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A Taste of Home

After lunch, three authors who have written extensively about food sat down together onstage to talk about food and their books on food.


The moderator was Mita Kapur who launched her book The F-Word in Lit Out Loud, the first Manila International Literary Festival held last year. Her literary agency Siyahi is the principal organizer of Mountain Echoes.


Kunzang Choden spoke of the food of Bumthang, Central Bhutan. In her book, Chili and Cheese: Food and Society in Bhutan, she combines the history and culture of Bhutan with traditional recipes and her own experience of growing up in Bumthang. She told of how, when she was a child, she would go into the blue pine forests with her family and friends where they would cut off the bark of the trees and eat the white, jelly-like sap just underneath the bark. She said it was sweet, like sugar.

Nowadays the government has prohibited collecting the sap because stripping the bark kills the trees so this "taste of home" remains simply a memory for Kunzang and a story for younger Bhutanese. Aside from memories, Kunzang also spoke of how different food used to come with seasons and with stories of the places they came from. She said that "as an old woman" (many in the room disagreed with her on her being "old"), she couldn't help but feel nostalgia for the days when you waited for summer to eat apples, or when eating a strip of dried meat in the winter "you could almost taste the sun."

Pushpesh Pant's position was that, "A taste of home is more than just cuisine. A taste of home is about a whole milieu," which, he said, includes memories of failed dishes because mother and father quarreled while mother was cooking, or memories of special dishes prepared with ingredients brought by cousins visiting from other regions in India. For him, however, when talking about food and a taste of home, "home" was not just one place and "taste" was not just about food. He spoke of an upbringing and a life that brought him to live and eat in many parts of India and the world and how all those places that certain ingredients came from became part of home when put together into one dish. He also said that for him taste is like a DNA we inherit from our families, but also it is about proscriptions, prescriptions, social class, sex, and rebellion.

Buddhist Peace Recipes and Hindu Soul Recipes, two cookbooks by Pushpesh Pant. Coming soon to Mt Cloud Bookshop.

Listening to these authors talk about food with such passion, I thought how lucky I am to come from a family and to be with a man for whom eating together is a simple yet important act of love. It makes the food we share taste better, no matter how ordinary it might be.

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