Book Reviews

The Poet’s Guide to Food, Drink, & Desire
by Gaylord Brewer

The Banquet of Donny & Ari: Scenes from the Opera
by Naomi Guttman

by Michael Pollan

Revenge Baking
by Randon Billings Noble

Biting the Apple
by Jeanie Greensfelder

Best Food Writing 2014
edited by Holly Hughes

Creamy and Crunchy
by Jon Krampner

Biting through the Skin
by Nina Mukerjee Furstenau

Feeding Orchids to Slugs
by Ann Mah

Mastering the Art of French Eating
by Florencia Clifford

Ivan Ramen
by Ivan Ramen

Third Thursday Potluck Cookbook
by Nancy Vienneau

Mint Tea & Minarets
by Kitty Morse

Prospero’s Kitchen
by Diana Farr Louis and June Marino

Mushroom: A Global History
by Cynthia Bertelsen

One Straw Revolution
by Masanobu Fukuoka

Fried Walleye & Cherry Pie
by Peggy Wolff

Day of Honey: A Memoir of Food, Love, and War
by Annia Ciezadlo

by Chloe Yelena Miller

The Hungry Ear
by Kevin Young

Best Food Writing 2012
by Holly Hughes

Dinner: a Love Story
by Jenny Rosenstrach

My Kitchen Wars
by Betty Fussell

American Cookery
by Laura Kalpakian

Apron Anxiety
by Alyssa Shelasky

Cucina Povera
by Pamela Sheldon Johns

Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen
by Laurie Colwin

The Social Life of Coffee
by Brian Cowan

The Raw and the Cooked
by Jim Harrison

Modernist Cuisine
by Nathan Myhrvold, Chris Young, and Maxime Bilet

Horsemen of the Esophagus
by Jason Fagone

Coffee Philosophy for Everyone
by Scott F. Parker and Michael W. Austin

by Kathryn Borel

Food Rules
by Michael Pollan

On Reading
by Rilke and Ruskin

America the Edible
by Adam Richman

Interview with the author of Party Girls,
Diane Goodman

Death Warmed Over
by Lisa Rogak

How to Cook a Crocodile
by Bonnie Lee Black

Great Food,
All Day Long

by Maya Angelou

Love Bites: Marital Skirmishes in the Kitchen
by Christopher Hirst

Best Food Writing 2011
edited by Holly Hughes

Balzac's Omelette
by Anka Muhlstein

The Little House Cookbook
by Barbara M. Walker

Muffins and Mayhem
by Suzanne Beecher

As Always, Julia:
The Letters of Julia Child and Avis De Voto


by Jason Wilson

The Particular Sadness
of Lemon Cake

by Aimee Bender

The Bluberry Years
by Jim Minick

Livingston and the Tomato
by A. W. Livingston

by Barry Estabrook

Palmento: A Sicilian Wine Odyssey
by Robert V. Camuto

Best Food Writing 2010 edited
by Holly Hughes

by Lizzie Collingham

Four Fish
by Paul Greenberg

The Physiology
of Taste

by Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Far Flung
and Well Fed

by R. W. Apple, Jr.

The Food of a Younger Land
by Mark Kurlansky

The Dirty Life
by Kristin Kimball

by Michael Ruhlman

Cooking with Italian Grandmothers
by Jessica Theroux

Blood, Bones & Butter
by Gabrielle Hamilton

by Steve Almond

The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book
by Alice B. Toklas

Medium Raw
by Anthony Bourdain

Appetite City
by William Grimes

Twain's Feast
by Andrew Beahrs

97 Orchard
by Jane Ziegelman

Born Round
by Frank Bruni

by Kate Moses

Full English by
Tom Parker Bowles

Following Fish by
Samanth Subramanian

Eating Animals by
Jonathan Safran Foer

Immortal Milk: Adventures in Cheese
by Eric LeMay

For You, Mom. Finally
by Ruth Reichl

Farm City
by Novella Carpenter

Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant
edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler

I ♥ Macarons
by Hisako Ogita

The Hamburger
by Josh Ozersky

Best Food Writing 2009 edited
by Holly Hughes

by Archestratos

Eat, Memory edited by Amanda Hesser

Eat My Globe
by Simon Majumdar

by Jason Epstein

What We Eat When We Eat Alone
by Deborah Madison

The Sweet Life
in Paris

by David Lebovitz

Modern Spice
by Monica Bhide


REVIEW by Dan Packel

Following Fish:
Travels Around the Indian Coast

by Samanth Subramanian
Penguin Books India, May 2010
Paperback 184 pp., ISBN: 978-0143064473

Most Americans don’t even contemplate the idea of eating fish in an Indian restaurant. With the bulk of these spots serving Punjabi-inspired food from the plains of North India, diners might quickly note, then dismiss, the menu’s lone “fish curry,” usually a desultory affair. The calculus is a little different in higher-end locations; here one may find something like baked Halibut with yogurt sauce, or tandori salmon.

Ultimately, these options fail to even hint at the true diversity of seafood preparations in India, where 7,000 kilometers of coastline stretch through nine different states, each with its own language. Those interested in discovering fish like hilsa (a plump white fish celebrated for its flavor in West Bengal), preparations like podi (a dried fish powder indispensable among fishing families in Tamil Nadu), and richly detailed characters dependent upon fish for their livelihoods will want to seek out Following Fish: Travels Around the Indian Coast, the first book by the Indian writer Samanth Subramanian.

Subramanian’s travelogue unfolds over nine chapters, starting in the eastern state of West Bengal and concluding in Gujarat, along the Arabian Sea. He explored his subject not through one single, uninterrupted sweep along the coast, but rather through a series of sorties, undertaken during breaks from his day job as a journalist for the Indian business daily Mint. As such, the individual chapters serve as capsules, each exploring a particular facet of fish-related activity.

Not every chapter deals directly with food. In the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, Subramanian focuses his attention on medicine, investigating the famous “fish treatment” of Hyderabad, where the Bathini Goud family has been treating asthma and other breathing ailments since 1845 with a remedy involving the swallowing of a live, two-inch murrel fish. In Gujarat, he looks at technological changes in boat building.

Subramanian is at his strongest when looking at how people eat and when doing some eating of his own. Getting the latter right can be a challenge: “Asking the wrong people—and it’s impossible to know who the wrong people are until you’ve eaten in the places they suggest—will lead you to the sort of food they think you want to eat, rather than the food they would themselves eat, which is also the food you really want to eat.”

He received some good directions in Kolkata, where he richly describes chef Sharad Dewan preparing hilsa in the Park Hotel: “First a swipe near the neck, then near the tail, and then longitudinal cuts along the sides to peel away the fillet from that side of the fish . . . Around the liver sat ruddy flaps of fat, signs of a hilsa that had led a contented life.”

Mangalore, in the state of Karnataka, proved more difficult. A sweep though the city’s restaurants to discover the city’s fabled fish curry left Subramanian wanting. A solution emerged only after meeting gregarious bureaucrat Vasudev Boloor. In a twist unsurprising to those familiar with Indian hospitality, Boloor volunteered his brother’s son’s wife, Shailaja, to prepare a morning meal for Subramanian. Desperately reluctant to impose, but with his remonstrations ignored, Subramanian finally satisfied his high expectations for the curry—mackerel, cooked in a gravy made with coconut, chilies, turmeric, coriander, tamarind, ginger, and more—seated in a tiny home kitchen, with a large bowl in his hands.

Other stops—a “pub crawl” through roadside toddy shops in Kerala, sport-fishing in Maharashtra—help further the reader’s curiosity about different regional preparations, while also developing a theme that Subramanian refers to obliquely, rarely directly. Economic and ecological transformations are altering the lives of those who depend on fish along the length of India’s coast. The weight of tradition in all nine stories is clear. But it’s uncertain what a like-minded traveler will discover if she follows Subramanian’s path twenty years down the line.

August 31, 2010