“Chingri Malai Curry beats Chetan Bhagat any day!” was what writer Jaideep Mazumdar told journalist and food writer Vikram Doctor while talking about how deep our passion runs when it comes to food.
This mouth watering anecdote and many more were part of a panel discussion on food writing at the Kala Ghoda Festival on Monday, with Doctor and other food writers —Nilanjana Roy, Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal and Shoba Narayan.
“There is a huge interest in food now with food writing spanning an entire spectrum from books about food and travel, food and spirituality to the regular cookbooks,” said Doctor.
Food writing is being served in exciting new ways like food blogs as seen in Ghildiyal’s blog ‘A Perfect Bite’, academic food research and personal memoirs structured around food memories and recipes like Narayan’s book Monsoon Diary.
While that seems to paint an appetizing picture of an energetic new world of food writing, there are some shortcomings that the genre faces.
The first limitation discussed was what the publishing industry — both books and newspapers — expects of food writing.
“Why is most of our writing still stuck on recipes? We need to enlarge on our narratives. Food is so much more interesting when we include its politics and history as well,” said Narayan.
Indian regional cooking was also an area that according to the panelists doesn’t seem to interest the average publisher.
“It’s assumed that a certain kind of books about regional Indian cooking won’t have a large enough market. But that’s not necessarily true. If we had dedicated food editors in publishing, maybe there would be a better understanding of this issue,” said Roy, who edited the Penguin Book of Food Writing.
The trend in the West now, argued Ghildiyal, is that they are now coming back to their traditional food after having stepped away from it for a long time.
“The Slow Food movement is fast catching on now. The great thing about India is that we already have a strong, existing traditional food culture. Our food writing should actually help preserve it well.”