by Anson Smart

Com­batants in the fight over e-cookery books versus prin­ted ones have new ammuni­tion. Or should that be heavy artil­lery. If you believe paper books take up too much room, you’ll no doubt point accus­ingly at Christine Manfield’s new book, Tast­ing India. It’s vast — the biggest, heav­iest and most lav­ish cook­ery book I’ve ever seen. Its tur­meric yel­low satin cover embossed with vivid pink pea­cocks is just about as showy as it’s pos­sible to be.

Yes, it’s imprac­tical — one splash from an unruly, bub­bling pan of dahl and its gleam­ing golden jacket would be ruined. And yes, its girth puts it in the super heavy­weight class. It’s not a book to amble through so much as rock-climb over. But, call me a romantic if you like, I’ve fallen in love with it.

The Aus­tralian chef Christine Man­field has been vis­it­ing India for more than twenty years. Her rev­er­ence for the coun­try, tempered with a prag­matic under­stand­ing of its faults, shines through the text. It’s part travelogue, part encyc­lo­pe­dia, part mem­oir, part cook­ery book. Where she’s been so shrewd is to avoid a ped­es­trian, dogged tramp through each region. That’s not how cuisine works, and cer­tainly not in India. As she says, ‘For me, part of the excite­ment of con­tem­por­ary Indian cuisine lies in the way each cook or chef car­ries the recipes and her­it­age of their home­land with them, wherever they hap­pen to find themselves.’

Immerse your­self in the pages of this book — there are nearly 500 of them, so it will take a while. Mar­vel at the stun­ning pho­to­graphs by Anson Smart. Savour the recipes for tea-leaf frit­ters, scal­lops in spiced coconut, desert-bean koftas with onion curry and curd dump­lings soaked in saf­fron milk. Just ima­gine what they must taste like, or throw cau­tion to the wind and lug this book into the kit­chen and actu­ally cook from it. Either way it’s entrancing.