For culinary historian Chitrita Banerji, food is the stuff of life, the energy that propels people to action, movement and progress and now she has come out with a memoir which is styled like a three-course meal with an ironic twist.
In “A Taste of My Life: A Memoir in Essays and Recipes”, published by Picador India, Massachusetts-based Banerji offers a portrait of a life that has intermingled with food in moving and unexpected ways.
Through vividly evoked repasts with family, and other meaningful gastronomic encounters in settings both personal and political, Banerji reveals how food has played a defining role in her experiences of love, adventure, conflict, loss and reconciliation.
When Banerji first considered including these pieces in one collection, she was not sure they could be arranged to reflect a thematic unity beyond the obvious one of food.
“They were written at different times and did not describe events in a linear, chronological format. On reflection, however, I realised that while food was a recurring theme, the pieces also reflected the universal experiences of curiosity, discovery, love, adventure, disappointment, heartbreak and loss,” she says.
“These experiences have provided the serendipitous arc of continuity that holds the essays in this collection together. The stories range from childhood to youth, through various stages of adulthood, adding up to the representation of a life,” she adds.
Readers frequently expect actual recipes of dishes described in food-related pieces. In this collection, I chose to add recipes to all but the two concluding chapters.
Banerji describes food as the “stuff of life, the energy that propels us to action, movement and progress”.
Its absence signals the extinction of the flame, the inevitable conclusion of a journey, she says.
Banerji introduces readers to some of the dishes and drinks most special to her – Kadam Bhai‘s duck bhuna, her father’s favourite tea, winter treats such as narkel naru, and a chicken sandwich from memoryland.
Banerji, who examines the relationships among memory, history, culture, religion, and food in her works, has authored several books on Indian food and culture, the last being “Eating India: An Odyssey into the Food and Culture of the Land of Spices”.