Dishoom: From Bombay with Love – Shamil Thakrar, Kavi Thakrar and Naved Nasir

I mostly resist the temptation to buy cookbooks. Not because I don’t like them, but because I know I use them far less often than I should to justify the expense and shelf-space. And even when I do buy cookbooks, I rarely read them cover to cover. However, when I found out that the people behind the restaurant chain Dishoom (of which I have sadly only visited one location and that only once) had written a cookbook, I immediately ordered it, and over the last months I have indeed read it from cover to cover (well, ok, not ALL the ingredients lists and instructions, but a fair proportion of those as well).

Dishoom (the book) is, as the cover says, both a “cookery book and a highly subjective guide to Bombay with map”. It describes a walk around south Bombay, with stops at notable food places, from fairly fancy restaurants to street vendors’ stalls. You could probably follow along in the real south Bombay, but if you actually ate all the things they suggest in just one day I’d be impressed.

Each section of the guided tour introduces a set of recipies for a time of day, or rather a category of meals. It starts out fairly unremarkably with breakfast, mid-morning snacks and lunch, continues – with a degree of excess – with afternoon refreshments and sunset snacks, and then turns positively hobbity with first, second and third dinner, topped off with pudding and tipples.

Fold-out map at the start of the book: Gotta love it!

If I ever go to Bombay, however, I will definitely try to find as many of the places mentioned as possible, but spread out over a few days…

The introductory texts introduce cafés, restaurants, people and sights, and expertly evokes a feeling of place. I can easily imagine myself on the streets of Bombay as I read. I have realised over the years that I am to some extent more fond of reading books about far-away places (when well-written) than actually travelling there, and though I have an idea that I would like to visit Bombay, in reality I suspect I would dislike actually being there, not least because I am not fond of either heat or crowds. Reading about it, however, is a real pleasure.

As is custom in Bombay, the name of the road has changed several times in the hundred-odd years that this post has lingered here. Today the road bears the official post-colonial title of Netaji Subash Chandra Bose Road, though everyone knows it as Marine Drive. Such is the way with place names in Bombay. The names on your map, imposed by officialdom, have only sporadic correspondence with the names used by actual people. The worn grooves of usage take time to wear anew. VT (Victoria Terminus) will still be VT for decades to come, no doubt.

(Page 151) In addition to the guided tour parts of the book, the introductory notes for each recipe are delightful. For example: Vada Pau is described as “a simple dish, a bit like a chip butty, but obviously much better” (page 174), and reading the recipe I suspect they are correct. Chicken Tikka, however, comes with the warning:

Chicken tikka masala is supposedly Britain’s favourite dish. If it is yours, then you may be disappointed: this dish is not it.

(Page 270) And now I want both a British chicken tikka masala and the Dishoom chicken tikka, served hot, now, please.

Archival photgraphs interspersed with contemporary images.

Like many, I have read Shantaram, and was engrossed and charmed by it. It still sits on my shelf (my dad never wanted it back, he’s not a rereader), but I doubt I will ever reread it, as I doubt I’d be able to suspend disbelief sufficiently to be enchanted and engrossed again. Anyway, it’s probably not possible to write about the Iranian cafés of Bombay without mentioning Shantaram, and so Shantaram is mentioned, and summed up in such a perfect way, putting into words exactly the way I suspect I would feel if I did try to reread it:

Walk down the busy (and actually quite pleasant) Colaba Causeway towards Leopold’s, an Irani café of sorts, owned by the entrepreneurs Fahrang and Farzadh Jehani. This is the Colaba of the backpacker, the hippie, the Arab and African tourists, and they say, of the drug dealers and smugglers. It is all cheerfully fictionalised in the Bombay backpackers’ favourite novel, Shantaram, a yarn of the author’s own amazing derring-do in the city. Apparently a heroin addict convicted of armed robbery back in Australia, he escaped prison, came to India and then sat (a lot) in a glamorously seedy Leopold Café with other attractive ne’er-do-wells amongst the slowly-spinning ceiling fans, bentwood chairs and old portraits. He also worked in Bollywood, started a medical centre for slum-dwellers, was imprisioned again in a notorious local jail, and escaped to become a player in the Bombay mafia. All part of a decent mid-life gap year experience, apparently.

(Page 252) “Derring-do” is spot on, there is no better word for the main gist of the novel.

Gorgeous photography

To bring focus back to the book I’m supposed to be reviewing: The photos throughout, by Haarala Hamilton (except archive photos, helpfully listed), of both places, people and food, are wonderfully evocative and support the text beautifully. My mouth waters at the food and my inner ears are assailed by the noises of a city full of cars, bicycles, people and animals. In addition, the illustrations (by Ivana Zorn) and the graphic design of the book itself are just gorgeous, and I could happily purchase this books for looks alone. The use of old newspaper advertisements are just one of the many delights.

An old advertisement on the inside of the back cover, as a last, delightful surprise for the reader.

I have yet to test any of the actual recipes, though I have bookmarked many. I did use the techniques described for “making sauces and curries” in the helpful section at the back when making a basic curry the other day, and it really did deepen the flavours of the sauce (though I think some practice is needed to avoid burning the ingredients). The instructions thoughout are clearly written, though, and amply illustrated when necessary, so once I have a free weekend I’m going to try my hand at samosas.

However, even if I never make any of the recipes in the book, it would still be something I am quite happy to have on my shelf, and if I feel the need for armchair travel to Bombay, I’ll know where to look.

Boka har jeg kjøpt sjøl.

A couple of shorts

No, not short trousers, short reviews.

bryson_dribblingThe Road to Little Dribbling: More Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson moved swiftly to the top of my reading pile when my parents off-loaded their copy on us and was consumed within a few days of my getting my hands on it. No wonder, perhaps, Bryson being one of my favourite writers and Notes from a Small Island probably my favourite of his books. And in many respects The Road to Little Dribbling fulfills its promises. Here is the pure delight in travelling, especially by bus in Britain, that I so recognise. Here is the love for the more absurd aspects of Englishness. Here are the masses of odd little anecdotes and facts that Bryson is a master of. But I was, perhaps strangely, disappointed anyway. Partly because I have lamented the lack of Scotland in the previous volume, and here I was promised Scotland and then it turns out that England take up 355 of the book’s 381 pages, Wales (not that I mind Wales) 15 and Scotland a measly 11. And partly, well, in parts it feels a little… stale? It’s not that I didn’t like it, I did, but I guess I didn’t LOVE it. But lets think of happier things and quote a bit I do like (love):

I was surprised to learn that there is a system to British road numbering, but then I remembered that it is a British system, which means it is not like systems elsewhere. The first principle of a British system is that it should only appear systematic. (Page 142.)

leif_engerPeace Like a River by Leif Enger was our book circle book over Christmas, and I rather enjoyed it while reading it. However, it’s  now a month later and I find I can’t really remember what was so good about it, and though the plot is pretty clear to me, the feelings it generated have not made a lasting impression. A bit of a luke-warm recommendation, then. The book circle were split in their opinions, some couldn’t finish the book, while others, like me, were more enthusiastic.

roy_godofsmallthingsThen for our February meeting we read The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, and again, the reception was mixed. I found it slow to begin with, but then, suddenly, at around 120 pages, it turned a corner and after that I could hardly put it down. There is someting compelling about the way Roy takes us back and forth between past and present and the quirks of the language were wonderful, I thought.

Bluegreyblue eyes snapped open.

A Wake.
A Live.
A Lert.

(Page 238.) Some of the others struggled with keeping the characters straight, and I suppose the Mammachis and Kochammas may easily get a little muddled, but this was not a problem for me. Slight spoiler alert here: There is a scene at the cinema where Estha is abused by the lemonade man, and although it is unpleasant reading, it is also rather wonderful in the way Roy manages to write the scene from the little boy’s point of view as simply nauseating and horrible without any hint of an adult’s sexualised perception intruding on the description. I find that a rare thing.

Sommerlektyre: Tilbakeblikk

Det går trått med bloggingen for tiden, men det betyr jo ikke at jeg ikke leser. For å komme til noe som ligner “ajour” gjenoppliver jeg derfor en gammel klassiker: Oppsummeringsposten.

hulderHulder av Tonje Tornes tok det meg lang tid å komme gjennom. Jeg leste litt nå og da og så ble jeg distrahert av andre bøker og plukket den først opp igjen ukesvis senere. Av det kan man vel slutte at det er grenser for hvor fenget jeg ble. Jeg liker konseptet, bruken av gammel norsk overtro er spennende og huldra er et fascinerende vesen, men jeg vet ikke… Jeg føler først og fremst at de menneskelige hovedpersonene ble litt flate. Og så må jeg innrømme at det irriterer meg litt at det er Tore som er pubertal og “tenker på sex” og at Trine synes det er ekkelt, det blir så… Klisjeaktig. Tenåringsgutter tenker bare på en ting, liksom? Vel, meg bekjent er ikke jentene nødvendigvis bedre (og de blir vel oftere modne kjappere, selv om det også til dels er en klisje). Det er selvsagt et poeng å få fram hvor problematisk det kan være å dele tanker, men jeg synes det kunne vært gjort mer elegant. Snart kommer bok to, Forbannet. Skal jeg lese den? Tja, jo, det blir vel til det. Helt håpløs synes jeg altså ikke Hulder var.

vinternovellerVinternoveller av Ingvild Risøy er på kortlista til Bokbloggerprisen 2014 i åpen klasse. Noveller, altså. Jeg og novelleformen er jo ikke fryktelig gode venner, men denne boka synes jeg likevel var riktig så bra. Hovedproblemet med historiene var at jeg gjerne skulle hatt en hel bok om hver av dem (et av mine vanlige problemer med noveller), men de føles forsåvidt komplette, det er ikke det. Og jeg grein (blant annet på bussen), så at historiene berører kan jeg skrive under på.

De som ikke finnes av Simon Stranger leste jeg helt tilbake i februar, men siden den også er blant de nominerte får jeg vel ta den med i oppsummeringen likevel. Stranger skal ha all ære for å skrive politiske ungdomsbøker, for jeg er ikke i tvil om at vi trenger å høre disse historiene. Kontrasten mellom den Samuel Emilie møter i Barsakh (som jeg leste først) og i De som ikke finnes er stor, men også totalt forståelig ut fra hva han har opplevd i mellomtiden. Jeg blir ikke helt solgt, uten at jeg klarer å sette fingeren på hvorfor, men også De som ikke finnes er en verdig nominert. I det hele tatt har jeg problemer med å bestemme meg for hvem jeg heier mest på i åpen klasse.

white_tigerThe White Tiger av Aravind Adiga var sommerlesing i boksirkelen. En orginal fortelling fra et land jeg gjerne skulle lest mer om. Engasjerende fortalt som en serie dikterte brev fra hovedpersonen Balram til den kinesiske statsministeren (om “brevene” noensinne sendes vites ikke), med et ganske unikt fortellersynspunkt. Adiga kommer jeg til å lese mer av.

Septimus Heap Book 1: Magyk av Angie Sage var trivelig og lettlest underholdning på hytta, med en interessant plot twist som jeg ikke så komme (selv om jeg føler at jeg BURDE sett den komme). Nå leser jeg den høyt for 8-åringen, så jeg får prøve å komme tilbake til den med hens vurdering etterhvert.

kaldhol. det skulle vere sol, vi skulle reise til Lo dz. omslDet skulle vere sol, vi skulle reise til Lódz av Marit Kaldhol er den tredje romanen på kortlista til Bokbloggerprisen 2014, de to andre har jeg skrevet om før: Unnskyld og Finne ly. Jeg kan jo si så mye som at jeg helt klart heier på både Basso og Kaldhol framfor Høyer. Kaldhol skriver i du-form, som jeg jo normalt misliker sterkt, men jeg synes hun får det til å funke, og bare det er jo et stort pluss i margen. Ellers synes jeg det var et hederlig forsøk på å skildre et heller problematisk søskenforhold, men som med Finne ly er jeg liksom ikke helt sikker på om jeg synes den var veldig bra eller bare litt… meh. Og med noen uker forløpt siden jeg leste dem kan jeg vel si at ingen av dem sitter i i noen merkverdig grad. Jeg klarer å trekke opp av minnet hva de handlet om, men lite av stemningen eller noe engasjement for hovedpersonene. Så, atte? Er dette de beste romanene som kom ut på norsk i fjor? Jeg kan vel ikke klage over utvalget, siden jeg knapt leste noen, og ingen jeg fant verdig en nominasjon. Ikke ser det ut til at jeg kommer til å gjøre noen betydelig innsats i år heller, jeg stiller sterkere i åpen klasse.



Shantaram – Gregory David Roberts

“The International Bestseller”, the front cover proclaims. That always makes me slightly wary. Well, Shantaram actually turned out to be the most fanatastic book. It’s certainly the best book I’ve read by an author new to me since Never Let Me Go. I know a few people have issues with the autobiographical aspect, especially as regards the criminal subject matter, but it didn’t bother me at all. I read it as fiction, and thus as truth. Not as in “this actually happened this way” truth – that would be non-fiction, but as in “this could happen in this way” truth, which is quite frequently much better at making you feel what you are reading (well, making me feel it, anyway).

Despite its 900-odd pages, reading Shantaram was in no way a chore. As far as life has recently allowed, I basically tore though it. Except when I got about 60 pages from the end and seriously considered putting it down and not finishing. Not because it was bad, mind you, but because it was so good I wanted to stay with the feeling of not having finished it for a while. In the end I decided I was being silly and finished, but it says something about how involved I got. I also wanted to start right back on page one when I finished the last page, which puts it up there with only ten or so other books.

One fundamentally annoying thing about my copy – which I borrowed from my dad, though he might not get it back… – is a quote from Time Out on the back which subs for a synopsis by the publishers. It includes the line: “Amazingly Roberts wrote Shantaram three times after prison guards trashed the first two versions.” It made me think he had to end up in prison towards the end of the book somehow. He doesn’t. I don’t know when those first two drafts were trashed, but it’s not part of the present version. A spoiler on the cover would be bad enough (actually, the rest of the quote contains several spoilers), but a false spoiler? Seriously bad form.

I have seen complaints that Roberts’ language varies from the divine to cliché. Well, I noticed the former but not the latter, so I’ll stick to praising his turn of phrase myself. My (dad’s) copy is currently littered with post it markers to mark outstanding passages, but the whole thing read beautifully to my ears. I’ll leave you with a quote, and an admonition: Go read the book!

Now you will see the really city. Usually, I am never taking the tourists to these places. They are not liking it, and I am not liking their not liking. Or maybe sometimes they are liking it too much, in these places, and I am liking that even less, isn’t it? You must have it a good heads, to like these things, and you must be having a good hearts, to not like them too much.

— Prabaker