Food for memories

The Asian Age, February 20, 2016

Mita Kapur has brought together 23 diverse experiences of food in her latest anthology, with writers choosing different literary forms to give the reader a peek into their food memoirs.


There is something extraordinarily visual about the whole food experience. You may not see it, but each time you listen to someone describe a rare food place, each time you read a recipe broken into the tiniest little piece, there is a clear picture forming inside you. The kind of picture that brings people together, Mita Kapur writes in the introduction to Chillies and Porridge, Writing Food. It is an anthology of food experiences, written by the many authors Mita has approached — 23 stories that she then edited and packed into her new book, coming out five years after The F-Word, her first.


Founder of Siyahi, a leading literary consultancy, Mita must not have had too much trouble getting in touch with authors? “It was a rather organic building up. For some of the writers I had read their writing on food, so they were a natural choice and some writers were requested to make the anthology more representative in terms of specific focus. Frankly, I just followed my heart so it was always an instinctive choice!” she says. Picking up Eat, Memory: Great Writers at the Table started it. After that, she read “everything she could find in the genre”. One of them was A Matter of Taste: The Penguin Book of Indian Writing on Food edited by Nilanjana Roy, who in turn became one of the writers for Mita’s book.


It begins with Janice Pariat’s Porridge and ends in Anita Nair’s The Theatre of the Table. Formats differ. Karthika Nair chooses poetry, Sidin Vadukut writes with his trademark humour, some are combined works, some about cooking slow, and some about carrying chillies around to dinner parties! The name of the book comes from the chillies that Bulbul Sharma had written about, and from Janice’s porridge. “I was insistent that I wanted a warm, welcoming, refreshing title so we picked out the chillies from one essay and porridge from another. In some twisted manner it was also an attempt to give an idea of the scope of the book. I don’t know how much did that achieve but everyone seems to have loved the title,” Mita explains.


Mita’s love for food began a long time ago, she can trace her first food memory to when she was three. “I always wanted to try whole fried fish with head and tail, eyes intact. I cannot forget the flavour of puncet in manila or the chocolate milk that my uncle bought for me every afternoon from a milkman on his cute little cart. I recall sitting on the kitchen window watching my sister make chocolate fudge, bake a cake and that was the time when we didn’t have electric beaters or ovens so observing each step being laboured on was very intriguing for me. The love started then I guess,” she reminisces.


Mita also writes in the introduction: Food brings us together as a family, as friends, even as strangers who chance to share a table at a hole-in-the-corner-joint; it opens up silences and creates shared moments, some laughter, and then you move on. But you carry the memory within the recesses of your mind, because you bonded over a food-laden table.


But she stops there and lets her writers take over. “Because Siyahi and the authors I represent come first for me, my own writing takes a back seat. I was a greedy, all — consuming pig while reading and editing stories written by our contributors. I wanted to know more because all of them were so fascinating to read. Editing was a breeze since all the contributors were equally empathetic and intense about giving it their best shot — it was so much fun!” she concludes, speaking fondly about her editing experience.

This entry was posted in Miscellaneous. Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.

Leave a Reply