'Highway on my Plate' book review ...for the armchair traveller


I finished the book 'Highway on my Plate' last night. Ironically while lying flat on the bed. My back has been acting up again. Not being able to write irritates me. Makes me cranky. Almost like when I am hungry. Almost.

What makes it worse is that I have come back with so many stories from Kolkata. Of photographing mishti while I was dying of hunger, of stumbling onto ponds and the Gandhi Bhavan at Ultadanga, a Highway on the Plate lunch at 5 pm at Sanjha Chulha, of getting to know the phuchkawallahs outside South City Mall, of the lemon tart at Kookie Jar at South City and the guy at the counter who smiled in recognition, of the young lady who came and introduced herself to me as a reader in the middle of the Park Street Metro station, of a rites of passage long delayed at Oly Pub - the fantastic food and the secret behind the men in the ladies' toilet there, Someplace Else for a nightcap and reliving fond memories in the compnay of new friends, of food food and more food cooked by mom, a visit to Grand Parents and the pain of eating kochuri alu and mishti ordered from a shop... a pain which would be microscopic compared to what granny (Didu) would have felt at mnot being able to cook something for me... old age is bloody cruel, of the seven packs of Mokhorochak Chanachur I carried back and of a last impromptu stop at Nizam's at VIP Road to pick up rolls and biriyani on the way to Mumbai and a photo shoot that followed.

The stories will be told. Till then check out this album from the Finely Chopped Facebook page for some photos of my trip.

And how was the book?

Well 'Highway on My Plate' on NDTV Goodlife is the only Indian food and travel show that I like. Harsha Bhogle's too but then he hardly eats. I know of people who are are surprised about my choice of HOMP. "There are too loud". "The food they like doesn't look appetising enough". "They like everything" "It is not a food show." "It is not all about food"

Well, nor is Finely Chopped.

What I like is that  the hosts, Rocky & Mayur, bring in a lot of energy to the show. They look like they are enjoying what they are doing. They are spontaneous. That they travel to all parts of the country. That they are not food snobs. That they are fellow 'grunge eaters'. And yes, they do take some getting used to. Their humour is over the top, but they make no qualms or pretenses about that. And, as a reader pointed out, one is a non vegetarian and the other a vegetarian so you get both sides of the story. The vegetarian, as always, gets bullied.

And how was the book?

Well it was almost like a Lonely Planet of food. The scope of the book was huge and therefore it lacks in depth. The book covers just 2,3 eats in a place. In one or two paras each. But manages to hold you despite the limitations of its form. It makes your mind wander into the far reaches of the country. They do the hard work for you - I am sure lot of bumpy roads, dirty toilets, bed bugs and stomach runs would have gone into the making of this book.

You will have snippets on the history of a restaurant, or of its owners, or of some incident during their travels, of fellow eaters, clear statements on what to eat AND what to avoid. You can use the book as a guide. Or, as I story book, as I did.

It was a much needed book which helps break myths such as 'all South Indians are Madrasis, eat vegetarian food, viz dosa and idli'. Well get prepared to be lost in the search for chettinad food in Tamil Nadu, in the dreamy toddy shops of Kerala and the fire in your belly digs of Andhra. The book reminds us that India has a North Eastern corner. Learn about Meghalaya, Mizoram, Arunachal, Nagaland and Manipore like you never did. And remember to smile the next time you see some of the staff at Candies or the salon or Spa or neighbourhood restaurants. The book reminds us that they are Indians and not 'Chinkies'... unfortunately too many of us need to be reminded of this. Read about the fresh fish from the ponds of Assam, missal pao in the midst of Mahrashtra...the best place for chicken and mutton at Haridwar and why Britannia in Amchi Mumbai got its name...The prose is simple and colloquial. Don't expect any esoteric descriptions of the food. In fact there are a few smilies thrown around ... and yet managed to fire my imagination. That's what good conversations are about I guess.

I am sure that one can dig many holes in the book but this is one of the best food and travel books that has come out of India recently. Well, all right, I love these guys, so pardon the hyperbole.

May they never have backaches.
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