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On a current afternoon alongside Chicago’s Devon Avenue, Colleen Taylor Sen stopped into the restaurant Naan on Devon to choose up a pudding-like dessert referred to as kheer, disillusioned that they didn’t have any flavored with almond. Throughout the road, she sampled bihari kebab and mutton quorma on the cavernous Usmania, choosing out chunks of bone-studded meat from the quorma’s brown gravy with purple-painted fingernails that matched her sweater and lipstick. She then stopped on the grocery retailer Patel Brothers to see if she may spot the house owners and to choose up some spiced flatbreads referred to as thepla to eat with yogurt for breakfast the subsequent day. All through the errands and the meal she offered operating commentary—nonetheless flippantly rounded by her native Toronto accent—on the origins of lots of the immigrants within the surrounding West Ridge neighborhood, the companies that had occupied numerous storefronts through the years, and the frilly materials and saris glowing within the home windows of the ever-present clothiers. 

Sen has lived in West Ridge for the reason that late Nineteen Sixties, and has watched it turn into a South Asian mecca full with candy outlets, butchers, grocers, and eating places over the a long time. Though the situation of her residence close to such a spot is a coincidence, it’s a cheerful one: Sen has written six books about South Asian meals, though she solely started doing so later in life. 

She’s now a co-editor of the brand new The Bloomsbury Handbook of Indian Delicacies, which makes an attempt to element the components, regional cuisines, and dishes of a mind-bogglingly various subcontinent. India is the second-most populous nation on this planet, with roughly a sixth of the world’s inhabitants and 7 of the world’s most populous cities. It’s the birthplace of 4 main world religions and has eighteen official languages, in addition to greater than 1,600 minor languages and dialects. Eggplant, mangoes, lentils, numerous gourds, cucumber, turmeric, ginger, black pepper, and different produce are native to India’s quite a few geographical areas. 

How do you cowl all of this in an encyclopedia? 

You merely strive your finest to incorporate as a lot as attainable. 

“I’m certain individuals will say we left issues out,” Sen says. However since there are surprisingly few complete books about Indian meals, any try is welcome. 

“Twenty-five years in the past, individuals weren’t writing about meals [in India] from a severe standpoint, with just a few exceptions,” she says. The perfect-known surveys of Indian meals and its historical past had been written within the Nineteen Nineties by a chemist, Ok.T. Achaya, after his retirement; it’s a cheerful accident of alphabetization that he’s the primary entry in The Bloomsbury Handbook of Indian Delicacies

However now Indian delicacies is garnering extra curiosity and severe consideration within the subcontinent itself, in line with Sen, as individuals pay attention to regional cuisines and meals strikes from being served by avenue distributors into eating places each high-end and on a regular basis. 

“Now you might have all these individuals who actually write great books; somebody wrote an enormous ebook on Calcutta meals, somebody’s writing a ebook on the meals of Rampur, they write about Kashmir,” Sen says. And she or he drew on these writers for The Bloomsbury Handbook, which incorporates 26 contributors along with its three editors.

Sen’s personal books embody Curry: A World Historical past and Feasts and Fasts: A Historical past of Meals in India, in addition to a translation from Russian of a Marxist critique of Stalinism—she has a PhD in Slavic Languages.

She got here to writing books about Indian delicacies by happenstance, after assembly two separate editors of meals ebook collection at a convention in England. She had at all times written freelance articles on the facet of a full-time job, as a result of she enjoys studying about numerous matters; her PhD taught her the best way to analysis, and studying quite a bit taught her to put in writing. Her first revealed journalism was on chess: she was an avid, ranked participant fluent in Russian who knew lots of the individuals competing within the epochal 1972 World Chess Championship the place Bobby Fischer defeated Boris Spassky, and capitalized on the widespread consideration on the video games by providing to put in writing about them for The Chicago Each day Information. (She additionally contributed evaluation to WTTW, though she is dismissive of her expertise in chess.) 

She had met and married her husband in Toronto earlier than shifting collectively to Chicago, settling in West Ridge as a result of he had a job at Northwestern College. His mom was a “very distinguished author” for a Bengali journal who typically wrote about meals. That connection helped encourage Sen to discover Indian delicacies in each India and America in occasional articles, “possibly three or 4 a yr,” she says. 

She had an excellent neighborhood shut at hand to chronicle, as South Asians started settling in West Ridge and opening companies on Devon. The road’s first Indian restaurant opened in 1983, in line with Sen’s personal entry on South Asians in The Chicago Meals Encyclopedia, which she co-edited. A handful of different Indian eating places and shops had existed all through the North Aspect within the earlier twenty years, however Devon grew to become the middle of the diaspora because it grew. Mafat and Tulsi Patel opened a grocery retailer on Devon in 1974, then constructed a bigger one down the road because the enterprise boomed. Patel Brothers is now the most important Indian grocery retailer chain in the USA. 

Sen has watched all this flourish round her and is an enthusiastic neighbor, alert to the pleasures of the industrial strip and any modifications to it. She and her husband attempt to sustain with the entire eating places, and have completely different go-tos for diverse needs. She likes to strive the identical dish at completely different regional eating places—the dry grilled bihari kebab, within the case of an Indian-Pakistani restaurant like Usmania—to notice and evaluate iterations. One in every of her books, Pakoras, Paneer, Pappadums, is supposed to assist a Western diner navigate the menu of a South Asian restaurant. 

Sen is contemplating writing a ebook in regards to the historical past of Indian meals in the USA, which might essentially additionally monitor the historical past of Indian immigration to and all through this nation. Whereas she is fascinated by meals, she additionally desires to the touch on the historical past of different matters—that’s why she wrote a ebook in regards to the influential emperor Ashoka, who was a distinguished advocate of vegetarianism by his patronage of Buddhism. Her limitless curiosity appears certain to steer her to continue learning extra, and to maintain distilling that information into books.