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Around the world on 365 plates

india Updated: Jun 27, 2009 23:28 IST
Shalini Singh
Shalini Singh
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

Food, I have realised, is not what I just eat: it is what I am and what I do.” This pretty much sums up the intention of Simon Majumdar’s first book, Eat My Globe. I get past a typo in the first chapter, where the half-Welsh, half-Bengali author explains his context: a wry London-based 40-something, working in publishing, has hit middle-life crisis, is bored with job, needs new goals... So, between fixing teeth and getting a suit made to measure, he decides to go everywhere and eat everything.

What follows is a truly passionate mission: he quits his job, shoots emails to any and everyone he knows about his Big Plan, dips deep into his savings and plans a grand gastronomical expedition that takes him and his companion Big Red to, well, nearly all around the world in 365 days.

From pork pies in his home country, the United Kingdom; Dim Sim in Melbourne (listed in the 10 worst tastes list at the back of the book); okonomyaki (an omelette-snack) in Hiroshima; a one-off dog-eating experience in China’s Yangshuo to a gamey horse-rib meal in Mon-

golia; assorted sandwiches (“USA’s greatest contribution to world cuisine”), typical Tex-Mex fare in Texas, and of course, good old Indian fare, including in ‘home-town’ Kolkata, Majumdar has tried to pack it all in, in more ways than one.

With food in the foreground, he weaves historical and present-day stories, looking at the world in its entirety through a culinary prism. His descriptions are wonderfully evovative: sample the British black pudding as it underwent changes in the 90s as “a new wave of chefs inspired by British ingredients had decided it was hip”, or its darker side —“innocent porkers entering satanic building, puffing dark smoke”.

In a supremely conversational tone Majumdar makes you a part of his travels, as he comes alive in the pages — hungry, piquant, enthusiastic, curious, deadpan funny, fed-up (pun intended)...

Humour is sprinkled generously at the point where he explains the difference between Mumbai and US waiters. (I had to put the book down for a hearty laugh).

“I asked the waiter what was in the sauce ….‘It’s a gravy’, my waiter responded. ‘Yes, but what’s in it?’ I pressed, and he headed off to ask someone who might know. Returning, he announced proudly ‘It’s a red gravy’ and went off to serve other tables.”

Towards the end, you might find EMG lagging in pace, but just then, Majumdar springs a surprise in the form of a humorously narrated experience.

In the India chapters, he’s sampled the clichéd grub — Delhi’s Karim’s and tandoori chicken, Mumbai’s Bade Miyan and bhel puri, the ‘dahl Bukhara’ — and you wish you could point him out to the more unknown gastro delights in your respective cities. The good news: he seems to be planning another round as he sits reflecting on his travels towards the end. EMG is a fairly comprehensive book on food travel; his candid and humorous voice even redefines it.

Majumdar has sure known the finest but he ends it simply. The last meal, he says, must be a perfect plate of fish and chips, much like life.

One caveat though: don’t get started on this on an empty stomach.