The Scholar of Indian Cuisine More of Us Should Know


Colleen Taylor Sen met her husband Ashish at a college dance. It was the early 1960s, when she still went by Colleen Taylor. She was born and raised in Toronto, the child of two white parents with ancestral roots in England.

She had never eaten Indian food before meeting Ashish, an Indian immigrant who came to Canada for university. On one of their first dates, Ashish cooked a Bengali curry. The taste left Sen spellbound: It was unlike anything she’d ever had.

Since meeting and marrying Ashish, Sen has spun the study of Indian cuisine, in all its nuances, into her life’s great passion. Sen, who lives in Chicago, is now 72 years old, and she has written six books on Indian food. Her latest, Feasts and Fasts: A History of Food in India, may be her most ambitious. She has taken on the herculean task of mining India’s ancient texts, stretching as far back as the time of the Vedas and Indus Valley Civilization, to create as comprehensive a culinary profile as she can of one of the largest countries in the world. The 336-page tome is a reckoning with the country’s culinary magnitude, a promise to offer clarity where it can.