Book Review – Cooking on the Run by Boria Mazumdar

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What do you do if you’re in a hurry but still you’ve got to eat? The answer is easy for someone who has been cooking “for a while”. If you are one such person, more often than not, you use your years of work experience in the kitchen and very quickly figure something out.

But, the situation drastically changes when your culinary skills fluctuate between Chhede de ma Kende bachi (Clueless in Kitchen) to Omlette maker (comfortable preparing different egg dishes). You would likely to lean towards the likes of milk-cereal, bread butter toast or banana milk shake for breakfast, or the likes of Maggi, canned foods and some Ready to Eat packs for any other time of the day (of course, you can always order a home delivery from the neighbourhood Pizza delivery, order a take-out online, but those are out-of-scope for this discussion here). Boria Majumdar’s new cookbook, titled Cooking on the Run, can be a godsend at such times, it is very helpful in such a scenario. Wait a minute. Doesn’t Boria Majumdar write and speak about Cricket, and other forms of sports?

Well, yes. And I, for one, was pleasantly surprised when I got his message that his first cookbook is out and if I would like to review it. Of course I would, I thought.  A few days later, Boria sent me the pdf and the printed version of his book too. Thanks Boria.

Going through the book was a like a breeze of fresh air but I was faced with a dilemma – how do I review a cookbook that, even Boria says, is designed for Indian Men? Kalyan and I got together and figured the way out.

We figured we’d review the book from two perspectives – I’ll don the food blogger hat and review the book, while Kalyan will review it from “Indian Man’s” perspective. Fair enough? So, here we go.

Cooking on the Run by Boria Mazumdar

Boria very modestly writes in his book that it “does not have a grandiose purpose” and is “simply the average Indian man’s survival mechanism in times of need”. The book is much more than that though. It is one of those cookbooks which are as much a treat to read for its anecdotes and surrounding story as much as it is for the recipes themselves. I’m very sure pro-cooks would love to read it and keep it in their bookshelves.

Boria grew up in a Bengali household and from a very early age he started getting fond of the finished products from his mother’s kitchen. But, not until did he was in Oxford that he actually set foot in a kitchen to cook. The book reveals not only recipes that he tried over the years to amuse his friends from college and work; but it’s a journey through his life in the kitchen and beyond.

Going through the book, one chapter particularly caught my attention – Tangra, Kolkata’s very own China town. Boria, while discussing his favourite Chinese restaurants over the world, paints a realistic picture of the place. Sitting in my apartment in Texas, I felt nostalgic. I couldn’t but smile and recollect my days as an undergrad and the frequent visit to Chinatown with my friends.

The entry to Tangra is marked by the stench of city’s waste lands (Dhapar maath) and scores of tanneries in the neighbourhood. It was the almost unrecognisable right turn from Gobindo Khatik road that leads to the potholed road of Kolkata’s china town. Notwithstanding this, we used to frequent the area (like thousands of others) in search of the best and authentic Chinese food that the city had to offer. Our favourite was the Big Boss restaurant. We stopped by the place every month, and without fail. The dim lights, the aroma from the kitchen, the bustling customers – all made it special.

The book includes details of various parts of the world where Boria spent time and I’m sure if you happen to be familiar with any of those areas, you would become nostalgic too. The book includes details of Samosas of Flora on Flinders Street, Melbourne or the take out Dosas from Udipi Palace in Chicago or the late night cart sellers in the Oxford campus.

Boria’s experience in these areas are an interesting travel read. And when combined with the recipes, makes it an useful book to keep on your bookshelf. However, since first and foremost, it is a cookbook, let’s talk about the outputs from the kitchen.

The recipes are for everyone to cook and try. The ingredients are not some formidable expensive items from a gourmet store, but simple things that you can get from your next door grocer. So, the author gets it right there.

The cooking directions are detailed and I believe even a first time cook shouldn’t face any problems whatsoever. The recipes are large in number, and belong to various cuisines across the world. However, if you’re looking for a list of recipes you can prepare from a particular book, this book is not where you should be searching for.

The author is Bengali by birth and even though you’ll find recipes from across the world, there’re plenty of instances when you would find a touch of his Bengali in this chronicle. Personally, I loved that Bong touch, and since over two-thirds of this blog’s readers are Bengalis, it is safe to assume that you would like it too. But such Bong references (Jhal Muri, Aloo Posto, Kasha Mangsho among others) might be an overdose if your tastes are different. [here’s my own version of Kasha Mangsho, Aloo Posto]

Another feature, or rather the lack of it, that struck the food blogger in me, was that the book doesn’t have any pictures. When I first started cooking and searching for cookbooks, I always used to pick those that had more pictures, everything else being equal. The pictures give a first time cook a better grasp to understand the recipes and also tell the newbie how the end product will look like. It also is a welcome break from the pages of text. He creates an array of stories twining these recipes, which makes this book worth a read.


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