“curry isn’t real,” writes Naben Ruthnum in his new book. “Curry is a leaf, a process, a certain kind of gravy with uncertain ingredients.” Ruthnum dips into the history of the dish, exploring the various ways recipes have evolved in response to who was doing the eating — royal rulers, British colonists, second-gen children. But more important to Ruthnum is the fact that curry — often used as a catch-all term for many different Indian dishes — has become a pervasive trope in popular culture. Ruthnum questions using the concept of “authentic” food as shorthand for an ideal, pure past. Drawing on extensive research, he looks at how diasporic “South Asian” writers, regardless of where their families are from, are expected to explore their roots in the same manner — through “homecoming” stories rife with food-as-symbolism (and often marketed primarily to white readers) — leading to the creation of what he dubs “currybooks.”
Curry proves itself to be a smart text, one that shows us that the link between who we are and what we eat is never as straightforward as it may first appear.
— Daniel Viola