“Tiffin” by Rukmini Srinivas

Writing a story of a large family that starts in 1892 till the present day is in itself a huge challenge. To write about the wonderful food which you have cooked, eaten, and enjoyed over the decades is again an incredibly challenging task. Added to this, you need to choose the most memorable from amongst a long list and carefully write their recipes while catering to an international audience. Mrs. Rukmini Srinivas surprises us by doing all this and doing it with finesse and style in her semi-autobiographical book, “Tiffin” described as “Memories and Recipes of Indian Vegetarian Food.” I loved  this book and would commend it to anyone fond of family stories and who look for a bunch of amazing recipes mainly from the South of India.

The approach to her book is interesting.  Mrs. Srinivas writes about a particular period of time covering major events that happened to her and her larger family then. She couples this account with recipes of dishes she associates with that time period.  For example, her description of dishes enjoyed during her childhood like,” Appa’s Vegetable Cutlets” and “Amma’s Garam Masala (Dry Spice Powder)”evoke a strong sense of nostalgia, as do dishes like “Muthu’s Ceylon Raeshmi Parotta” and “Shallot Sambar” from Palani’s Bakery which date back to her days in the hostel of the Queen Mary’s College in Chennai ( then known as Madras.)

The book is like a travelogue covering different facets of life in places as diverse as Tanjore, Jubbolpore, Poona, and Delhi on the one hand and Boston and San Francisco on the other. Mrs. Srinivas spent many years in the United States after she married the eminent sociologist and academic, Dr. M N Srinivas. She has a perceptive eye for detail and writes in an easy manner giving you the impression that she is actually chatting with you. No, not chatting as in today’s context of texting over a device but sitting back and talking person to person perhaps with some delicious Mysore Pak and  Bombay Bonda on offer with the delightful aroma of authentic South Indian coffee wafting in the room.

Also in the book are vignettes about the friends and friendships she and her husband enjoyed over the years which included people who are now household names such as the writer R K Narayan, known simply to them as “Kunjappa”. Mrs. Srinivas has portrayed the people in her story with such realism that one reads about her father’s sisters,  Annam Athai and “Poonamallee Athai” and feels as if we have known them in person.

Overall, an excellent book. I am so happy that “Rukka” Srinivas has crafted this beautiful food-memoir. It is largely of an age that has gone by and sadly will never come back.


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