Entrepreneur-food consultant-author Karen Anand is back with a new cookbook memoir titled ‘Masala Memsahib’ this year. In this unique cookbook memoir, Anand shares her adventures and experiences across five Indian states- Goa, Gujarat, Kerala, Maharashtra, and West Bengal. It through this journey that she explores the rich, diverse, and lesser-known culinary histories of these places which she writes about in her new book, which also has over a hundred recipes.
In an interview with us, food guru Karen Anand talks about her book ‘Masala Memsahib’, her writings, inspirations, and more. Excerpts:
1. What was the idea behind writing a cookbook memoir? And why this titled ‘Masala Memsahib’?
I always wanted to write a book on Indian food because that was my journey from Paris where I did cook Indian food, occassionally and then when I came back to India, I found such amazing food in people’s homes which I never found in restaurants. There were plenty of Chefs at the time doing Indian food at various levels and I found that was really not my forte. So my forte was European food for which I received amazing accolades. But the more I travelled through television and so on, I came across marvellous local food which I wanted to document. Then came 2020 and Covid happened. I was at home for a long time and I felt that was the perfect time to put all of my recipes of almost 30 years together including some cultural history as well. I came up with the name because I thought it was a catchy title and described me perfectly!
2. Tell us about the research and writing process for this book. How long did it take you to write it?
Writing the actual book was not so difficult and I started and completed it in 2020 during lockdown. However, the main challenge was that it was Covid and lockdown and I couldn’t get a photographer to come from Mumbai. So I hired a lovely couple who are bloggers Anindya and Madhushree from Kolkata, and we kind of did a Whatsapp art direction and Zoom calls and somehow managed to digitally converse and do the photographs. The other challenge was getting all the photographs ready for the introduction as I had photos for many many years – some of the prints and not such good quality and so we had to track down the originals which was quite a challenge to say the least.
3. You have written several books, and you are known for your food and travel writings. What inspires you to keep writing?
Writing is my first love and it is something I will do till I can. I love the idea that you can continue writing forever whereas other careers and professions have a ‘sell by date’ and you have to constantly update your knowledge and skill. With travel and food writing, of course you have to constantly travel, absorb, learn and keep in touch with trends, but a lot of writing also relies on knowledge and experience.
4. What are some of your writing tips for aspiring authors?
First of all, read a lot. I constantly read cookery books and food and travel memoirs. Keep practising, keep writing. Sit at your desk everyday. It’s a discipline like every other profession
5. The book maps your journey across Goa, Gujarat, Kerala, Maharashtra, and West Bengal. Which is your favorite memory and recipe from this book, and why? Also, north India isn’t covered in the book– was it for any particular reason?
It would be unfair to say that I loved writing one more than the other because all contain fantastic stories around food and the people behind them. There are many many many stories and you have to buy the book and read it for yourself. There are five chapters and then there is another one called Memorable Meals where I had amazing meals for example in Coorg or in Ladakh, in people’s homes all over India… I start off with Goa because that’s a chapter close to my heart. I’m sorry that I don’t have a chapter on North India. It’s simply because I didn’t have a depth of knowledge and experience on them.
6. Being a food writer and chef, what is your comfort food?
I love dal chawal when I return from a trip or khichidi if it’s winter. In summer, a salad and/ or soup is my go to.
7. Are there any particular food writers whose works have inspired you or whose works you greatly admire?
I love the work of Claudia Roden, Nigel Slater, Ruth Reichl and Russell Norman… I love Nigella Lawson’s prose.
8. And lastly, what is the most important ingredient, according to you, for cooking?