Wednesday, May 16, 2007

A True Scholar

Ever wondered what Indians ate before New World food arrived? Ever wonder how it arrived? (answer: two completely distinct routes.)

All of this is based on the scholarly work of K. T. Achaya: "Indian Food : A Historical Companion" (published by Oxford India.)

The book is obsessively researched, and requires a substantial knowledge of linguistics, history (both culinary and otherwise,) and food. There are twenty pages of two-column 8-point references, and an index which requires the full knowledge of Indo-European (and then some!)

It's far from dry; it's funny, witty, engaging, in short, thoroughly entertaining. However, it's a very taxing read. the CC could barely read more than ten pages a day (and the book is 250+ pages.) The CC literally has tens of pages of detailed notes on ideas/references to chase down.

Even the very few facts that are wrong are due to the fact that the research was done after the author died. This is a staggeringly brilliant piece of research. (It clearly is the magnum opus of a lifetime of work.)

(Incidentally, he published a separate book called, "A Historical
Dictionary of Indian Food" just to guide people trying to read this

The book is completely out of control -- it has in-depth discussion of 16th century Gujarati dishes (what is the formal distinction between naashto and farsan?), documented evidence of what is claimed to be the Buddha's last dinner (and what it really consisted of,) what food terms made their way into Sanskrit from older Munda languages (answer: most of them,) and what chandala really means (answer: dog-eater.)

Anyone who's interested in Indian food simply must read this book!

No comments: