Permit me to state a very obvious fact about this cookbook. In the current politically correct, vegetarian, health-centric and largely plant-based food milieu that some of us hard-core meat eaters find ourselves in the midst of at the moment, a book like Urban Desi Non-Vegetarian is a cheeky little aberration. Call it callously carnivorous, bold or simply dub it as audacious, you really cannot ignore a cookbook that has meat, fish or at the very least eggs as the lynchpin around which every single one of its 70 plus recipes pivot!
India on a Platter
It features dishes that span some of the country’s most eclectic foodie regions at their flavourful best. From the pork-heavy repertoire of Goan roasts and the hardy Bihari curries to the coconut- and fish-based cuisine of Kerala and the mustard oil-flavoured wonders of Bengali cuisine. All these come together in a well-put together cookbook with vibrant images and a generous, two-page layout for each recipe.
While I do believe that there are concrete plans to follow this ‘meat feast’ of a book with an all vegetarian counterpart shortly, for now its author, Chef Vicky Ratnani seems content to bask in its non-vegetarian glory. A celebrated chef in his own right, Chef Ratnani seems to have done it all in the culinary space.
From working on board international cruise liners for over 14 years and opening a few fine-dining restaurants to canning over 1,000 episodes of cookery shows on television, he has dabbled with everything in the ‘foodeverse’, so to speak. And now with his latest turn as a cookbook author, he says that “ Urban Desi Non-Vegetarian is an amalgam of what you find in the city streets and what you get once you go off the beaten track.”
Off The Eaten Track!
Taking this sentiment ahead, the book is a virtual treasure trove of rare and exotic (to me, at least!) recipes for dishes like the fermented fish gudok (pg.16) of the Mog, Tripuri and Reang tribes of Tripura. The author pays further tribute to other largely unsung preparations of the North East like the Manipuri iromba (pg.18) made with smoked fish as well as to the Meghalaya stir-fried pork dish of mizovawska (pg.100).
There’s also a hefty homage to Kashmiri cuisine with everything from the Wazwan must-haves like rista curry (pg.164) and gushtaba (pg.116) to lesser-known valley dishes like mujigaad (pg.22) which is a Kashmiri radish and rohu fish curry. So invested is this cookbook in meat that there is even a recipe for the bizarre sounding, but delicious (yes, I’ve eaten it and lived to tell the tale) goshtkahalwa (pg.114) where mutton is pulverised into a paste to which khoya, saffron, sugar and milk are added among other ingredients to result in an unctuous dessert dish.
Hits and Misses
This cookbook has some truly wonderful elements like ‘The Pot-Shot’ section that accompanies most recipes. This is where the author gives us an insight into the very unique and artisanal serving dishes and utensils that have been specially commissioned and crafted for the book by a pottery studio called Curators of Clay.
However, for me, disappointment reared its ugly head more once while I was reviewing this book. I’m talking about unnecessary typos, spelling inconsistencies, clichéd adjectives and overused phrases like using ‘ susegaad’ (laid back) for almost every description of the Goan dishes – a term that denotes “a food coma on a lazy Sunday”. And using the word for word,‘copy-paste’ description for a dish like one ofMumbai’s oldest street foods aka chicken bhujing (pg.152) once again for the miles apart Kerala dried fish chutney (pg.24). All pesky little errors that could have been easily rectified at the copy edit stage of the book’s production.
Having said that, this is one cookbook that should take top spot on any meat and seafood lover’s list. And apologies to the vegetarians, who will just have to wait their turn!
Check it out on Amazon.
A wearer of many hats in the food and travel space, Mumbai-based Raul Dias is a food-travel writer, a restaurant reviewer, and a food consultant.