Food as the central character in our lives

There is widespread ridicule on the internet due to the long personal anecdotes that precede actual recipes on food blogs. The scene is almost always local bliss, nice as it seems all over the place. If you’ve read one, you’ve read them all. However, Chitrita Banerji’s memoir on food writing turns this belief inside out and eats it for breakfast. The articles, beginning in childhood and ending in late adulthood, chronicle the deep flavors of Bengali food, but also delve into the social and political dynamics and crunchy personal relationships that give each of our lives texture.

Banerjee’s writing shines when she delves into the ingredients of “Indian food,” happy marriages, religious rituals, and even love.

In “Double Roti,” I traced the evolution of a chicken sandwich in India from a colonial tea-time snack of minute proportions—three by three inches of soft white bread, the crusts cut off; Lightly buttered and thinly sliced ​​chicken – to the huge American lunch plate – consisting of sliced ​​bread, a pile of shredded chicken, and mayonnaise, perhaps with some celery.

Chitrita Banerjee
Taste of My Life: Memoirs in Essays and Recipes
Pan Macmillan India, 2021

Banerjee avoids the obvious path of this article, which is the detailed history of the sandwich from its colonial origins to its post-liberation American avatar. Instead, she writes in person about her constant quest to find the English-turned-Indian chicken sandwich for her youth, which was found in “(Western)” Calcutta restaurants. The recollection of her first encounter with an American sandwich, right after landing in the States for her master’s degree, is so endearing and familiar, with the added bonus of capturing a moment that many of us felt but couldn’t quite identify. Bottom: That feeling of realizing that you’ve been relegated to a new life not by encountering the totally alien familiar but the changing familiar. Many years later, Banerjee finds that feeling upside down when she eats a chicken sandwich in Calcutta and finds that it resembles its American cousin. Her writing is emotional but not overly sentimental and hints at the kind of food writing that may have inspired the sweet tradition that everyone complains about today.

Food isn’t just a nostalgic sign; Banerjee also uses her to explore some of the more complex relationships of her life. In Small Round Things, she looks at the folk tales and rituals that lend religious significance to seasonal berries through her skeptical and rude eyes to her teenage self. Banerjee’s Food Diary is largely an account of an “upper caste” Hindu upbringing and although it does not address it explicitly, it does not ignore ritual aspects or pass them on as a universal experience.

Its narrative voice is so consistent that it’s easy to forget that this is not a book that was produced in a specific time and place, but a collection spanning years and different types of publications. While some articles are more informative, like the one on Khejur Gur, the ones that really shine are more personal.

Chitrita Banerjee.

In Eating for Faith, she chooses to record a period of conflict within the family, specifically between her mother and her new husband (already under suspicion due to his being a Muslim from Bangladesh) through the story of the traditional feast that women prepare for their sons. -in law. Most articles in the collection refer to Banerjee’s mother, but mostly in ways that add nuance to the image of the “Indian housewife,” often portrayed as a culinary saint, toiling in kitchens out of love and duty. In Eating on Faith, food is considered to be much more than just love or duty to her mother; It is a source of pride not unlike the kind that an artist takes in his creations. It is also a way of expressing respect for the ritual and observing its self-determined roles in the family – mother, mother-in-law. The food here is not selflessness, but identity, something Banerjee’s husband fails to recognize, causing him to disrespect him through his occasional indifference.

Banerjee’s mother’s deep relationship with food crops returns once again in “Joint Board,” a chapter that begins with a treatment of wedding feasts but concludes as a realization about her parents’ complicated marriage and their shared love, “but a tormented version that finds no expression except through food.” Responding to Banerjee’s complaints about her parents’ marriage, her mother told her, “But you have seen many Hindu weddings. You know the ceremony requires the spouses to feed the fire, and then feed each other. Food is life, and by eating together, the spouses stay for life. We did. How can you talk to us about the divorce?”

Food is more than just a stage of family harmony, it is often the invisible fabric of our lives, the tangible thing that permeates the many invisible and invisible aspects of our existence. Banerjee distills this into each of her essays, mixing her life stories and recipes into a fun and easy literary meal, urging readers to think of food as the central character in their lives, rather than the backdrop to their plays.

Nemat Kaur is a Brighton-based writer. Write a newsletter about unity and communication here and tweet at Tweet embed.

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