In a series of color-drenched chapters accompanied by recipes, food and travel writer Narayan recalls growing up in India and studying in the US.
Place and taste take center stage, often at the expense of story, in a narrative focused as much on particular foods as on milestones in the author’s life. Born in South India, Narayan begins with the Hindu rice-eating ceremony traditionally held when a baby is six months old to mark the transition from liquids to solids. The baby is offered a mix of rice and ghee, the melted butter described in the recipe that follows as “the vegetarian’s caviar: slightly sinful, somewhat excessive, but oh so delicious.” The author describes her grandmother making vatrals and vadams before the monsoon, because these thin slices of vegetables had to dry to a crisp on the rooftop before they could be stored. At school Narayan traded lunches, even though as a vegetarian she could eat only the rice in the chicken biriyani swapped by a Muslim classmate. She recalls shopping in the produce market, visiting her grandparents, attending festivals, surviving adolescence, and achieving academic success, lyrically evoking the tastes and textures of a world where rice was still ground on a stone, pickles and chutneys were made at home, and milk was delivered daily at the door by the cow herself. Though appreciative of her heritage, Narayan wanted to study in the US, which her parents reluctantly allowed after she graduated from college. There she reveled in the freedom to study what she liked (sculpture and drama), to meet a wider range of people, and to eat (if not always enjoy) different foods. Narayan’s cooking skills stood her in good stead when she catered a dinner to raise funds for her tuition. Then her family began pressuring her to return and marry a man of their choosing; she reluctantly accepted, but imposed certain conditions.
Deficient in the cultural insights that would have enriched the memories.