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Rick Stein's India

If there is one thing on which the Brits are united, it's curries.  Poor old fish and chips and bangers and mash have been discarded in favour of butter chicken and  - well, almost anything that's spicy.

So celebrity chef, Rick Stein, knew he was onto a winner when he decided to travel India, TV crew in tow (yes, his BBC2 show started on TV in Australia in December 2013) ostensibly 'looking for the perfect curry. In reality he was sniffing around every kitchen, every market, every street stall to see what he could discover and share with his diners, readers and viewers. And of course Australian viewers have an added interest as Rick Stein at Bannisters is a superb restaurant at Bannisters Lodge at Mollybook on the NSW South Coast.

Anyone who has watched Stein on TV will hve admired his endless energy when it comes to pursuing his quest of new recipes and unfamiliar ingredients. He's also known for his staunch support of sustainable farming and fishing techniques.

So, why India? Stein's previous books have dealt with France, Spain, and the Far East, and have always delved into the lives and lifestyles of the people stirring the pans on the stoves, not just the recipes themselves.

It's the same with this book. 'When Indians talk of food,' says Stein, 'they talk about their life. To understand this country, you need to understand curry.'

The first understanding he had to confront, though, is that 'the Indians don't really understand what we mean by curry'. This is the English Raj concept of the hot food they encountered initially and which, after re-tuning their tastebuds and tongues, they learned to love. Indians think of a curry as a dish with lots of 'gravy'.

Thankfully, there is still plenty in this book for those whose palates are not as robust; those who perhaps shudder when 'going out for a curry' is mentioned. For them, Stein has kindly included plenty of extras: street snacks, bread, vegetable dishes, and ultra-sweet desserts. The book would be a bargain alone just for the recipe of nimish, a set rosewater cream from Lucknow, made only in the winter 'when there is dew on the grass'.

That's the other thing about Rick Stein. He is a raconteur, and each recipe comes with the back-story of how and where and when, so that even the non-cook will be entranced, as well as with photographer James Murphy's images that are so real that you'd swear they could be scratch-and-sniffable.

Rick Stein's India, by Rick Stein, BBC books, 2013, hardcover, rrp -25.


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