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A Sense For Spice

Posted: May 23, 2013

Tara Deshpande Tennebaum shares some delectable recipes and interesting stories from her grandmother’s traditional Konkan kitchen in A Sense For Spice.

Review by Anjana Basu

As time moves on and India modernizes, we are in danger of losing touch with our old ways. In the kitchen, mixer grinders are taking over from pestles and mortars and, unless you’re a real foodie, convenience is the name of the game. In this India, the response to this trend has been to delve into family kitchens and bring out recipes and, if possible, the stories associated with them.

Tara Deshpande Tennebaum has run a cookery show on a PBS channel in the US and spends her life between Mumbai and New York. A Sense For Spice is her introduction to her grandmother’s kitchen and the rich world of Konkan food; a world which snakes down the narrow coastline of Maharashtra to the south.

Konkan cuisine, declares Deshpande, introduced dosas to India, though Tamil Nadu continues to stake its claim on the dish. The cuisine is rich in Portuguese, South Indian and even North Indian influences, wherever the sword edged strip of land touches. There is coconut galore, chillies, fish, different types of gravy bases, both sweet and sour, flatbread recipes borrowed from the Nizams of the south and a world of vegetarian and non-vegetarian cuisine to be explored.

Deshpande first met Konkan food in her grandmother’s kitchen in her huge, old family house and fell in love with Indian food at a very early age, despite an occasionally cosmopolitan diet with the usual colonial chops and puddings thrown in.

The book therefore begins with the story of her grandparents, the Admiral and his wife, and like most traditional Indian marriages, it is a story of efficient food management – the Admiral going to buy the fish, something most Bengalis will be familiar with – and the wife marshalling the pots and pans in the kitchen. Traditional Indian kitchens have the same rules of women eating after the men and vegetarian wives learning to cook the non-vegetarian dishes that please their husbands. She does of course describe her grandfather’s retired life, pottering around in the garden, going for long walks, sitting for his two pegs in the evening. The women in the community get together in her grandmother’s house to make poles (pancakes, related to dosas) because her grandmother has the grinding machine, so preparing the crepes becomes a weekend activity with the women all lending a hand and finally sharing out the batter.

There is a handy glossary at the back of the book which translates unfamiliar phrases – even more useful because many of the recipes come from Deshpande’s grandmother’s handwritten sheets. She has adapted them to the modern kitchen where concepts of andaaz and pinches of this spice and that do not apply.

Though the blurb says Deshpande’s story covers three generations, it is mainly restricted to her grandmother’s generation and its effect on the family’s eating habits and one could have wished for more story telling. The recipes will however delight food aficionados and provide them with a handy reference for Konkan cuisine.

Publishers: Westland

Now dear readers, a book giveaway for you!

Simply answer this: What is your favourite memory from your mother’s or grandmother’s kitchen?

Just leave your answer as a comment below – and the best comment wins a copy of Tara Deshpande Tennebaum’s A Sense For Spice!

Please note: Only 1 comment per person. The book can only be sent to a valid address in India. Giveaway closes on 9 AM IST 29th May 2013.

So what are you waiting for? Comment away!

NOTE: GIVEAWAY CLOSED.

A Sense For Spice Book Winner

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