REVIEW: Food Prints: An Epicurean Voyage through Pakistan — Overview of Pakistani Cuisine
Reviewed by Ammara Khan
AN account of the history, influences, cultural traditions surrounding food plus an assortment of recipes is provided in Food Prints: An Epicurean Voyage Through Pakistan — Overview of Pakistani Cuisine by Shahnaz Ramzi. Given that the majority of cookbooks as well as books about food in Pakistan tend to be of a general nature, the publication of a book highlighting cuisines from different parts of the country initially seemed very refreshing. I was particularly interested in South Indian and Kashmiri dishes included in the book. However, when I searched for a recipe to impress my friends with, I discovered that there are actually very few in the book. It is more of a descriptive introduction to Pakistani cuisine, rather than a guide for those interested in cooking.
In Food Prints you will find everything from the geographical and anthropological background of food to the general eating habits and patterns and a brief history of culinary evolution in Pakistan. Ramzi also talks about traditional utensils and cooking techniques and introduces popular staple foods and commonly used ingredients. Detailed descriptions of daily meals and festive foods unique to different ethnic communities are also discussed.
Although quite intrigued by the details of the diversity of Pakistani food, I found myself getting bored by some of the details. Reading about the agricultural produce of different regions brought back memories of cramming this information for Pakistan Studies exams.
Another section, titled “The Author’s Favourite Pakistani Recipes”, contains a few general recipes while “Recipes from Across Pakistan” also has a few interesting recipes from different regions.
These recipes look quite simple which made me a little skeptical in the beginning. But as the real value of any recipe can only be checked in the kitchen, I decided to try out a few of them to see whether they manage to capture the elusive ‘authentic’ taste. I cooked nihari, Kabuli pulao, bagharay baingan, chicken chow mein (I don’t understand why it was included), and khara prashad. The instructions were clear and the results fairly good. Some of these recipes were also quick and easy to make. However, the collection of recipes seems slightly random.
In short, the book seems confused, claiming to be too many things at the same time and failing to do justice to any of them. Its target readers, it appears, are those unfamiliar with Pakistani cuisine.
When a book lists Wikipedia as a source in the bibliography, my immediate reaction is to go online and visit the site. And it turns out that the table of contents of Food Prints is the same, with a few additions, as the article “Pakistani Cuisine” in the online encyclopedia.
In reality, Food Prints is an extended Wikipedia article — coupled with beautiful pictures and some good recipes — put together in an impressive binding.
If you’re an enthusiast for Pakistani cuisine or like to have an assortment of culinary books, Food Prints, would be a good addition to your collection. However, if you’re looking for an in depth study on cuisine from different parts of the country, this is not the book for you. Designed as a coffee-table book, Food Prints should be left there to be flipped through in idle moments.
Food Prints: An Epicurean Voyage through Pakistan — Overview of Pakistani Cuisine
By Shahnaz Ramzi
Oxford University Press, Karachi