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From dal to samosas, paneer to vindaloo, dosa to naan, Indian food is diverse and wide-ranging—unsurprising when you consider India’s incredible range of climates, languages, religions, tribes, and customs. Its cuisine differs from north to south, yet what is it that makes Indian food recognizably Indian, and how did it get that way? To answer those questions, Colleen Tayl From dal to samosas, paneer to vindaloo, dosa to naan, Indian food is diverse and wide-ranging—unsurprising when you consider India’s incredible range of climates, languages, religions, tribes, and customs. Its cuisine differs from north to south, yet what is it that makes Indian food recognizably Indian, and how did it get that way? To answer those questions, Colleen Taylor Sen examines the diet of the Indian subcontinent for thousands of years, describing the country’s cuisine in the context of its religious, moral, social, and philosophical development.             Exploring the ancient indigenous plants such as lentils, eggplants, and peppers that are central to the Indian diet, Sen depicts the country’s agricultural bounty and the fascination it has long held for foreign visitors. She illuminates how India’s place at the center of a vast network of land and sea trade routes led it to become a conduit for plants, dishes, and cooking techniques to and from the rest of the world. She shows the influence of the British and Portuguese during the colonial period, and she addresses India’s dietary prescriptions and proscriptions, the origins of vegetarianism, its culinary borrowings and innovations, and the links between diet, health, and medicine. She also offers a taste of Indian cooking itself—especially its use of spices, from chili pepper, cardamom, and cumin to turmeric, ginger, and coriander—and outlines how the country’s cuisine varies throughout its many regions.             Lavishly illustrated with one hundred images, Feasts and Fasts is a mouthwatering tour of Indian food full of fascinating anecdotes and delicious recipes that will have readers devouring its pages.


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From dal to samosas, paneer to vindaloo, dosa to naan, Indian food is diverse and wide-ranging—unsurprising when you consider India’s incredible range of climates, languages, religions, tribes, and customs. Its cuisine differs from north to south, yet what is it that makes Indian food recognizably Indian, and how did it get that way? To answer those questions, Colleen Tayl From dal to samosas, paneer to vindaloo, dosa to naan, Indian food is diverse and wide-ranging—unsurprising when you consider India’s incredible range of climates, languages, religions, tribes, and customs. Its cuisine differs from north to south, yet what is it that makes Indian food recognizably Indian, and how did it get that way? To answer those questions, Colleen Taylor Sen examines the diet of the Indian subcontinent for thousands of years, describing the country’s cuisine in the context of its religious, moral, social, and philosophical development.             Exploring the ancient indigenous plants such as lentils, eggplants, and peppers that are central to the Indian diet, Sen depicts the country’s agricultural bounty and the fascination it has long held for foreign visitors. She illuminates how India’s place at the center of a vast network of land and sea trade routes led it to become a conduit for plants, dishes, and cooking techniques to and from the rest of the world. She shows the influence of the British and Portuguese during the colonial period, and she addresses India’s dietary prescriptions and proscriptions, the origins of vegetarianism, its culinary borrowings and innovations, and the links between diet, health, and medicine. She also offers a taste of Indian cooking itself—especially its use of spices, from chili pepper, cardamom, and cumin to turmeric, ginger, and coriander—and outlines how the country’s cuisine varies throughout its many regions.             Lavishly illustrated with one hundred images, Feasts and Fasts is a mouthwatering tour of Indian food full of fascinating anecdotes and delicious recipes that will have readers devouring its pages.

30 review for Feasts and Fasts: A History of Food in India

  1. 5 out of 5

    Kavita

    Food is an important part of who we are as a species. One of the things that set humans apart from all other creatures is the ability to indulge in agriculture and to cook. Indian cuisine is pretty popular around the world, and one reason for this is that it has borrowed heavily from other cuisines and has also given a lot back. Learning more about the history of food in India is an intriguing idea, especially in view of the current political scenario where people want to tell other people what Food is an important part of who we are as a species. One of the things that set humans apart from all other creatures is the ability to indulge in agriculture and to cook. Indian cuisine is pretty popular around the world, and one reason for this is that it has borrowed heavily from other cuisines and has also given a lot back. Learning more about the history of food in India is an intriguing idea, especially in view of the current political scenario where people want to tell other people what and how to eat. Feasts and Fasts: A History of Food in India is definitely a book that is meant for food lovers. If you want to know where and how your favourite dish originated, you might want to read this book. The author appears to be in love with Indian food and has written several books on this subject. This, however, is her first one the history of food. Sen divides the book into different historical periods and shows how technological progress as well as outside cultural influences through trade, war, and marriage, helped shaped our food culture. Starting from the beginning of agriculture, Sen takes us on a journey through the food habits of this region till the White Revolution. Religious influences have always been quite heavy on food culture and this phenomenon is also explored thoroughly in the book. Recommended for anyone interested in history, India, or food, or more specifically, the history of Indian food.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Madhulika Liddle

    Food and history are two of my abiding passions in life, so seeing this book at the Delhi Book Fair, I couldn’t help but pounce on it. It’s taken me nearly a year since I bought it to get around to reading it, but it’s proved worthy of the wait. A book for both the historian as well as the gastronome. Colleen Taylor Sen is a food historian, and this book—a daunting task, I would have thought, considering India’s impressive geographic spread (and concomitant diversity of cuisines) as well as Indi Food and history are two of my abiding passions in life, so seeing this book at the Delhi Book Fair, I couldn’t help but pounce on it. It’s taken me nearly a year since I bought it to get around to reading it, but it’s proved worthy of the wait. A book for both the historian as well as the gastronome. Colleen Taylor Sen is a food historian, and this book—a daunting task, I would have thought, considering India’s impressive geographic spread (and concomitant diversity of cuisines) as well as India’s very long history as a civilization—is a testament to her knowledge. Both the depth and the width of her knowledge, plus, of course, the obviously vast amount of research that she’s done for this book. Feasts and Fasts: A History of Food in India covers just about every aspect of food in India: the regional variations, the main ingredients (even region-wise and state-wise), main techniques used, dietary restrictions, agricultural production, health and food, and the food of the Indian diaspora (including histories of how so many thousands of Indians ended up across the world). From the Caribbean to Singapore, from Africa to the US and UK. There are insights into modern trends in Indian food, how Indian food has influenced other cuisines, as well as related aspects, like recent changes—over the past decade or so—in food habits. The bulk of the book, and what really makes this book shine, is the engrossing and immensely entertaining (not to mention informative) history of the food itself. What did people in the Indus Valley Civilization eat? How did they cook it? What were Charak’s ideas on food and health? What do the Puranas and the Vedas and other much-respected works say about food, its consumption, and its preparation? How did interactions with other lands change Indian eating habits? How did the coming of the Muslims to India, for instance, change the Indian food scene forever? Taylor Sen fills the book with delightful trivia and loads of interesting information—some of it outright astonishing (I did not realize, for instance, that in ancient India it was quite common to cook meats in fruit juices, and that desserts made from meat were not unknown. I also had no idea that the wealthy commonly used musk, camphor and ambergris to scent foods). There are mind-boggling descriptions of feasts from the Ramayana, from Mughal India, and from the table of one of the Indian princes of the princely states of Raj-era India. There is an ode to paan by Amir Khusro; there are recipes, there are reproductions of paintings, illustrations, menu cards, and more. There are photos and maps. My only complaint with this book (the typos are minor and forgivable) was that the size of some of the more detailed images—the maps, for instance, and the Mughal miniatures—is too small to allow for their appreciation. Other than that, though, a treasure. Very readable, plus great reference material. And yes, I finally discovered why sugar is also called chini and why misri is called that.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Avishek Das

    This is by fair the best historical writing on food, cooking, culture etc. The stories evolves and are so vivid that you would be able to visualize the era. What an amazing read... would re-read again..

  4. 5 out of 5

    Akash Goyal

    Credit where it is due, The author has gone to impressive and far ranging depths to capture the quintessential diversity and complexity of food in the India that was and the India that is. To a complete novice in Indian Cooking and food, this book would serve a wonderful purpose of acting as a crash course on diversity and history of food and its various approaches and influences. However, there are parts of the story that do not very well conform to, or, maybe, do justice to topics. I think tha Credit where it is due, The author has gone to impressive and far ranging depths to capture the quintessential diversity and complexity of food in the India that was and the India that is. To a complete novice in Indian Cooking and food, this book would serve a wonderful purpose of acting as a crash course on diversity and history of food and its various approaches and influences. However, there are parts of the story that do not very well conform to, or, maybe, do justice to topics. I think that this book is a decent introductory read for a Non-Indian into the world of Indian Cooking and food, but, to a native and someone possessing keenness and basic know-how for Indian cooking, this might not live up to the expectation. Which, I must say, is not a bad thing. The topic is vast and binding it together in a readable and organised single volume is not an easy task. Done good.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Suhail Khan

    An extremely interesting, easy to read historical overview of one of the most basic tenets of life - food. For a curious soul, questions as simple as - why do we eat what we eat? where did these come from? how has the geography, religion, politics etc impacted our eating habits - can be mind boggling. The book will shake some of our beliefs especially on the ever controversial topic of meat eating in India.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Anubhav Tomar

    well researched, does not bias on a particular part of India as some other attempts on writing about cultural history books on India. I would have preferred some more information about the history of current foods rather than a full blown cultural explanation which seems redundant and self conflicting at times. But a good easy read that would make nice cocktail conversation points.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Sankalp Jain

    Written more like a PhD thesis, less like a book, there is a lot of content in every line. Starts with describing the food during Indus Valley Civilization, in the Vedas, during Mahabharata and Ramayana, Colleen covers influence of every major religion and every major foreign invader on Indian cuisines. Many of these influences continue to appear on our plates even now. Couple of interesting takeaways from this book: 1. India was largely non-vegetarian until the turn of the Millenium. Animal sac Written more like a PhD thesis, less like a book, there is a lot of content in every line. Starts with describing the food during Indus Valley Civilization, in the Vedas, during Mahabharata and Ramayana, Colleen covers influence of every major religion and every major foreign invader on Indian cuisines. Many of these influences continue to appear on our plates even now. Couple of interesting takeaways from this book: 1. India was largely non-vegetarian until the turn of the Millenium. Animal sacrifice was common. Religions like Buddhism and Jainism heavily influenced other religions to moved away from meat-based diets. Also, the majority of modern India is non-vegetarian (around 75%). 2. Alcohol also had been part of ancient Indian food and finds a lot of mention in the Vedas (Soma), in Arthashastra and in medical books by Charaka and Sushrut. 3. Garlic was a particularly hated ingredient, not just by Jains, but by Hindus and other castes. And because of this, it is rarely mentioned in the ancient cookbooks. 4. A lot of ingredients that are in use in a modern-day Indian kitchen were actually brought to India by foreign travellers. Eg. potato, carrot, pineapple, chillies, tea, coffee, several fruits, etc. were all brought to India from different parts of the world across many centuries. So there's nothing really "Indian" anymore about the food we eat. 5. India has also contributed to cuisines around the world, mainly due to the Indian labour that was used in plantations around the world (Caribbean, Portugal, Mauritius, Fiji), who settled and married there and continued cooking Indian food. This book will help you look deeper into the food you eat and will make you appreciate the huge diversity of Indian cuisine.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Anna Rose

    I adored this book because I cook a lot of Indian food myself, but I knew very little about the history of it. The information that most interested me was learning that meat and chicken dishes, in particular, have many spices at least partly because of the antibacterial powers that many common spices have. I had thought that the spices were combined mainly for taste, but it seems that they were combined in most dishes for health reasons first. It was very sad to read, however, of how India and i I adored this book because I cook a lot of Indian food myself, but I knew very little about the history of it. The information that most interested me was learning that meat and chicken dishes, in particular, have many spices at least partly because of the antibacterial powers that many common spices have. I had thought that the spices were combined mainly for taste, but it seems that they were combined in most dishes for health reasons first. It was very sad to read, however, of how India and its people were once written of as so prosperous and so much healthier than the world average, and now India's child malnutrition statistics are among the worst in the world.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Gopal R

    Just couldn't put this one down. History and food are interwoven and the author plays this very well in the book. Filled with historical accounts of India and the way history and kingdoms influence the local food is just amazing to learn. The South of India was not dealt with in much detail. Kudos to the author for having done a lot of research for this book Just couldn't put this one down. History and food are interwoven and the author plays this very well in the book. Filled with historical accounts of India and the way history and kingdoms influence the local food is just amazing to learn. The South of India was not dealt with in much detail. Kudos to the author for having done a lot of research for this book

  10. 4 out of 5

    Kasturi Dadhe

    A book that needs to be digested while read. An extremely comprehensive history of the prevalent, concurrent, emergent food trends in the Indian subcontinent parallel to the changing histories which the subcontinent experienced over more than 3000 years. The book is food for thought and it kept me hungry all the while I consumed it for sure! A delectable, heavy read! Enjoyed every page.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Sanjay Banerjee

    With colorful historic images, some poetry and a few ancient recipes, the book begins with the prehistoric era, moves on to regional influences, the arrival of Marco Polo in 1292, the development of regional variations, the Partition of India in 1947, and the creation of Tandoori Chicken (a relative newcomer).

  12. 4 out of 5

    Thaths

    An excellent interweaving of Culinary History and History of the sub-continent. Has a few minor errors, but nothing egregious. I especially liked the chapters on food and history of colonial contact and the one on cuisine of the Indian diaspora. A comprehensive, but quick read.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Karishma

    Very thoroughly researched and put together. Slightly disappointed with the focus mainly being north of Ganges. Not an easy to read book as the chapters tend to get slightly monotonous, but that’s expected from this kind of a research base factual book.

  14. 4 out of 5

    anamika

    Wonderful book with lots of exposure regarding food eaten during olden days. But very few recipes also which are not cooking friendly. Though loved reading it

  15. 5 out of 5

    Anas Qureshi

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. reding

  16. 4 out of 5

    Anu

    Food and history are the two things that top my list when I travel. Recently, while rediscovering the food scene in Delhi, my curiosity about the history and evolution of food in India was awakened. This book was exactly what I expected it to be: a through journey through history and gastronomy. It reads a little dry and would retain the interest of only fans of history.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Neeti

    loved the varied context it provides to our everyday khana and i did pick up a whole new understanding of lexicon .... viz 'chini' or sugar in hindi being a reference to the place where sugar was first derived. A rare gem of a read and a must for anyone trying to make sense of indian food habits and how they have evolved. loved the varied context it provides to our everyday khana and i did pick up a whole new understanding of lexicon .... viz 'chini' or sugar in hindi being a reference to the place where sugar was first derived. A rare gem of a read and a must for anyone trying to make sense of indian food habits and how they have evolved.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Apratim Mukhopadhyay

  19. 5 out of 5

    sankalp pissay

  20. 4 out of 5

    Meha

  21. 4 out of 5

    Chirag Wazir

  22. 5 out of 5

    മോസിൻ

  23. 4 out of 5

    Ayush Jain

  24. 4 out of 5

    Vikas Prasad

  25. 5 out of 5

    Viraj

  26. 4 out of 5

    Rachna Shetty

  27. 4 out of 5

    Karuna

  28. 4 out of 5

    Tamal Mukherjee

  29. 5 out of 5

    Iana

    Excellent book! A quite comprehensive history of everything that has to do with food and India. Helps me understand the food I am eating in India: its origins, its cultural, social, and religious meaning. At the same time it is also a fascinating book of history and shows how much India has been incluenced by the abroad, and how India itself has shaped world food.

  30. 4 out of 5

    A G

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