Food history is a world heritage story that has all the drama of a tense thriller or maybe a mystery. Whose food is it? Who gets to tell its tale? Respect for food history might tame the accusations of appropriation, but what is at stake as food traditions and biodiversity ebb away is the great, and not always good, story of us.
“In this delightful book, Nina Mukerjee Furstenau plays sharp-eyed detective and amiable guide as she traces essential Bengali ingredients along histories that are as surprising and creative as the cooks they inspire. Each ingredient in Green Chili and Other Impostors leads to a deeper understanding of how foods, gathered from all over the world, are claimed and made at home—a global story that Furstenau makes personal in luscious prose. I’ll never look at a green chili—or any of these delicious dishes—the same way again.”—Kate Lebo, author, The Book of Difficult Fruit: Arguments for the Tart, Tender, and Unruly
“A compelling book with a remarkable mix of history, personal insights, and a genuine investment in making connections across continents, generations, and disciplines. I loved its wonderfully eclectic mix of themes, in terms of ingredients, communities, and historical traditions. My absolute favorite is the section on the kaffir lime or gondhoraj lebu—so delightfully counterintuitive!”—Jayanta Sengupta, director, Victoria Memorial Hall, Kolkata, India
“I was mesmerized by this ambitious book—a blend of memoir, research, and food lore—from start to finish. From inside her farmhouse kitchen in Missouri to the home of a traditional cheesemaker outside Kolkata, from the fish pond in her grandmother’s garden to the tea gardens of Makaibari, I walked with the author as she took me to multiple, flavor-rich worlds.”—Sayantani Dasgupta, author, Women Who Misbehave
Average rating from 10 members
This book delighted me in many ways. It is not a cookbook, but it has intriguing recipes. It is not a textbook, but it traces history and food origins with tantalizing stories. It is not a travelogue, but it describes both Kansas and India. It is not a memoir, but the author's life is a huge part of this book. Put it all together and you have all the ingredients for a fascinating read about the foods of India. I am not a particular fan of Indian food, but I still enjoyed reading this book and it made me more interested in trying different types of Indian food. I particularly enjoyed knowing of the rich and varied dishes of India. The writing is lovely and it reads smoothly. It should appeal to a wide range of readers. Thank you to NetGalley for an advance copy of this book.
This book is even better than expected. The title didn't provide enough insight into how great this book would be. Very enjoyable story of an American of Indian parentage who grew up in the Midwest. The author shares her journey as a Fulbright-Nehru Global Scholar examining the foods of the Kolkata, Bengal, India. She weaves in some of her life story of childhood trips there and growing up as a minority in her Midwest town. Her writing style is very engaging. She then provides a series of recipes mixed with information (including historical information) about the ingredients in the recipes. She also provides tips for the recipes from her own experiences cooking. She even covers the Ayurvedic perspectives. Highly recommend for foodies and all people who enjoy Indian food.
*This book was received as an Advanced Reviewer's Copy from NetGalley. This book turned out to be more than I could imagine. I read the description, and knew that it traced ingredients and their history through Indian cuisine. Origins, uses, arguments over provenance; it was surprising to learn about chilis, rice, and many other ingredients and how they were incorporated into Indian food, and when. I guess the one I had always taken for granted and not thought about origin was the chili (so the title is apt on this one to call it out); I'll let the book give you its history, but I really would have expected a longer one. Which just tells me how much I still have to learn and that this book was definitely a lot of new information that I gobbled right down. I was also extremely pleased that it included recipes, and plan to try a few. Sourcing some ingredients may be difficult, but we have some wonderful stores nearby that hopefully I can. But even more surprising, was the relationship between these ingredients, and the stories told by the author of her childhood and experience with the ingredients and dishes. And how she came to be on this food tour of India. I was engrossed in her stories and instead of it detracting from the book (which often times personal anecdotes can do), it instead added quite a bit and made the book more relatable. My only real complaint was that the last few chapters seemed to rush, and I was so immersed that I would have loved the detail the first few had. If you enjoy reading about food history (and don't mind a few good recipes), this is a book to check out! Review by M. Reynard 2021
I was gifted an e-ARC copy of this book to review in exchange for my honest opinions. For this, I would like to thank the author and the publisher. "Green Chili and Other Imposters" is, in its essence, a family story - Furstenau acknowledges as such in the very first pages of the introduction. She longs to understand the cuisine of her culture and family in a much deeper way. Her travels to find the thread of her cuisine lead her in turn to every corner of the world; from Peru to Mongolia, and from the United States to China. This leads to the questions that are tantamount to the research that Furstenau has done: who owns cuisine? Who can tell its story? What does an ingredient have to do to "belong?" I thoroughly enjoyed this journey through the history of the world to trace ingredients that one may think are synonymous with Indian food, but who have only become essentials in relatively recent history. Crops such as potatoes, tomatoes, and yes, the titular green chili have come from all over the world as a result of trade and migration. These have inserted themselves into Indian cuisine so firmly that Westerners can no longer think of Indian food without them. But those who practice traditional Indian cooking from centuries ago know when and how the ingredients came to the subcontinent. Following Furstenau along the trail of these discoveries was a delight. Her writing is personal while still conveying the academic importance of the subject. Personal anecdotes and sensory details put you in the streets of Kolkata with her. I particularly enjoyed learning about the histories of minorities - Jews, Armenians, and Chinese among them - in India, and the ways that they have helped shape the food culture of the country overall. A few things I felt could have been done better. Furstenau uses in-text citations in a conversational manner rather than footnotes. While this does make it feel more personal than academic, the lengthy titles of some books and articles caused the sentences to feel clunky and interrupted my flow of reading. I also felt that they made her sound like more of a reporter than an official who can be quoted in her own right. All academic writing is reporting with our own conclusions added in; however, footnotes I believe would have helped this book seem more like a source to be quoted rather than a collection of other sources, while helping ease the flow of the words. I also felt that some of the chapters could have had a tighter focus. It took me by surprise when I was reading about tea and then suddenly chili chicken. The thread that binds them is, of course, Chinese migration in India but I would have liked them to be their own separate chapters. That, or that the chapter was more explicitly about broad Chinese influences and then married the stories of tea and chili chicken together more seamlessly. Overall, this book completely opened my curiosity into the history of Indian food, and of foodways in general. Furstenau's passion and knowledge of the subject comes through really well. I recommend this to anyone who is pursuing knowledge on these topics. With a few structure tweaks, this would easily be a 5 star read. I look forward to doing my own further research on some of the topics mentioned within!
This was my first book about food history (a topic i'm really passionate about) and I can't stress this enough when I say this was a great start. I'll definetely look for more books like this and I'll be waiting for new stuff by Nina Mukerjee Furstenau.
This book is beautifully written if a bit over-detailed. Tales of childhood, the importance of food and tradition, interspersed with recipes to bring you home.