Book Reviews

Biting through the Skin
by Nina Mukerjee Furstenau

Feeding Orchids to Slugs
by Ann Mah

Mastering the Art of French Eating
by Florencia Clifford

Ivan Ramen
by Ivan Ramen

Third Thursday Potluck Cookbook
by Nancy Vienneau

Mint Tea & Minarets
by Kitty Morse

Prospero’s Kitchen
by Diana Farr Louis and June Marino

Mushroom: A Global History
by Cynthia Bertelsen

One Straw Revolution
by Masanobu Fukuoka

Fried Walleye & Cherry Pie
by Peggy Wolff

Day of Honey: A Memoir of Food, Love, and War
by Annia Ciezadlo

unrest
by Chloe Yelena Miller

The Hungry Ear
by Kevin Young

Best Food Writing 2012
by Holly Hughes

Dinner: a Love Story
by Jenny Rosenstrach

My Kitchen Wars
by Betty Fussell

American Cookery
by Laura Kalpakian

Apron Anxiety
by Alyssa Shelasky

Cucina Povera
by Pamela Sheldon Johns

Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen
by Laurie Colwin

The Social Life of Coffee
by Brian Cowan

The Raw and the Cooked
by Jim Harrison

Modernist Cuisine
by Nathan Myhrvold, Chris Young, and Maxime Bilet

Horsemen of the Esophagus
by Jason Fagone

Coffee Philosophy for Everyone
by Scott F. Parker and Michael W. Austin

Corked
by Kathryn Borel

Food Rules
by Michael Pollan

On Reading
by Rilke and Ruskin

America the Edible
by Adam Richman

Interview with the author of Party Girls,
Diane Goodman

Death Warmed Over
by Lisa Rogak

How to Cook a Crocodile
by Bonnie Lee Black

Great Food,
All Day Long

by Maya Angelou

Love Bites: Marital Skirmishes in the Kitchen
by Christopher Hirst

Best Food Writing 2011
edited by Holly Hughes

Balzac's Omelette
by Anka Muhlstein

The Little House Cookbook
by Barbara M. Walker

Muffins and Mayhem
by Suzanne Beecher

As Always, Julia:
The Letters of Julia Child and Avis De Voto

More...

Boozehound
by Jason Wilson

The Particular Sadness
of Lemon Cake

by Aimee Bender

The Bluberry Years
by Jim Minick

Livingston and the Tomato
by A. W. Livingston

Tomatoland
by Barry Estabrook

Palmento: A Sicilian Wine Odyssey
by Robert V. Camuto

Best Food Writing 2010 edited
by Holly Hughes

Curry
by Lizzie Collingham

Four Fish
by Paul Greenberg

The Physiology
of Taste

by Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Far Flung
and Well Fed

by R. W. Apple, Jr.

The Food of a Younger Land
by Mark Kurlansky

The Dirty Life
by Kristin Kimball

Ratio
by Michael Ruhlman

Cooking with Italian Grandmothers
by Jessica Theroux

Blood, Bones & Butter
by Gabrielle Hamilton

Candyfreak
by Steve Almond

The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book
by Alice B. Toklas

Medium Raw
by Anthony Bourdain

Appetite City
by William Grimes

Twain's Feast
by Andrew Beahrs

97 Orchard
by Jane Ziegelman

Born Round
by Frank Bruni

Cakewalk
by Kate Moses

Full English by
Tom Parker Bowles

Following Fish by
Samanth Subramanian

Eating Animals by
Jonathan Safran Foer

Immortal Milk: Adventures in Cheese
by Eric LeMay

For You, Mom. Finally
by Ruth Reichl

Farm City
by Novella Carpenter

Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant
edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler

I ♥ Macarons
by Hisako Ogita

The Hamburger
by Josh Ozersky

Best Food Writing 2009 edited
by Holly Hughes

Gastrology
by Archestratos

Eat, Memory edited by Amanda Hesser

Eat My Globe
by Simon Majumdar

Eating
by Jason Epstein

What We Eat When We Eat Alone
by Deborah Madison

The Sweet Life
in Paris

by David Lebovitz

Modern Spice
by Monica Bhide

Biting through the Skin: An Indian Kitchen in America’s Heartland

 

by Nina Mukerjee Furstenau
University of Iowa Press, 2013
188 pages
ISBN: 978-1-60938-185-1

Review by Samuel Stinson

As a child, my family was on the move. Before I was ten, I remember at least half a dozen times that we moved house. The last move in that list, relocating across country with my family from Mesa, Arizona to Bowling Green, Kentucky at age nine, caused a minor culture shock for me. In our new Kentucky home I experienced differences almost immediately. Suddenly, people began calling similar foods by different names. Locals talked about all carbonated beverages using the name of one particular drink, Coke, instead of pop, as I had previously used the word. Also people in Kentucky were determined to eat rolls with dinner, while back west we had eaten biscuits. At home I found myself using words to describe food and drinks but different words with my new friends.

In Biting Through the Skin: An Indian Kitchen in America's Heartland, Nina Mukerjee Furstenau offers a similar story of culture shock following her family's relocation from Bengal to Kansas. As she tells the stories of her frequent trips between her family's home in Kansas and India, she notes that returning to her roots offered her unique insights, providing her a ready supply of cultural experiences in both places: “While I was growing up, each visit to India added to my store of images: a married couple trundling along on a small motorbike, the wife's sari tucked safely out of the wheels; a man on a bicycle carrying bundles twice his width and height stacked on his head; an elephant with political signs hanging over his sides and a loudspeaker blaring a message. But in Kansas, my visions of the East existed indoors.” Because such images from India were not readily available in Kansas, Furstenau maintains links to her family through traditional meals. She shows us how food practices help transplanted individuals identify with their roots and allow them to bear fruit in different soil.

As an avid tea drinker, I identified with the importance of tea in Furstenau's family. She contrasts American commercialized tea-drinking with its Indian counterpart in one particularly humorous scene. Traveling in New York with her parents and grandparents, Furstenau recalls an image of fresh tea water in India at her relatives' home boiling “strongly for several minutes before it was deemed hot enough to brew tea properly.” She compares this image with truck-stop tea: “The tea bag came, as it had in Missouri, in Illinois, across Ohio and Pennsylvania, already undone in a piping-hot tin pitcher that somehow held only tepid water. There was never any milk or cream. The resulting drink had none of the personality of its namesake.”

What makes Furstenau's narrative enjoyable are these careful descriptions: “In India, my parents had cautioned us to not drink anything from street vendors unless it was from a coconut stall . . . . I watched as vendors of other drinks, like delicious salty or sweet yogurt lassies, put the used glasses in tubs of graying water at their feet once a customer was done. Lassies were a favorite of mine: lush and also light with froth, my favorite kind fruity and sweet. I would much rather have had a lassie. But even though I was young, I could see the wisdom of choosing a coconut drink.”

Here's the recipe for Mishti Lassie:

Makes 1-2 drinks

1 ripe mango or banana or papaya, peeled and pureed
2 teaspoons honey or sugar (to taste)
¼ teaspoon saffron threads, steeped in 2 teaspoons hot water (optional)
1 cup water with ice
2 tablespoons lemon juice (to taste)
1 cup plain yogurt

Blend all of the above ingredients in an electric blender, crushing the ice. Lovely served chilled. Optional garnishes for each glass: ¼ teaspoon crushed pistachio nuts or a sprig of fresh mint.