[This article was published in The Times of India under a different title: Indians Living Abroad Take To Food Writing.]
When the leaves begin to display autumn colours in Rhode Island, Subhash Mitra could sense in them "vivid hues of cayenne and turmeric and ginger pounded fresh" that his mother used to season the food. Jhumpa Lahiri is one Indian-origin author who has made prolific use of food memories in her writing. 'The Lowlands' won the DSC prize for South Asian Literature earlier this year, but her previous books contain more elaborate and lyrical references to Indian food craft.
Ashima cooks sumptuous feasts that acquaintances flock to from all over America in 'The Namesake'. In an eponymous short story, Mrs Sen makes near ritualistic preparations for dinner and gets into trouble trying to locate fresh fish. The theme of desolate young men, bachelor students or those separated from their families, being dined and consoled by householders is often repeated in Lahiri's stories.
She is not alone in hitting upon the importance of native food for diasporic Indians. In the last decade Indian food bloggers have taken the internet by storm. A web search for a regional dish from any corner of India would likely lead to a recipe penned by an Indian living abroad. Alongside are colourful renditions of personal food memories and insights on Indian cuisine. Book deals have come for some as well.
Mallika Basu, author of 'Miss Masala: Real Indian Cooking for Busy Living', reminisces how she was "despatched to England for my undergraduate degree by my family, with the recipe for one chicken curry and one dal. I didn't even know how to boil an egg when I arrived at university."
The sentiment of missing home food as a student abroad has been echoed from Chitrita Banerji to Madhur Jaffrey. Since her first, 'Life and Food in Bengal', Massachusetts-settled food historian Banerji has written several more on Indian food. Her articles regularly appear in Granta, Gourmet, Gastronomica and Boston Globe. "Growing up, cooking lessons did not interest me," Banerji writes.
It was Madhur Jaffrey who first popularised Indian cooking and food writing in the early 70s. In Madhur Jaffrey's 'Indian Cooking' she recalls how she learnt to cook only after arriving in London, copying from recipes sent in her mother's letters.
Jaffrey's acting career led to hosting cookery shows and later, penning cookbooks. What is surprising about non-resident Indian cookery writers is how most of them are not professional chefs.
Nagalakshmi holds down a full time job with Google while cooking up a storm from her Sydney kitchen, and writing about it on her blog, 'edible garden'.
Sandeepa Mukherjee Dutta is an electrical engineer from New Jersey. Her widely followed blog has led to a book by the same name, 'Bong Mom's Cookbook'. "In this far off land [cooking] makes me connect to my home," Sandeepa explains. She hopes that like her daughters, other children born and living on foreign soil can connect to their Indian roots through the channels of food.
Her anecdote-filled romps in the kitchen are also focused on some serious myth busting about Indian cuisine. Everybody needs to stop believing that "'paneer butter masala' is India's national food"!
Non-Indians are waking up to the variety of Indian food, too, and trying their hand. Torie True-Bhattacharyya, whose prawn curry has recently featured in Delicious Magazine, has a Bengali mother-in-law to thank for the Indian inspirations behind her blog, 'Chilli and Mint'.
"The UK, where I live, has come a long way since I was a child, and now there is no ingredient that you cannot get your hands on readily," she says. Chitra Divakaruni Banerjee's 'The Mistress of Spices' is no longer a fiction. Thanks to South Asian food enterprises, there are now as many 'Asian' grocery shops around the globe as the eager fingers pointing to them.