Climbing the Mango Trees

Since it’s January, I was feeling in the mood for something a little exotic. And food-related. I had originally checked out A Year in Provence, but after reading several reviews of this book, opted for it instead.

And I’m not sorry I did. Madhur Jaffrey (whom I mostly know of as a cookbook writer; I was surprised to find out she was an actress) has put together a wonderfully exotic, fun, interesting memoir of her childhood. I loved reading about her education (in a couple of Christian convents, one in Kanpur, one in New Delhi), I enjoyed her stories of her mother and sisters (especially the haggling with local salesmen), I loved the descriptions of the holidays (I need to add Holi to our list of holidays we celebrate; anyone know when it is?). But mostly I loved the descriptions of the food.

Before I quote something, I have to explain this. I have avoided eating Indian food for years. I had an Indian friend when I was younger, and I’d go over to her house, but for some reason the smell of Indian food is linked with the smell of my friend’s grandfather’s hookah pipe. I’d always leave with a headache, and as a result, never tried the food. And have avoided it since then.

However, Madhur Jaffrey has changed my mind. For example (she’s talking about an experience getting food at the Lane of Fried Breads in Delhi):

Before any real food arrived, we would start dipping our fingers in the
condiments and licking them. Then came the vegetables — meats did not belong in such places — carrots stir-fried with young fenugreek greens; potatoes, and peas cooked with cumin, asafetida, and tomatoes; cauliflower with ginger and green chilies. As soon as the vegetables were on our plates, the hot, hot parathas floated in, whichever we had ordered, all puffed ready to be deflated and devoured even before all the steam had hissed out.

They’re all like that: yummy sounding. I guess I must find an Indian restaurant and at least give it a whirl. Either that, or try out one of the recipes in back.

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5 thoughts on “Climbing the Mango Trees

  1. Indian food is great, but even better is Pakistani: That way you get the curry AND the taste of Mediterranean, all in one meal! We have this great Pakistani place near our house… wish we could stop in there more. Just watch out for curry that bites back!

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  2. I ADORE Indian food! Seriously, it might be my absolute favorite food in the world (but I say that about a lot of food!). You should absolutely try it. Pakistani food is good too, as is Afghani. I too love how the Mediterranean and Indian flavors and styles mix in those cuisines. Find out if there is a good Indian in your area and go for it!

    I have several of Madhur’s (we refer to her by her first name in our house) cookbooks and she has NEVER failed us. One is a quick and easy one (most recipes are half hour or less) and we use it ALL the time. If you get into Indian, I HIGHLY recommend it. Another one is a beautiful cookbook organized by region and has beautiful photos and lots of cultural information. The recipes are great but are more of the “I will take all of Sunday to make this recipe” variety.

    I actually knew her as an actress before I knew her as a cookbook writer- from Merchant-Ivory films. And now she shows up every once in awhile on Law and Order, which is our favorite show and we get unduly excited. Start waving at the TV and yelping, “It’s Madhur!” and like that. Quite embarrassing, actually.

    Thank you for reviewing her memoir- I somehow didn’t know about it. But am going to get it as soon as possible!

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  3. turtlebella — that’s too funny! LOL!

    One of the interesting things about the book is that Madhur points out that there are really two kinds of Indian food: Hindu and Muslim. They use the same ingredients, but somehow and for some reason, they turn out totally different. (She also brings up that Punjabi food, which is an Indian restaurant staple now, wasn’t part of her world until after the Partition in 1947.) After the Partition (I think that’s what she called it), most of the Muslims fled to Pakistan. So Pakistani cuisine is really Muslim Indian food.

    I found that interesting anyway.

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  4. Melissa- you are so right about the Muslim/Persian food in Pakistan (and yes, it was the Partition). And that Persian ancestry means it’s also less spicy (for people who can’t tolerate that or don’t like it). The fancy, long recipe book I have goes into this religion-cuisine thing quite a lot and also includes recipes from Christian communities. Even within the Hindu cuisines, there are subdivisions, what with Brahmins, etc. Really interesting thing she mentioned was that we in America rarely have food from Brahmin communities because Brahmins don’t eat at restaurants (mainly I think due to restrictions on who can make their food) and so the Indian restaurants here don’t tend to be people from Brahmin communities. It’s all complex and endlessly fascinating to me!

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