There was a piece in The Guardian this weekend that tried to divide cookbooks into two clear categories – ‘lifestyle’ books and ‘instructional’ books.
Most of the celeb chef fodder falls clearly into the ‘lifestyle’ category, along with many more serious books, such as Jennifer McLagan’s book about offal. I wrote about that one the other week. Now, there’s a book that needs some lifestyle commitment.
On the other side of the fence are more ‘instructional’ volumes, the ones you reach for when you need to know how to get something done.
On my shelves, the ‘how do I do that?’ book is Delia Smith’s Complete Cookery Course, just as it is on tens of thousands of shelves across Britain. Not fashionable, not showy, but essential for understanding the mechanics of everyday cooking.
Few books cross this divide, but Christine Manfield’s beautiful Tasting India does.
It’s has the size and heft of a glossy coffee table book, and that, in many senses, is exactly what it is, but unlike others of the genre, it isn’t a flimsy, unsubstantial tome packed full of gorgeous photographs and nothing else.
Manfield’s book is a cookbook, and a fine one at that.
Tasting India is set out like a travelogue, and it’s clear that Manfield has traveled and eaten widely in the sub-continent. The book’s journey starts in Darjeeling and moves through the Himalayas, Rajasthan, Varanasi, the capital of Delhi, and Tamil Nadu before moving south to the coconut-lined shores of Kerala and Goa, ending in the mega-city of Mumbai.
A book of this size and breadth demonstrates the richness and variety of Indian cuisine. The Anglicised and bastardised curries we’re used to in our local Indian restaurants, or more likely Pakistani restaurants, at least around Yorkshire, is only a narrow view of the rich tapestry of Indian food.
Manfield’s book is comprehensive.
But it’s accessible, too, with plenty of recipes easily within the reach of any amateur with access to a decent Asian supermarket, or even a normal supermarket with a good ‘world food’ aisle. It’s interesting that normal supermarkets have started to sell specifically Asian brands of spices, the same ones we’ve bought for years in proper Asian supermarkets. Look out for them – they’re much better quality than the supermarket’s own brand approximations and normally a fraction of the price.
This is a collection of heirloom recipes, recipes corralled and nurtured together into a fascinating collection.
The book’s structure makes it feel like a journey, and flicking through the pages with their stunning and evocative photos, it’s easy to feel transported into the heart of India’s bustling and hectic cities, or onto its bright white beaches, or into its slums, or deserts, or ruins or palaces.
India is a country of vastness and variety, and Manfield captures this wide exoticness perfectly in a captivating and intriguing book, which succeeds at being both ‘lifestyle’ and ‘instructional’.