"I, Hassan Haji, was born, the second son of six children, above my grandfather's restaurant on the Napean Sea Road in what was then called West Bombay, two decades before the great city was renamed Mumbai. I suspect my destiny was written from the very start, for my first sensation of life was the smell of machli ka salan, a spicy fish curry, rising through the floorboards to the cot in my parents' room above the restaurant." — The Hundred-Foot Journey
Like a lot of cooks I know, I love a good read— and not just cookbooks and food memoirs either. Yet it is rare for me to find on a food-themed novel that I enjoy. Truth is, most of them are predictable and clichéd, the food theme either forced or too obvious in its metaphor. So when a friend recommended a new food-focused (and Anthony Bourdain-lauded) novel called The Hundred-Foot Journey, I was skeptical.
But not for long.
I picked up The Hundred-Foot Journey on a cold, rainy holiday afternoon, perfect conditions for staying in with a good book. Soon I was transported to the hot, vivid city of Mumbai where the trains are so crowded that commuters must store their tiffin lunch boxes in a separate compartment. Thus our protagonist's grandfather's tiffin lunch delivery service is born, and his destiny is launched. From there the tale unfolds, moving on to London, and then to the refined, austere French Alps, and finally to Paris.
The story focuses on two restaurants: A two-Michelin star traditional French hotel and the bawdy Indian establishment newly opened across the street. Their unlikely rivalry is hilarious. But the true story is the journey our narrator takes as he discovers his calling as a chef of rare, true talent.
The style is light and quick, and I managed to read most of The 100 Foot Journey in that single sitting. All in all I found it to be a marvelous read, entertaining and delightful with interesting characters and lots of delicious food references. I knew it was working its magic on me when I found myself heading out that night to my local Indian take-out for dinner!
I would recommend giving The Hundred-Foot Journey to any cook you know, along with a tiffin, perhaps, or a selection of Indian spices. Or, if you want to emphasize the French side of the book, tuck it into a lovely copper pot and wrap it up in a one of those red-bordered French tea towels. Be careful, though, of thinking you can get away with sneaking a peek at the book first. This one's hard to put down.
• Get the Book: The 100 Foot Journey $15.64 at Amazon
Related: The Hungry Reader: On Cooking and Plot