Author: Shanaz Ramzi
Reviewed by Maliha Bhimjee
For most Pakistanis, food is serious business which explains why every occasion, joyous or sorrowful, commences and ends on a culinary note. Food Prints, an Epicurean Voyage through Pakistan, is Shanaz Ramzi’s labour of love. Shanaz is a well-known freelance journalist, particularly known for her restaurant reviews. Anyone who knows the author, even a little, will vouch for the family’s zest for good food, which is reflected in the spread on the Ramzi table, at any time!
It is this driving passion for food that has inspired the seven years of laborious research that has gone into the writing of this comprehensive compendium of the cuisine of Pakistan. What started out as a children’s book for OUP has culminated in a very solid reference book of Pakistani food and dining culture. Food Prints is not only well produced with great presentation and pictorial display, but is indeed a cultural guide that celebrates the way of life of people, their eating habits and styles.
Like any good food manual, Food Prints kicks off with an introduction to Pakistani cuisine, with an informative narrative on the different provinces, their histories and native foods. Combining the skills of a historian, a geographer, an anthropologist, a sociologist and a die-hard food lover, Shanaz’s book is a well-written description of the food traditions of the people of the various provinces and their unique cooking techniques as well as ingredients, spices and utensils used. The book details the cultural influences and imprints left by a succession of invaders and imperial rulers on the food habits of the people of Pakistan. It also examines shifts in eating trends, in the face of western influences on the urban youth.
The book weaves into its fabric, the religious customs and traditions that dictate food habits of the ethnic communities of Pakistan. A point in reference is the interesting chapter on Special Occasions and Traditional Dishes. “Among the best known Parsi traditions of Navroz, is the sofreh-haft-seen, or tablecloth with seven items beginning with the Persian alphabet seen, which symbolises new beginnings.”
A thoroughbred Karachiite, Shanaz does full justice to the chapter on Karachi Cuisine, with special emphasis on the food of the Mohajir community, representing different parts of India... Delhi, Bihar, Hyderabad, Bengal, Lucknow, Gujarat and Goa. I was particularly intrigued to read about the detailed specialties of the Khoja, Bohra and Memon communities. Another section to catch my interest was ‘Snacks for All Occasions’, with interesting notes on bhel puri and gola ganda.
The book would not be complete without the Author’s Favourite Pakistani recipes which include malpuray, palak paneer and dum aalu. Recipes from across Pakistan also feature recipes of interest like Bannu kebab, Kabuli pulao and Kashmiri gushtaba. Food Prints traces the culinary evolution of a land that has always stood out for its generous hospitality and a people who live to eat... a must-have on the shelf of anyone interested in Pakistani food and culture.