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I have a weakness for the half-plate — the ‘adha chai’ in a tiny kulhar, the half-portion of jhalmuri in a minuscule paper packet offered by some Kolkata vendors, the miniature dosa that would be slightly less than half a classic Udupi-sized portion. Sephi Bergerson’s Street Food of India is halfway between a paperback and a coffee-table book, and in this format, his gentle photographs become alluring precisely because he’s offering an indicative, not authoritative, guide to eating out, Indian-style.
Bergerson flouted the two dictums handed out to every foreigner — don’t drink the water, and don’t eat the salad. From Paharganj and Chandni Chowk in Delhi to the bylanes of Bombay to Varanasi, Bergerson seems to have lived and travelled in this country using his eyes and his palate as a guide, falling in love with everything from the humble bread pakora in multiple variations to delicate daulat ki chaat. The South is under-represented in comparison, with just a few pictures and recipes — a sad omission that dilutes the value of the book.
Bergerson’s introductory essay is actually a thinly disguised love letter to the grand tradition of eating on the streets, a tradition that he fears is threatened by the explosion of food courts, and the demand for clean, hygienic fare that ignores what he considers the freshness, variety and the sheer spontaineity of street food.
The recipes that accompany his pictures are accurate but almost superfluous — his goal is to tempt you out onto the streets, not into the kitchen. This book is not definitive, nor is it an instant classic, but Bergerson’s carefully taken shots of everything we ignored, from a row of Banta bottles to the intricate curlicues of fruit juice vendors’ signs to a garlanded water cart makes it worth your while. This, like the street food it describes, is tasty, snack-and-go fare.
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