City Food - Madhur Jaffrey’s An Invitation to Indian Cooking, Around Town

City Food – Madhur Jaffrey’s An Invitation to Indian Cooking, Around Town

City Food - Madhur Jaffrey’s An Invitation to Indian Cooking, Around Town

A city’s suisine.

[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]

All cookbooks contain recipes. Only a few give insightful glimpses into a culture. Only a very few of those manage to propel a cuisine to worldwide fame, Some such books are: Claudia Roden’s A Book of Middle Eastern Food, Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, Edna Lewis’s The Taste of Country Cooking, and Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The common thread tying all these classics together is that they were perfected under the exacting expertise of an American editor—the legendary Judith Jones.

A culinary classic with a homelier taste that the late Judith Jones happened to edit was on our Dilli ka khana. The book marks its 50th anniversary.

Published in 1973, Madhur Jaffrey’s An Invitation to Indian Cooking introduced Delhi cuisine to Americans in 200 recipes. “Mostly the subtle, spicy cooking of Delhi,” declared the subtitle. The New York Times hailed it as “the best Indian cookbook available in English”. Half a century later, Gurugram-based writer Pushpesh Pant—author of an internationally famous Indian cookbook—asserts its status as a classic. “Madhur’s love for food and Delhi, her reputation as an actor in Merchant-Ivory films, worked efficiently to introduce our city’s cuisine to the Western palate.”

Delhi extremists might be discomforted by the book’s tilt towards the American palate. The Delhi-born author herself is by now a long-time New Yorker. Besides some of us might pinprick, cribbing that the book is silent on Purani Dilli’s nihari. One recipe demands keema stuffing in baingan—horrifying Walled City resident Sabeeha Jhinjhanvi, seen in the photo with the book.

Even so, Madhur Jaffrey’s evocative writing permeates the recipes with a Dilli ka sama. The glossary is filled with cute desi phrases: “Dey Dal May Pani” (“put water in the dal”), “Quon Bhai Chai Hojai” (“Well now brother, how about tea?”) and “Sharabi Kababi” (“one who likes to eat and drink”).

Truth be told, the world still awaits a Delhi cookbook that reflects the city’s dynamic cosmopolitanism. That book will have to go beyond Old Delhi. It will have to include all those souvenir dishes of the past, but will also have to sing in praise for the rasgulla-sandwich of Sarai Kale Khan, the chocolate momo of Shanti Niketan, the cocktail samosa of Kasturba Gandhi Marg, the banoffee pie of Big Chill, the mango pickle of Gurugram’s Sadar Bazar, the Israeli thali of Paharganj, the gobhi manchurian of Lajpat Nagar, the Afghan roti of Jangpura, the lehsun wale golgappa of Ghaziabad’s Vaishali, the chicken lollipop of Gali Choori Walan, the halal pizza of Zakir Nagar, the litti chokha of Kharak Singh Marg, the soyabean biryani of Anand Vihar, the lamb burger of Defence Colony, the Manipuri fried rice of Humayunpur, the adrak chai of Hari Nagar Ghanta Ghar, the lassi of Nehru Place, the poha of Lakshmi Nagar, the honey & fig ice cream of India International Center, and the butter coffee of Chitli Qabar.

This month, the Invitation’s 50th anniversary edition arrives at the bookstores, with a foreword by the celebrity chef Yotam Ottolenghi. Sadly, the cover does not reproduce the 1973 original, and has also cropped out the subtitle that proudly mentioned our smoggy Dilli. On that cover, Madhur Jaffrey, now 90, looks squarely into our eyes, her slender arms resting on a chopping board, her sari an eye catcher. “It was an old, south Indian temple sari”—she once revealed to The Delhi Walla—“I had bought it in Delhi from a shop that used to exist just above the Regal cinema in Connaught Place.” Like the cover, the shop too is history.