The genre of regional cookbooks is no longer the niche it used to be. Not only are the bookshelves long monopolised by celebrities chefs like Sanjeev Kapoor, Nita Mehta and Tarla Dalal making space for new writers, they are also witnessing faster turnover.
“Hyderabadi Cuisine by Pratibha Karan has gone into its ninth reprint; I believe parents in Hyderabad give it to girls as a part of their trousseau,” says Sheema Mookherjee, senior commissioning editor, HarperCollins India. Regional cookbooks have so far served as ideal wedding gifts or perfect send-off presents for children moving abroad. But now, young women who can’t read cookbooks written in regional languages are seeking out those penned in English.
Sunil Poolani, executive director and publisher, Leadstart Publishing, says, “There has been an increase in demand for regional cookbooks in India; and many have been translated from regional languages to English. Out of every ten book proposals we receive, two to three are for regional cookbooks.”
Kinjal Shah, head, buying and merchandising, Crossword Bookstores, says that Indian women, especially above the age of 40, prefer cookbooks written in the regional language if available. “However, the younger women opt for books in English wherein the name of the ingredient is from Hindi, but spelt in English — for example atta instead of flour.
Sahir C, who will soon move to the University of Texas, recently visited a bookstore for a compilation of Punjabi recipes. “I realised that once I go abroad I will be eating a lot of junk food, and that Indian food abroad is very expensive. I’m sure going to miss home food,” says Sahir. But to his relief, he was glad to find a number of regional cookbooks in the market.
The reason, ventures author Rocky Mohan, is that “in terms of food, every part of this country is a new country. This is what interests Indians; they like to be surprised by what they eat. Poolani elaborates, “In Kerala, three different communities — Malabar Muslims, Syrian Christians and Hindus — prepare meat in three very different ways. So, it’s a treat to get three different meat preparations from one cookbook.” And these books can prove to be great investments, as post graduate student Saloni Dabas found. “Now, I don’t need to call my mother up asking for recipes. I can simply cook anything by just flipping a page,” she smirks.
It’s not the Indian market alone that is expanding; translations into foreign languages are also on the rise. A lot of Mohan’s regional cookbooks have been translated into French. The recipes in high demand come from Goa, Kerela, Hyderabad, Punjab and Kolkata.
Publishers have observed that, of late, the production values of Indian cookbooks are significantly improving. Many are full-colour, with quality food photography. “Presentation is the key ingredient in a cookbook. Visuals tend to have a greater impact on the readers’ minds. Also, the language is much more comprehensible and crisp,” says Mookherjee.