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Desi Delicacies: An anthology of South Asian Muslim food culture

  • Published at 10:40 am February 18th, 2021
Desi Delicacies
Desi Delicacies Dhaka Tribune

The book shatters all the stereotypes surrounding Muslim identities in South Asia

Food writing is no more a neglected genre in South Asia; it is not consigned to the lowest shelf in libraries anymore. Recipes were never scarce in books and magazines; now with social media taking centre stage in our lives, there is an explosion of recipes on youtube channels, Facebook pages and other social media sites. But food writing is not just an assortment of recipes, it is rather a separate genre of literature that has the potential to enrich many aspects of our culture, history, and civilisation. 

Published by Pan Macmillan India, Desi Delicacies does not only build on the principle of the potential of food writing but it seems to significantly broaden it. In its 270-odd pages have converged 18 pieces about “food from Muslim South Asia and its diasporas”, with genres ranging from memoirs to critical analyses to fiction. As its editor Claire Chamberstells us in an article, there is also a detailed recipe of the food being reminisced or fictionalised or analysed at the end of every piece. 

The pieces collected in this book are part of a research project,“Forgotten Food: Culinary Memory, Local Heritage and Lost Agricultural Varieties in India,” funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council in the UK. Quite a few of the articles have been published in a Scroll.in series, which also belonged to the project. Browsing through the articles,it turns out that the book shatters all the stereotypes surrounding Muslim identities in South Asia and demonstrates the sheer diversity of Muslim cultures through the rich varieties of their food practices. 

Writers in the anthology include Tabish Khair, Nadeem Aslam, Tarana Husain Khan, Rana Safvi, Sadaf Hussain, and Uzma Aslam Khan, among many others. Editor Claire Chambers, professor of Global Literature at York University, has also ensured Bangladesh’s representation in the book. Eminent Bangladeshi poet Kaiser Haq has contributed a reflective piece while academics Mafruha Mohua and Mahruba Mowtushi have written a short story about the unique fish curries of Bangladesh, popularly known as “macher jhol”. 

As Chambers puts it in her Scroll article, “The subject of food from Muslim South Asia was interpreted broadly by them, including by Nadeem Aslam, Tarana Husain Khan, and Kaiser Haq. They interpreted the theme as encompassing ideas of hospitality, family, domesticity, sexuality, social class, and lack of food, among other issues.” About the fish curries she says, “Meanwhile, Bangladeshi sisters Mahruba T Mowtushi and Mafruha Mohua liken the veggie-heavy macher jhol their protagonist’s aunty makes to “walking through a virgin jungle with a machete in hand.”

The anthology includes a biryani recipe by Bangladeshi food writer and chef Shawkat Osman; it also has three epigraphs, one of them being an excerpt from Kaiser Haq’s translation of a poem by Shamsur Rahman.

This book promises to be an excellent read for readers of South Asian culture and history as well as those who like to spend time in the kitchen.

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