Devotee and chronicler of South Asian cuisine

Learn to navigate an Indian restaurant menu

A guide helping the diner interpret the menus of Indian restaurants in North America, expand their understanding and enhance their enjoyment of one of the great world cuisines.

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Every city, town, and village in this vast country of over 1 billion people has its roadside stands and hawkers. Indians eat street food at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as an afternoon snack (often taken home for “tea”), and during festivals when special dishes are prepared. Vendors set up shop near office buildings, schools, railway stations, beaches (such as Bombay’s Chowpatti Beach or Chennai’s Marine Drive), places of worship,  and in crowded markets, such as Delhi’s ancient Chandni Chowk or Mumbai’s Khao Gali (food lane). There are an estimated 300,000 street food vendors in Delhi and 130,000 vendors in Kolkata alone.

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Feasts and Fasts: A History of Food in India

Reaktion Books, November 2014

The second most populous country in the world after China and the seventh largest in area, India is unique among nations in its diversity of climates, languages, religions, tribes, customs and cuisines. Today, Indian food in its many incarnations has become a world cuisine. This reflects an increased awareness of the virtues of a traditional Indian diet, especially the centrality of fruits, vegetables and grains and the extensive use of spices, the benefits of which have been confirmed by modern science.

The global nature of Indian cuisine is not new. For thousands of years, the Subcontinent was the centre of a vast network of land and sea trade routes – conduits for plants, ingredients, dishes and cooking techniques to and from the rest of the world. Foreign visitors have long marveled at India’s agricultural bounty, including its ancient indigenous plants, such as lentils, mangoes, turmeric and pepper, all of which have been central to the Indian diet for thousands of years.

Yet what is it that makes Indian food so recognizably Indian, and how did it get that way? Feasts and Fasts: A History of Food in India is an exploration of Indian cuisine in the context of the country’s religious, moral, social and philosophical development. It addresses topics such as dietary prescriptions and proscriptions, the origins of vegetarianism, culinary borrowings and innovations, the use of spices and the inseparable links between diet, health and medicine. It also looks at special foods for festivals, street foods and the splendour of Mughal feasts. This lavishly illustrated book gives a mouth-watering tour of India’s regional cuisines, containing numerous recipes to interest and excite readers.

With 20 recipes and over 100 illustrations.

Can be pre-ordered from AmazonBarnes and NobleReaktionUniversity of Chicago Press, and other companies.

Read reviews of Feasts and Fasts.

Now available in India from  Speaking Tiger Books,

About Colleen


Colleen Sen has studied and enjoyed South Asian cuisine for years, sharing her understanding, insights and appreciation of Indian food culture with readers and audiences around the world.

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