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Bene Appetit: The Cuisine of Indian Jews

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by Esther David
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This evocative survey of Indian Jewish cooking profiles five different communities, which, though ancient, are fast diminishing. As author Esther David, a member of the Bene Israel community, writes, "Traditional Indian Jewish food is a dying art."

The five communities are:

  • The Bene Israel Jews of Western India
  • The Kochin Jews of Kerala
  • The Baghdadi Jews of Kolkata
  • The Bene Ephraim Jews of Andhra Pradesh
  • The Bene Menashe Jews of of Manipur and Mizoram, each of which gets its own chapter

The diversity of these far-flung groups is demonstrated by the fact that David, who speaks "only" English, Hindi, and Gujarati, had to find interpreters for six other languages in order to communicate with cooks and community members.

Though widespread, the Jewish presence grows fragile. The Kochin community, thought to have been founded around the time of the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E., now numbers only about 25 people.

For each community, she offers examples of the ways in which they have adapted to local ingredients and customs while preserving their identity as Jews and finding ways to keep kosher. Her notes on their histories and festival practices proceed short sections of recipes for distinctive dishes.

It is worth nothing that measurements are sometimes idiomatically Indian (a glass of coconut milk) and that ingredients which are not common in the US may require a little investigation, since the author assumes they are familiar to her readers.

This informative, 200-page book enticingly whets our appetite for more information.

Paperback. Line-drawings by the author.

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