Mita Kapur’s The F-Word


Muse India, May-June 2011

Book Review by Ambika Ananth

Mita Kapur
New Delhi : HarperCollins, a joint venture with The India Today Group.
Pp- 235, Price- Rs.599.

An intensely alive spirit in the book

With a tongue-in-cheek, naughty, enticing, exciting title like “The F-Word,” the book has jouissance, juice and joviality to make it a good read. This one is an outcome of a confluence of many facets of a wholesome woman – that of a mother, a writer, a culinary expert, a connoisseur of food. By blending various insights into a composite vision, by combining real life situations and real life characters of family and friends, Mita Kapur succeeds in creating an interesting read in her book. Those who are aware of a British food magazine and cooking show “The F Word”, also known as ‘Gordon Ramsay’s F Word’, may not be totally surprised by the book title, but may reach out with eagerness to dig hungrily into its contents.

Mita Kapur is a freelance journalist regularly featured in many newspapers and magazines. She covers social and developmental issues along with travel, food and lifestyle humor stories. She is the founder and CEO of Siyahi, a literary consultancy where she doubles up as a literary agent along with conceptualizing and directing literary events. The F-Word is her first book and was launched at the Frankfurt Book Fair –Oct 2010.

There are nine chapters aptly entitled– ‘Papad, peanuts or pepperoni’, ‘Barmy Beginnings’, ‘Sultans of Swing’, ‘Spice on the side’, ‘Steaming hot and subtly flavoured’, ‘The fragrance of Meat’, ‘Go Green’, ‘The taste of Home’, and ‘Desserts and Departures’. This according to Mita Kapur “ is a book for food lover, for the people who enjoy gastronomical pleasures in life and aren’t ashamed of being gluttons”

Perhaps food is an entity which can never be relegated to sidelines in the life of living beings. It has an enduring universal merit for its strong hold on both – the stomach and the mind. There are social, cultural and personal conventions to food – the way it is prepared, the way it is served, the way it is loved and so on. It seems our lives are not in the lap of the Gods, but in the lap of our cooks’ – this saying goes to prove the importance of cooks and culinary science.

Instead of being a long, meandering narrative, as one would expect of a book on food, this one turns out to be very compelling and interesting. The casual conversations turn out to be informative and engagingly refreshing, the stories behind some recipes like Lucknowi biryani, the authentic method to make it perfect in every way by ‘pakao’ing it for two days, or the account of an Indian sex worker in the red light area of Amsterdam et al add the proverbial ‘meat’ to the content.

‘Cooking is like love, it should be entered into with abandon or not at all” goes a saying and one finds such abandon, confidence and joy in the way Mita Kapur comes up with her ‘recipes-dissemination’ in her book. The slurpy, drooly, appetizing, tempting recipes are interspersed with the story, built around a series of almost common daily incidents of an Indian family, along with portrayal of some fine life-moments, funny anecdotes, historical facts and also social issues like child molestation etc. Her cooking has lots of love of her family and friends and memories of travel and parties too infused in it, which serve the purpose of the story well. There is an intensely alive spirit running through the book in the voice of the author – no confusion, no dichotomy, a straight from the heart desire to share her knowledge, in an aesthetic way, that makes this book truly lovable.

To eat is a necessity, to eat intelligently is an art – but to make food eatable in an intelligent, tasty and hygienic way is also very important. The recipes shared here fall in that category. The range and variety of the dishes is big, both in the conservative and ‘funky’ way, with a list of traditional and modern food ingredients. She has emphasized on Thai cuisine many times for its delectable recipes in the book apart from giving other cuisines too their chance to impress.

The book works on two planes – there is sharp wit, a bit of pathos, a fine handling of family interpersonal relations – an easy continuum between all these and without any obstruction, from the smooth flow pop up the recipes, except at one or two places where they appear to be appendages.

Though it is meant mostly for non-vegetarians, with many and so many recipes to tickle their senses, there are few sweet dishes bringing in a sort of balance, breaking a sort of tedium a vegetarian may find, though the section “Go green’ has some easy to make, simple vegetarian recipes.

Some exotic recipes like Walnut Chutney, Water Chestnut Salad, and The perennial Stir-fry make mouth water.

“I’m not going to follow cuisines, I like to keep the structure casual, what I have learnt over the years, which I’m emotionally attached to, I haven’t stuck to one cuisine,” says Mita Kapur.

The ‘dos and the don’ts’ are well explained – for example, she says, “avoid storing your greens next to fruits like apples and bananas. They emit ethylene gas as they ripen. This causes brown spots on the greens and shorten their life’.

Most of the culinary delights in the book can make any party or event delightful and successful.

But one observation I would like to make is, Indian families – however liberal and outgoing – will not allow children to use such shocking profanities in front of parents and other family members as depicted in the book. Some readers would find it nauseous. For a Food Book ‘nausea’ is a taboo feeling …!

The contemporary reader wants variety and sophistication in their books and this one fits the bill well. The presentation is fine and the quality of paper and print is very attractive.

Well done Mita Kapur !

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