The East Indian Kitchen

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The East Indian Kitchen by  Michael Swamy, book reviewAll recipes have some kind of historical significance to them. How they originated, where they originated and why they are the way they are. In The East Indian Kitchen, Michael Swamy sets out to trace the culture, traditions and culinary practices followed by the East Indians – of Mumbai, who were the original inhabitants of the seven islands that formed Mumbai and who converted to Christianity after the Portuguese arrived in the islands. The book in the end turns into a very personal search for culinary roots and origins written by a chef who studied at the Cordon Bleu Culinary School in London, who has worked as a food stylist for Indian TV channels and whose grandmother is East Indian.

The East Indian Kitchen is the second edition of Swamy’s book Enduring Flavours, which was based on the way the East Indian community had adapted to changing times. The first book, one that Swamy self published, was a historical document with stories of the handful of traditional East Indian homes left in Mumbai. The East Indian Kitchen focuses on the recipes and the traditions of the community, the saris they wear, how Bandra evolved over the centuries, how the community in itself is a kind of fusion, not only in its food but in the way its women dress, wearing saris tucked up between their legs as Konkani fisherwomen do and mangalsutras, despite being Christians.

East Indian food is very different from Goan cuisine, though at first, given the Portuguese influence, one might expect a slightly Goan flavour. It’s a cuisine that brings together Portuguese, coastal Maharashtrian and on occasion, British ingredients and styles of cooking. When the Portuguese landed in Maharashtra, they introduced their beef and pork based recipes to the locals who were unfamiliar with those meats. The East Indians, after they had converted to Christianity, cooked them with the spices that they had at their disposal, creating a kind of fusion fare.

According to Swamy, it is the spices that set East Indian cuisine apart from other Indian cuisines. Known as ‘bottle masala’, it is a combination of up to 36 ingredients each individually ground by hand. While the food eaten every day is fairly straightforward, weddings see dishes like pork vindaloo, sarpatel and fugia breads. And on special occasions like Christmas, families exchange festive treats with each other, a custom that is gradually dying out as more and more members of the community migrate to the West.

Swamy’s task was made all the more difficult by the fact that most of the recipes are not written but passed down to family members in a kind of oral tradition, with the result that the same recipe may taste different in two different homes because of the ways the masalas are used. Through his visits to various homes, he had to standardize the recipes.

The recipes he showcases covers basic every day dishes which are a byword in East Indian kitchens, recipes that have almost vanished from the kicthen and innovative experimental ones inspired by the eclectic traditions of the cuisine.

Adding extra flavour to an already rich book are sketches by artists Eustace Fernandes and Philip Victor D’Mello.

The East Indian Kitchen by Michael Swamy
Published by Westland Tranquebar in India, 2011

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Buy book online
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East Indian Kitchen, The
by Michael Swamy

2 Comments on "The East Indian Kitchen"

  1. Niyaprakash
    11/12/2012 at 17:58 Permalink

    Hi,

    Today I received my copy of The East Indian Kitchen which purchased through online shopping. 2 recipes are missing in this book .Nankahatai and Coconut macaroons. We can see the photo of Nankhatai but the recipe is missing. Photo of marble cake is also different. Featured photo was a chocolate cup cake. Photo of modak which they taken from some website.

    Thanks
    Niyaprakash

  2. D'silva
    25/02/2013 at 18:08 Permalink

    Hi,
    I purchased your book from Flipkart. I must say its an awesome book. I have tried d Indad recipe and many more. They have turned out really good. You have mentioned everythin in detail.
    I wanted to know abt sum more recipes.. I have heard about some Pork Okda where can I get tat recipe.
    Thank you so much.

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Written by Anjana Basu
Anjana Basu

Anjana Basu works as an advertising consultant in Calcutta. In 2003, Harper Collins India brought out her novel Curses In Ivory. In 2004, she was awarded a Hawthornden Fellowship in Scotland where she worked on her second novel, Black Tongue, published by Roli in 2007. In February 2010. her children's novel Chinku and the Wolfboy was brought out by Roli. She writes features for travel magazines and reviews for Indian newspapers.

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