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Sunday, 10 February 2013

Foodie fiction set in Zurich and Amsterdam

The Chef by Martin Suter
set in Zurich/St Moritz 

This is an interesting book that crossed our path recently, a kind of large novella. Maravan is living in Zurich, having left his homeland of Sri Lanka, though he can never quite sever himself from his roots and particularly from Great Aunt Nangay who inspired him to cook. Meeting up with Andrea, a waitress working at the renowned restaurant Chez Huwyler,  where he too worked for a time, they form a plan to provide sumptuous Ayurvedic meals for couples who need to stimulate their sex life. ("Ayurveda is a type of medicine which is many thousands of years old. It has eight disciplines. The eighth is called Vajikarana. It's all about aphrodisiacs. This includes certain food dishes").They encounter arms traders and prostitutes along the way, all set against the current political and economic events of the late 2000s, both in Europe, Switzerland and in Sri Lanka, whilst all the while trying to preserve their own moral values. And of course therein lies the rub!

We defy anyone reading this book not to salivate and if you feel motivated, there are some of Maravan's recipes included at the back. As a sampler from one of the menus they serve....

Cinnamon curry caviar chapattis
Baby snapper marinated in turmeric with molee curry sabayon
Frozen mango curry foam
Milk-fed lamb cutlets in jardaloo essence with dried apricot puree
Beech-smoked tandoori poussin on tomato, butter and pepper jelly
Kulfi with mango air
The storyline, the people and the food are all elements that combine together, like ingredients and feed the storyline. This is a definite read for those who like food and who are familiar with Zurich.

(PS: if you want to know what Chuchichäschtli is, mentioned in the text of The Chef, it is the Swiss German word for kitchen cupboard, and is horrific to pronounce correctly...)
To compliment this book - or in other words something to offset the starter as it were - we have chosen a second food-centric novel, this time set in Amsterdam, which was a great hit in 2012 - and interestingly from the same publisher, Atlantic.

The Dinner by Herman Koch
set in Amsterdam
A summer's evening in Amsterdam and two couples meet at a fashionable restaurant. Between mouthfuls of food and over the polite scrapings of cutlery, the conversation remains a gentle hum of polite discourse - the banality of work, the triviality of holidays. But behind the empty words, terrible things need to be said, and with every forced smile and every new course, the knives are being sharpened.
Each couple has a fifteen year old son. The two boys are united by their accountability for a single horrific act; an act that has triggered a police investigation and shattered the comfortable insulated worlds of their families. As the dinner reaches its culinary climax, the conversation finally touches on their children, and as civility and friendship disintegrates, each couple show just how far they are prepared to go to protect those they love.

To our readers: what books do you recommend, where the food just wafts off the pages and where there is an evocative setting? Please let us know in the Comments Box if you were really inspired by food, place and writing...

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