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Review: Tasting India by Christine Manfield

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.

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