Friday, July 15, 2011

The wonderful world of food in Fiction

I read every scrap of food writing I can lay my hands on. I spend a small fortune on books and periodicals on cooking monthly. And food books and food blogs are part of my daily diet. But I have just discovered a newenre of books that will probably be the biggest drain on my wallet ever … edible fiction or Food Fiction books!

If you’d asked me what food fiction meant to me a few years ago I would have named the food descriptions in the Enid Blyton books I read as a child. In her books children always came home to "hot, buttered scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam" and it sounded so exotic, so delicious. And so different from the Bournvita and ganthiya I got at snack time! For the longest time, I was utterly fascinated by large wobbly jellies, iced tea, balcmange, scones, treacle pudding, ices, sausage rolls and liquorice. Ironically, years later my dad actually brought back liquorice from his travels. I hated it! However, I did like most of the other dishes I grew up reading about. 

Or maybe I would have listed Charlie and the chocolate factory. Essential reading in school this had to be the most delicious bit of schoolwork ever! This children's book by Norwegian-British author Roald Dahl tells the story of the adventures of young Charlie Bucket inside a chocolate factory. And the description of the Chocolate Room with that Chocolate River, that mixes and churns chocolate by waterfall making Willy Wonka proudly proclaim that "There is no other factory in the world that mixes its chocolate by waterfall!" Pipes hang down from the ceiling and suck up molten chocolate, sending it on to other rooms of the factory, such as the Fudge Room. But it isn’t just the thought of all that molten chocolate that gets me going, its the fact that everything in that room is edible from the pavements to the bushes and grass. Trees made of taffy that yield jelly apples, bushes that sprout lollipops, mushrooms that spurt whipped cream and pumpkins filled with sugar cubes and jelly bean stalks. It might have been written as every childs fantasy but it created a candy cravings in me every time! 

Or perhaps it would be the description of the world of illicit midnight feasts that the St. Clare's or Malory Towers books showed me into my world. That was all it took to convince me I wanted to go to boarding school! "Golly! Pork-pie and chocolate cake, sardines and Nestl√©'s milk, chocolate and peppermint creams, tinned pineapple and ginger-beer!" said Janet. "Talk about a feast! I bet this beats the upper third’s feast hollow! Come on—let's begin. I'll cut the cake." (From Enid Blyton, The Twins at St Clare's.). I did go to boarding school - at Mayo girls. Only to find the school did not allow students to keep ‘tuck’ of food. That didn’t stop us from having many an adventurous midnight feast, with food smuggled in on days out; chocolates, burgers and bun omelets, cans of beans and condensed milk, Maggi eaten uncooked was a favourite as I recall, Wai Wai which came from Nepal, all substantiated with pickles and chapattis smuggled out of the mess! But the best feasts were when someones parents visited bringing home made treats; laddus, mathri – achar and even home made food. We ate so ravenously on those days, that mothers would have felt liberated watching us! 
Or perhaps it would be the descriptions of the back to school feasts at Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry in Harry Potter brought back those times for me. Although the food itself Roast beef, roast chicken, fried sausages, stew, casserole, tripe, pork chops, shepherd's pie, steak, Cornish pasties, lamb chops, sausages, bacon and steak, steak and kidney pudding, steak and kidney pie, black pudding, sandwiches, marshmallows, crumpets (Harry and Ron roast them over the common room fire during the Christmas holidays in PS12), roast potatoes, chips, Yorkshire pudding, peas, sprouts, carrots, gravy, ketchup, custard tart, mint humbugs, ice cream, apple pies, treacle tart, spotted dick, chocolate √©clairs, chocolate gateau, jam doughnuts, trifle, strawberries, jelly, rice pudding are all traditional British food and nothing like what we ate at school, the attitude of the characters toward the food was much like ours. 

And later perhaps I would say that food fiction for me was Like Water for Chocolate, the first book I read that was fashioned around food. I was captivated and as soon as I was done with it, I went looking for more! And my next find would have been a strong contender too. Chocolat! The chocolate theme seems to be a favourite with writers, I suspect because it is hard to resist as much as the treat itself. But if Charlie and the Chocolate factory gave me Candy cravings, Chocolat made me crave chocolate like never before. And not the industrial chocolate bar – I now have to have real handmade chocolate all the time occaish=ionally with a little chilli stirred in like Vivianne makes! Written by Joanne Harris this is the story of chocolatier Vivianne Rocher who moves to the tiny French town of Lansquenet to open a chocolate boutique. Only to run into the hidebound local priest who does not approve of chocolate or Vivianne. Soon, a power struggle shapes up between the two of them even as strange things begin to happen. The townspeople begin to eschew the self-righteous gossip of small-town life, and find the courage to break rigid codes of provincial behavior. In short, they start enjoying life feuled by the sensual power of chocolate. When I want to indulge myself, I will make myself a cup of thick hot chocolate spiked with a little chilli and settle down to read it all over again.
Reading about food makes one hungry of course, but it needn’t always be a books centred around food that get you inspired. Two recent chick lit reads had me cooking up a storm in the kitchen. It all began with Anuja Chauhan’s The Zoya Factor. The protagonist Zoya Solanki is a client service rep with an advertising agency. Things start happening when she’s made to leave an ad film shoot, featuring SRK, to go to Dhaka to shoot stills of the Indian cricket team and the junior members of the team discover that they simply cannot loose a game after eating breakfast with her! Her birth at the exact time and date that India won the world cup in 1983 has a lot to do with this. The unbelieving team captain Nikhil Khoda adds chemistry to the story but even as I was laughing and crying my way through the book I also found myself inspired by the food described in it. I cooked up my version the ‘balls curry’ Zoya’s maid specialises in and spicy rajma pasta and pizzas with the works like Zoya’s aunt does! And as I dug into the results of my culinary experiments I couldn’t help wondering what it would be like to sink into a story that only talked about food. 

And then I found The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister.  In this remarkable debut novel, Bauermeister creates a captivating world in which food becomes much more than simple epicurean indulgence. The story revolves around Lillian the protagonist who is a respected chef and restaurateur, who has spent much of her life in the kitchen, looking for meaning and satisfaction in cooking. She believes that cooking and food have great healing properties and endeavours to pass that know-how to others through her cooking classes. The School of Essential Ingredients follows the lives of eight students who gather in Lillian’s Restaurant every week for cooking classes but soon begin to look for more than just recipes. And Lillian, a woman whose connection with food is both soulful and exacting, helps them to create dishes whose flavor and techniques expand beyond the restaurant and into the secret corners of their lives. One by one the students are transformed as they are brought together by the power of food and companionship. I was lost in the sensual, lush narrative, captivated by the tender hopeful stories and magical realism.

Eating is such a human enterprise from heart to stomach, but the fact that it has been grist for many literary meals, feeding the imagination of poets and writers across the ages, offering them an infallible connect to their reader makes it so much more mouth watering!  

GYAN and Links
A new Harry Potter, theme park opened in June at Universal Studios, Orlando. But here is and interesting post on the blog  Make a Whisk about the food thats going to be available there.  

If you liked this post, you might like our story on Comic Cuisine - Read it to find out what #CalvinandHobbs, #Popeye, #Wimpy, #Jughead, #Dagwood, #Garfield and #Obelix Have in common?


Vinda Dravid said...

I absolutely loved reading this! My favourite one so far! Brilliant.I feel like reading all these books all over again!

Nikhil Merchant said...

Just for this Id read all those books again - had a habit of reading before bed and that's the sole reason for my midnight snack cravings ! sighhh wish we could get all these things here.. a tin of this and a loaf of that.. [This article is so apt]

Saee Koranne-Khandekar said...

Perfect post for the rainy weather--makes me want to get under my sheets with a mug of hot chocolate and a good food book. Thanks for such, such a good read, Rushina!

Simran said...

I've been binge-reading Joanne Fluke. She writes delicious books like Fudge Cupcake Murder and Lemon Meringue Pie Murder.

And we're reading Malory Towers for "This Book Makes Me Cook" so looks like Enid Blyton is a universal food inspiration!

Culinary Muse said...

I love the movie and the book on Hansel & Gretle a german inspired fairy tale specially the way they describe the witch' house made of cakes and candies! I loved Archies Comics specially Jughead series. Enid Blyton novels always had these very English dishes like Ginger Buns. I can go on and on. As a kid I wanted to try all these things. Actually I still do

Meenakshi said...

I have read most of these books and Chocolat and Like Water For Chocolate are my favourites! Like Water For Chocolate was rather like Marquez meets Ruth Reichl!So beautifully written. I have not read the School Of Essential Ingredients, but EB's other novel, The Monday Night Cooking School. You will like it I'm sure :)

Rave said...

So well written Rushina!! I know exactly what you mean, feeling a tad let down at your first taste of licorice, after having imagined what it tasted like. Remember that treat-land or goodie-land in the faraway tree?? Sigh. Drool.
I havent read Chocolat or Water for Chocolate, but I've seen the films and boy did they put me in the mood for food. Can a big city girl go live in a farm and cook with her own produce? Someday hopefully.