The F-Word: Indian Cookbook, Part History!

Mita Kapur's F Word is an Indian cookbook that is part food recipes, part family history; a worthy addition to your store of Indian cookbooks

Mita Kapur’s F Word is an Indian cookbook that is part food recipes, part family history; a worthy addition to your store of Indian cookbooks.

By Anjana Basu

Take a pinch of humour, add a dash of feistiness, throw in a generous handful of spice, mix it with international flair and a lot of ‘andaaz’ and serve well decorated. Mita Kapur’s F Word certainly has all these ingredients. The book is a romp through different family experiences combined with food, with Thai a clear winner since the book keeps circling back to Thai cuisine fairly often.

Of late, most cookbooks have been doing this combining food and story thing – from Madhur Jaffrey’s Flavours of India onwards. Mita Kapur’s is a clear attempt to sort out the new problems that have cropped up in the kitchen ever since the traditional days faded out and pizza and pepperoni were added to Indian diets.

“How do you serve up a nutritious yet delicious meal to a large family of individuals of varying ages and with extreme differences in taste? How can you convert a carnivore into a lover of greens?”  so goes the blurb and she sorts these issues out with help from her children, especially Sakshi, the eldest, who has her own adventurous tastebuds and her nephew Aman who like most 16 years olds, complains about everything set on the table to his CM or Choti Mamma. According to him, she is not meant to be behind the fire ‘but in it’- which is apparently a well loved Kapur family joke.

You’ll also find the expected in the book – the conversations with Lucknowi bawarchis who say that the perfect biriyani takes two days to ‘pakao’, gradually simmering till the yakhni falls from the bone, the history of the gilouti kebab invented to please a toothless nawab; or the dialogues with Rajasthan royalty regarding vanishing cooking techniques and recipes. We have heard all this before, so Kapur very sensibly does not allot too much of her narrative time to these stories.

What makes Mita Kapur’s book stand apart is the way she combines issues like child molestation (which is possibly a first for a cookbook) with stories of meeting an Indian sex worker in Amsterdam’s red light area. Or bewails the impossibility of finding Thai food in a backwater like Jaipur – which is why she learnt to cook it for herself. The book’s charm lies in this unconventionality since it seems flit from story to story with apparently no real strategy behind the narrative. There are delightful, almost childish illustrations to accompany the text.

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And yes, of course, there are the recipes which are not set apart but flow with the narrative, though sometimes they seem to have no real link to it; for example the recipe for biriyani does not appear in the Lucknow chapter but much later in the book. The dishes range from the conservative to the weird and are definitely recommended for people with sophisticated kitchen resources, or for people with a wide range of traditional ingredients in the larder.

In such a recherche book, proofing errors like ‘chocaholic’ on the back cover and ‘afficianado’ make for disappointing stumbling blocks.

All in all though, one understands why she calls the book The F Word – a title that is sure to have people grabbing it off the shelves out of sheer titillation. As Shobhaa De says of the book, it is bound to be the centre of quite a few ‘literary bhojans’.

Publishers: Harper Collins India

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