Esther David’s new book ‘Bene Appetit’: The Cuisine of Indian Jews, published by Harper Collins portrays hidden Jewish cuisine across India
In India, it is difficult to find kosher meat, so many Jews here are vegetarian. When we have the fast of Yom Kippur, we break it with grape sherbet and sweet puris in Gujarat. In Kerala, they eat rose cookies, or achappam. The law is it has to be something sweet and salty: and both fit exactly -Esther
Esther David born into a Bene Israel Jewish family in Ahmedabad, is an Indian Jewish author, an artist and a sculptor. She also won the Sahitya Akademi Award in 2010 for English Literature. She took a plunge into food writing, with her latest book, Bene Appétit: The Cuisine of the Indian Jews, when she realized that her food sources began to forget some of the older recipes, with everyone into quick cooking and fusion, taste buds are forgetting their heritage. Published by HarperCollins, the book combines her Jewish Roots with her unorthodox upbringing.
Starting from Machilipatnam, Andhra Pradesh, Esther travelled across India to record recipes from these hidden Jewish communities. With only 5000 Jewish Families left in India, that form the 5 main communities that include, The Bene Israel Jews of Western India, the Cochin Jews of Kerala, the Baghdadi Jews of Kolkata, the Bene Ephraim Jews of Andhra Pradesh, and the Bene Menashe Jews of Manipur and Mizoram. All these communities found ways to adapt to local recipes and ingredients that keep up with the Jewish Kosher Dietary Laws. In the process, she uncovered closely guarded recipes for dishes such as chik-cha-halva, jumping potatoes, agar agar jelly and Jewish biryani.
“In India, it is difficult to find kosher meat, so many Jews here are vegetarian. When we have the fast of Yom Kippur, we break it with grape sherbet and sweet puris in Gujarat. In Kerala, they eat rose cookies, or achappam. The law is it has to be something sweet and salty: and both fit exactly” says Esther explaining how the people have adapted to local tastes.
About her travelling experience, she mentions that, people everywhere were really wonderful. And that there was a fraternity, a family feeling. People were not only happy to cook these recipes but also to translate and write them down.
Surprisingly, Esther doesn’t consider herself a great cook as she’s very impatient. Although, she picked
up many memorable recipes from her travel across various Jewish Indian kitchens, like the Bene
menashe community’s black rice pudding, with chak-hao, nutmeg and cashewnuts, in Manipurshe.