Tasting India
by Christine Manfield
Publisher: Penguin Lantern (AU), Country: AU
ISBN: 9781920989927, Year: 2011
Link to publisher’s page or site
This review is the personal opinion of the reviewer.

Overview

Bold design, sumptuous photography, genuinely inventive recipes; all have become the hallmarks of any new book by Australian chef Christine Manfield. Exciting stuff for book lovers, especially lovers of cook books, her stunning new Tasting India is no exception.

Review

India surely ranks among the most romantic of destinations for both the seasoned and armchair traveler alike, with a fascinating, rich cuisine to match one of the most infamously diverse countries on the planet. From the calm, mystic Himalayas to the exotic, lush spice country of Kerala in the south, Christine Manfield’s somewhat epic book Tasting India is bursting with colour and life and beautiful food at every single page turn. With a vibrant yellow, white and hot pink relief-printed cover, the book is a highly desirable object with a very particular high end glamour look and feel. Taking the ideas explored in 2008’s Fire before it and expanding them, Tasting India is part recipe book, part travelogue. Manfield is an engaging, thoughtful writer but it is when she immerses herself in the recording of recipes and talking, knowledgably and warmly, about food that she is at her most inspiring. Photographer Anson Smart deserves equal billing for his incredible imagery, which pulls the words together and holds the reader in a kind of visual thrall, breathing life into the text. Together, they make for an exquisite and very successful partnership, and it’s difficult to know exactly where you’ll want to keep your copy – coffee table or kitchen. I am tempted by both.

Chapters follow a formal structure, organised by region, and finish with recipes, many of which have been mentioned in the text. Manfield kicks things off nicely with the bustle of Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), finishing with the equally frenetic energy of the sprawling city of Mumbai (formerly Bombay), and she traverses the country from north to south, east to west and everywhere (almost) in between. Each of the ten chapters begins with a vivid, diary-style introduction to the region, painting a picture of the culture, invoking the spirit of each region, of markets and street food as well as each cook who has inspired the exotic recipes that follow. A glossary of ingredients and equipment, followed by a directory of, it must be said, luxurious accommodation and authentic places to eat rounds things off. In between it’s a treat to read the experiences of a woman who travels in order in learn as much as possible about her craft.

Christine Manfield is known for both her attention to detail and a questing for perfection. She writes beautiful, exacting recipes that reflect her style of high-end cookery. It’s not always easy to cook her food at home, but for special occasions, her food is where many of us turn. In 1996 Manfield first visited India and she’s been going back regularly ever since. With guides to help her access home cooks, interesting markets, real Indian food, this book feels like something of a labour of love.

Anson Smart is a commercial photographer based in Sydney, one who travels the world. This book is as much his as it is Manfield’s (he deserved some billing on the cover, surely) and he paints a glorious picture of India with his lens. The food photography is wonderful, of course, but he’s at his absolute best when given the luxury of double-page spreads of which, thankfully, there are many. Scenes of market life and street food are among the best work, his portraits intimate and warm. The Himalayan chapter, with expansive, humbling scenery, is made magic because of his eye.

Photography is a huge part of this book. Huge. A gorgeous visual feast to accompany Manfield’s (occasionally less enchanting) words. Indeed, if you were to seek out the book for the photography alone it would be money/time well spent. Photography aside, though they cannot really be separated from one another, the recipes here seem to me, a home cook, to be more approachable than those in many of her previous titles, not least because this is the kind of food I feel most comfortable with. Though meat is most certainly not omitted, there is a wealth of meat-free food here, making Tasting India the first of Manfield’s books that will appeal to vegetarians as well as omnivores. One of the most disappointing things, again, to me, is when I open the pages of an Indian recipe book written by a westerner and wonder where, oh where, are the vegetarian meals. Not so here, and what’s particularly interesting is that there is no fuss made about this, no apology offered because this is, essentially, what Indian food encompasses: a diet that is as rich and varied as the country and her people, and, in many cases, that means vegetarian.

The coffee table style of glossy presentation does make the book a little intimidating (and tricky) to cook from, but it opens out wide and flat, so if yours is a capacious kitchen counter, this will not prove to be problematic. It is heavy, as you might expect given the beautiful artwork inside, which presents a challenge for the wrists of most readers. With high price label, I am slightly disappointed that the cover, near the base of the spine on my copy, tore after only a few uses. Perhaps it needs to be treated with kid-glove care, but any book that weighs in at just under three kilos should be built very, very sturdily to my mind.

Tasting India is clearly being released in time for the Christmas period, and it’s an ideal fit for holiday gift-giving. Perfect for adventurous travelers and cooks, or anyone who loves beautifully illustrated books. One of the highlights of the publishing year, it’s a stunner and a keeper.

This is an original review for The Gastronomer’s Bookshelf.
Main rating: 5. Highly recommended
Visual appeal: Beautiful
Suitability as a gift: Likely to be strongly appreciated
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Tasting India, Christine Manfield | 2011 | AU, 5.0 out of 5 based on 2 ratings

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2 Comments

  1. Posted 30 Oct 2011 at 16:20 | Permalink

    Oooh, very happy to see a review of this one and by Lucy, no less! I just spotted it in a bookshop last weekend and loved the Bollywood-bright cover, not to mention the photography within.

  2. Margie Harris
    Posted 13 Apr 2012 at 14:58 | Permalink

    FABULOUS book….Christine obviously loves India, it’s people, culture & food…Have given 10 copies to friends…ALL want to go to India now.

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