In his latest book, Gourmet Journeys in India, Pushpesh Pant wants his readers to flip through the pages and experience India’s imagery, tastes and geography, all at the same time. The book is filled with images of food and monuments, notes on cultural quirks in different places and recipes for dishes that best define an area. The author of more than a dozen cookbooks, Pant talks about why Gourmet Journeys in India is a culinary travel book, and how he went about collecting recipes for it. Edited excerpts:
Your most popular book, ‘India: The Cookbook’, has more than 1,000 recipes. What does the new one have?
The recipes in India: The Cookbook (2010) are representative of all of India. There is no one cuisine that stands for all of India, each has a character of its own. So I go into not only geographical and ethnic difference, but into food zones—areas of tastes that have some commonalities. So, in a way, it is an encyclopaedia of the different culinary representations in India. It allows a foreigner or non-resident Indian to know and understand the flavour of India. Gourmet Journeys in India is a book that is very different...it is a journey in time and space. If I go to Agra to see the Taj Mahal, after I am done I might perhaps want to try the petha, dal moth or visit the ghats of Benares (Varanasi) and then want to try the chaat there. My basic motivation is to treat food as the key to Indian culture and civilization. If you read the text of the book, it is a bit of a travel guide. For example, if you come to Delhi, it has the history of Chandni Chowk and at the same time, of the food in the Parathewali Gali.
Gourmet Journeys in India is priced at Rs 695
What makes a professor of diplomacy (at Jawaharlal Nehru University) write cookbooks?
Food is something that is central to everybody’s life. You could be an abstract artist, a mathematician or even an economist, but ultimately you have to eat. And you don’t just eat, you use all your senses. Eating is such a sensual pleasure; if you touch, there is texture, there are colours, there is flavour, there is the crackle of something crispy that you bite into, so all the senses come into play. I think the nearest (thing) you can compare food with is sex. If you are basically perceptive, then you see that food opens up doors and windows for you, as it did for me.
When did the idea for this book form?
The book was suggested by Pramod Kapoor of Roli Books when I was working on one of the first cookbooks I did for them called Food Path: Cuisine Along the Grand Trunk Road from Kabul to Kolkata (2005), and that was a very successful book. I authored that jointly with a Pakistani author who travelled from Kabul to Lahore, while I travelled from Amritsar to Kolkata. So he thought why do it only for the Grand Trunk Road? Why not also for the Indian subcontinent?
How long did the research take?
It’s a bit difficult to answer this one because while I was working on India: The Cookbook, my son was also shooting a documentary on Indian cuisines. We travelled a lot. So in a way this book is the result of travel and research for more than 15 years, but it wouldn’t be fair to say that all the research was solely headed towards the making of this book.
Who is the audience for this book?
I think it is the younger generation of Indians who travel intrepidly across the nation to work in call centres and IT companies and don’t have the time to know the country. They don’t like to be lectured on what the culture of the place is and want it to be encapsulated in a travel magazine or something like a half-hour television show that shows you a bit of the culture, a bit of the food and perhaps something about the monuments of the place.
Partly, the audience is also the foreign tourist who wants to understand the space but doesn’t have the time. You can see that the book is conceived in a manner where there are different circuits where you can begin your culinary journey, depending on how you enter the country. Via Delhi or Kolkata or even Kochi perhaps. Basically, I hope it caters to the need of the foreign tourist who is in India for a short time, but wants to understand the country.
One can’t help but notice that some states are missing in the book.
There are many omissions but the book has to be concise and follow travel routes. I have mostly dealt with the most popular travel routes of Kerala, Rajasthan and Delhi.
Gourmet Journeys in India is priced at Rs 695.