People, their Culture, and food, come together to make a complex mosaic and weave an intricate tapestry. It is this combination that gives a place it's unique identity. If you like to explore a place, you can start with any one, but will invariably end up touching upon others as these are closely knit. I personally believe it is all that more interesting to know a place through it's food, being a food lover.
Food is a nice idea because how it is sourced, cooked and served can be a treasure mine of information. In a country as ancient and as diverse as india, the food served in a place invariably has a story to tell. It is with this thought process that i chose to read a book called ' Following Fish - Travels around the Indian Coast ' by Samanth Subramanian.
The author says that the book is a record of his journeys, experiences, observations, conversations with people he met and other interesting aspects of the travel. Simply put, it is a travelogue and not a how-to book.
The book is divided into nine chapters, with each chapter talking about his experience in a state from west bengal to gujarat. It all starts with the author exploring the famous hilsa fish of west bengal and his search for remarkable shorshe ilish; then the wandering takes him to hyderabad and its famed fish treatment for asthmatics. He then explores the catholic fishing community of tamil nadu and its food. Visit to Kerala is about the quest for toddy and fiery fish curry. Mangalore sojourn is about the search for the best mangalore fish curry. The journey then moves into the ocean with the hunt for the fastest fish in the ocean, the sail fish. the book then talks about Goa, an idyllic place and what tourism has done to the state and its fishermen. the chapter on mumbai with the author's quest to eat fish the way the city once ate, is interesting and the journey culminates with the boat builders of gujarat.
All through this chapters the author notes the multicultural and diverse influences absorbed by the fishermen over many centuries, the change in fishing from the traditional way to the mechanized/modernized way, the traditional fishermen moving onto other professions, the impact of motorized fishing on fishermen and sea; the environmental degradation that happened and is happening in many places due to tourism or over fishing. This has indeed been a fascinating journey and at its end makes you want more. The author has a wry sense of humor and a style of writing that is not too taxing on the reader.
I would categorize it as breezy reading, but don't let that put you off as some of the issues that the author brings out are very relevant and what you learn in the process makes it worth it. You also learn a recipe or two, if you are ok with recipes in grandma style, i.e. as in 'a pinch of this and a dash of that'. I am contemplating asking my bengali friend to make shorshe ilish for me, of course without the fish . you see i don't eat fish. but reading this book made me think so :-)
Recommended reading for the foodie and travel lover.