The Walrus - - BOOKS - By Naben Ruth­num

“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

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