I read blogs and books where some or all aspects of travel, extended travel, living as an expat, and often, settling down in a land-once-foreign hold center stage. So when I came upon Nina Mukerjee Furstenau’s memoir, Biting Through the Skin: An Indian Kitchen in America’s Heartland, I found myself one-clicking my way to the book. Amazon delivered the book right around Christmas time when I was more into honey-glazed ham than mutton keema. All in good time, I told myself, and soon enough came the Polar Vortex and a series of snowstorms whose names I no longer care to remember. Curled up at home with Furstenau’s book, I relived the recipes from my childhood.
More than Furstenau, it’s her parents who had to tread lightly and adapt to worlds quite different from the other. More so, in terms of food. Her parents had migrated to the US at a time (1963 to be precise) when the aisles were not filled with cumin seeds and turmeric roots. Wasabi peas and Kombucha had not yet graced the American supermarket, and kale was something you used to decorate and maybe take home later for your pet rabbit. Fresh yogurt was unheard of.
Furstenau is at her best when she is talking about the dishes her mother prepared, the curl of smoke in the kitchen, the pop of spices, or the lightness of an egg curry. She is at home when she offers us snippets of her travels to India, to visit her grandparents as a child, and later, about her work in Tunisia where she served in the Peace Corps with her husband. But she fumbles through religion. And if you ask me, in a book which glorifies the pulpy mess of a mango, religion is rather off-topic. I would rather she delve deeper into the street food of India, a chapter which left me wanting more.
But that is not to say that the book is anything short of pleasurable reading. And as for the recipes, I haven’t tried any of them yet, but from what I understand of Indian cooking, they are going to be good. Finger-licking good. If I were you, I would start with mangsho (aromatic lamb curry with potatoes).