A cricket writer and sports scholar writing about food? That’s a surprise for a start, even though cricket writers certainly eat and probably enjoy their food as much as anyone else. Boria Majumdar’s book, though is written with specific agenda, to get men who cannot cook into the kitchen and make them comfortable with the pots and pans. He describes his book as “simply the average Indian man’s survival mechanism in times of need” and begins by explaining that one point he couldn’t even make an omelette. Then, while at Oxford on his Rhodes scholarship stint, he encountered Professor Talib Ali who invited him to dinner and fed him a comfortingly spicy home cooked meal that made Majumdar feel perfectly at home and determined to master food before his wife arrived on the scene.
There is a story progression to the whole thing, from the first six egg disaster to the final triumph in Calcutta where he demonstrates his mastery over pots and pans to his astonished family who is first skeptical and then wide eyed in awe. However, the chapter headings have a distinctly cricketing slant to them, titles like Powerplay, Mid Innings Consolidation and Second Powerplay, which can only be understood when you get to the chapters themselves and discover the very clear subheads. Second Powerplay, for example, is about Chinese food, the most popular cuisine after Indian. Perhaps the book would have been better without the cricket, since it really does not add to what is a very straightforward guide to the kitchen for the single man.
Majumdar is very clear that his food influences are Bengali. The meals that he learned to love from his maternal uncle’s home in the Durch settlement of Chinsurah, 45 km from Calcutta, and from his grandmother. And that is roughly the kind of food he likes to cook, so those expecting short cut food solutions like soup and baked egg and cheese toast will not find them here. His recipes are firmly based on the garlic and tomatoes school, concentrating on boneless chicken variations, with those Calcutta staples, kosha mangsho, prawns and biriyani thrown in. Though yes, there are vegetable recipes to placate vegetarians.
Calcutta foodies might sit up and point out that Gol Bari in Shyambazar, famous for its kosha mangsho, under new management is no longer what it used to be. And demand to ask why restaurants like Kewpie’s Kitchen and Bhojohari Manna have been ignored. However Majumdar provides useful pointers to restaurants in Chicago, Oxford, Vienna and Australia, information gleaned in the course of his studies and travels.
Those used to books where the food writing is a feast in itself, may be a little disappointed with Majumdar’s nuts and bolts style. Terms like ‘jujube fruit’ for ‘ber’ too could perhaps have been replaced with the botanical terms and phrases like ‘is more spicier’ definitely needed a deft editorial hand. Also why is the ubiquitous ‘samosa’ used when to Bengalis the world over, it’s a ‘singara’ whether stuffed with cauliflowers or otherwise.
For a man on the run the book is useful since Majumdar does not waste time getting down to the point. He throws in humorous stories like the time he cooked curry for a group of academics during one of his scholastic stints. And yes, there are few interesting recipes to be picked up and experimented with.
Cooking on the Run by Boria Majumdar
Published by Harper Collins in India, 2012
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