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Monsoon Diary: A Memoir With Recipes

3.7  ·  Rating details ·  561 Ratings  ·  76 Reviews
Shoba Narayan’s Monsoon Diary weaves a fascinating food narrative that combines delectable Indian recipes with tales from her life, stories of her delightfully eccentric family, and musings about Indian culture.

Narayan recounts her childhood in South India, her college days in America, her arranged marriage, and visits from her parents and in-laws to her home in New York C
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published April 15th 2003 by Villard
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May 28, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone
A really personal look at growing up in India and what it means to be an outsider living and studying in the United Sates, this book gives its readers a comic but movingly accurate version of things we can all relate to and choices we all have to make. Narayan gives us mouth-watering glimpses of Indian food (and how to make it) as she tells her tale, imprinted so deeply with the spices, smells, textures, and tastes of Indian cooking. With each recipe, Narayan provides a myth that relates to and/ ...more
Oct 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, food
It was a scrumptious feast. I gobbled up the book from cover to cover. It deals with the South Indian food culture of 70's and 80's. I could connect with most of the facts mentioned in the book as the author describes her South Indian Tamil Brahmin heritage well. The book starts with early childhood memories when she was in the care of her maternal grandparents in Coimbatore, then it moves on to her parents' place in Madras, with a few forays into her father's ancenstral house in Kerala. Later o ...more
Chelsey Pennyamon
A sweetly hilarious account of cross-cultural cuisine and tradition as narrated by an upper-middle class Indian woman. While I enjoyed the cultural high lights, I couldn't help but notice the absolute lack of criticism regarding certain customs, right down to her author's refusal to even acknowledge the limitations of them. A quick, entertaining read-- it's really more 3.5.
Sudha Srivalsan
Dec 20, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I started browsing the book like any other recipe books. But found myself carried over by the simple style and narrative details. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. Set in a South Indian family, I could relate to every bit of information Shoba had mentioned. Interesting read - Nostalgic:)
Jul 15, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is a narrative memoir of Shoba Narayan’s nostalgic reminiscence of her childhood to adulthood. She writes the recipes of foods described in her book relating them to various stages of her life. She starts with the first meal of a six month old infant, her early childhood at her maternal grandparents’ house in a small town where her grandmother made vatrals and vadams with the help of her maid, Maariamma; the pets at her home and the effect of diet on the nature of an animal. She explai ...more
This is not the type of book I would normally pick up to read. However, I noticed a friend liked it and thought I'd try something different. I'm glad I did. I identify with the author in that many of my own memories are tied to food. The book made me want to try to make some of my grandma's recipes that we rely on her to make for holidays. That being said, I don't have great inspiration to try the recipes in the book but that's OK. The book wasn't so much about the recipes as how the food can br ...more
Apr 20, 2007 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Ruth Reichl lovers
Basically a love story between author and her privileged upbringing.

Recipes at the end of each chapter.
Feb 20, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who likes to eat
This lovely memoir/cookbook is a wonderful read-aloud book, full of the sensations, sounds and flavours of Narayan's memories of growing up in southern India. Each chapter ends with a recipe inspired by the memory.

Before reading the book, we had completely forgotten about flattened rice until reading Shoba Narayan's recipe for poha. As I read about the dish, there were sudden cries of, "Chura!! I love chura!!"

It turns out that poha is simply yet another name for flattened rice (aka pressed rice
Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all)
Only three stars because, while a good read as far as the "memoir" goes, the recipes are a bit disappointing. First, the authoress foolishly assumes that everyone has access to an Indian grocery that sells everything from concentrated tamarind to fresh curry leaves. As an expat herself, she really ought to know better--and offer some suggestions for substitutions or methods to make one's own chaat mixes etc. Yes I know there are other sources for such things, and it's a good thing I do know it. ...more
Tom Franklin
Monsoon Diary is a somewhat strange book in that it tries to be a great many things without necessarily succeeding at any of them all that well. Part memoir of growing up in southern India, part journey to America, part life as a college artist, part arranged marriage, part foodie porn, part recipe, Shoba Narayan gives the reader glimpses of the many aspects of her life, but there is a lack of depth to each that made Monsoon Diary a bit of a disappointment to me.

At the same time, however, I enj
Aug 12, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who love indian food, or love to cook
I wish I could eat this book. This is a memoir of a girl who grew up in india in an upper middle class family, and then came to the US for part of her college (so weird she was probably in South Hadley right around the running with scissors time, yet the place seemed so different!), and then ends up moving to the US with her husband. Nothing remarkable happens, but it was still an interesting read, especially just seeing the every day, day to day life in India. The book is so centered on food th ...more
Mar 11, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Monsoon Diary by Shoba Narayan is a book about a woman growing up in Southern India and her subsequent immigration to America. She relates the entire memoir through the foods of her memory and adds a recipe at the end of each chapter. I felt that the book was quite well done and I plan on trying some of the recipes soon. I have always enjoyed immigrant memoirs (I love mainly chinese and indian ones, altho I am open to new titles for others!) I think that she tries to show how life in India reall ...more
Oct 06, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I picked up this book on a whim. The cover looked good and so did the synopsis. I am happy to say that it did not disappoint. The author takes us down the memory lane with her reminisces filled with food, along with the recipes. Starting from her initiation into eating adult food( Chor-unnal in Malayalam) to the time that she is married. Each memory associated with some sort of food. Be it the food that she shared with her school friends , her cousins or her roommates, while in college. The flav ...more
Shoba Narayan's sweet memoir begins with an idyllic childhood in India where food meant family, comfort, and tradition as well as sustenance. This part of her story is a little slow and despite the her ability to communicate the smell, tastes, and atmosphere of the time her sheltered middle class upbringing failed to provide the necessary depth to keep me focused. The story speeds up as her teenage years begin and follow her to college, the US and the early years of her marriage. While the story ...more
Sep 04, 2011 rated it liked it
Enjoyed the book. Engaging memoir of her childhood in S. India. Once she comes to the US her life becomes less interesting, though she must be an unusual person, coming to the US alone as she did. Recipes are a plus. And I will try most of them. And I like that they are adapted to the American kitchen.

My only criticism is that at times she is overly effusive in her description of food.

And she sometimes makes blanket statements that are entirely based on her experience largely in Madras and Keral
Jul 27, 2015 rated it liked it
Throughout Monsoon Diary there is much for the reader to learn about the intricacies of Indian culture, food and otherwise. Shoba Narayan's family stories are often witty and heavily drenched, sometimes drowned, in a relationship with food. The latter portion of Monsoon Diary is more interesting, presenting the contrast between Indian and American food cultures as the author chronicles her collegiate studies abroad. The recipes shared throughout are familiar to the foodoir genre, accompanied by ...more
A fairly unmemorable memoir in which Narayan lives a pretty normal middle-class life in Madras/Chennai, goes to college in New England, and then heads back to India to get married. The writing is neither wonderful or terrible, and she doesn't have any new insights into life, culture, food, art, or any other topic. That said, it's also not a book anyone could really hate, and the recipes do look really good and useful, though I haven't actually tried any of them myself yet. I could quibble with s ...more
There's no Big Message here, and I doubt I would ever attempt any of the recipes, but Narayan's book is nonetheless a tempting, fond, and appreciative documentation of her familial and culinary ups-and-downs. Her sense-memory recollections of rice and ghee, of which temples offered the best versions of which delicacies, of the mechanics of eating off banana leaves at weddings are irresistible. Although the book does seem more appealing when it's dealing with her life in India, I have the feeling ...more
Feb 20, 2012 rated it liked it
I enjoyed reading about the foods and culture of India, a place that has fascinated me for many years. I liked the personal glimpse into what it was like for the author to grow up as a girl in India. It was interesting and at times mouth watering to read about all of the different regional foods and the customs surrounding their preparation. Unfortunately I did not get a chance to try any of the recipes in this book, so I cannot comment on them, but I know the author puts a lot of time and love ...more
Book concerning two of my recent obsessions, Indian culture and food, specifically South Indian as opposed to the Northern Indian food that most Americans like me are familiar with. I saw the author Shoba Narayan on Gourmet's tv show, "Diary of a Foodie" on South Indian cuisine and looked up her book which is a memoir including recipes for wonderful sounding vegetarian South Indian dishes, such as idlis, sambhar, dosa, and pongal. This was my first exposure to region specific India and an entert ...more
Maria (Ri)
This was a tasty look at the author's life and the intimate role that food played in it. I especially enjoyed the stories of her youth in India and the chaos of matching making and her wedding. It was a bit less interesting to read about her college years in the US. The descriptions just weren't as vivid and colorful. Overall, a great read that made me very hungry! I didn't try any of the recipes because they required many spices I don't keep on hand, but one day I'd like to learn to cook Indian ...more
Rogue Reader
Nostalgic look back on a southern Indian childhood, filled with loud, boistrous family and comfort food. How this young Madras woman escaped her family to study in the US is beyond me. How she came home to India to find love in an arranged marriage is delightful. How she came to return to the US with her new husband and forge a new life is courageous and often funny. What a wonderful read of a traditional Brahmin lifestyle, and how a new American way of life disrupts and delights her Indian fami ...more
Oct 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Truly enjoyed this book. I "think" I found while browsing in the cookbook section for recipes for cooking dried beans, I inherited many pounds of beans from a friend returning to Pakistan after a year stay in AA. Narayan is easy to read, but quite descriptive of place, food,smells, customs, festivals, and her impressions of coming to America as a college student. Highly recommend for an unexpected pleasure!
I was underwhelmed by this book. The author never seemed to hit any sort of stride or narrative theme--the stories she shared were unremarkable, though the descriptions of food made me hungry. There were also several forced, overdone descriptions of the sunset or the moon rise which were just metaphors piled on top of one another and were pretty heavy-handed. It wasn't a terrible book--but neither was it that great.
This was such an enjoyable read! I definitely want to try some recipes, though I might have some difficulty getting ingredients around here. I think what I truly enjoyed, though, were the insights into a genuine sense of family. Narayan doesn't sound like she's telling polite stories of rose-colored India, but rather true accounts of her own history. Sometimes things are embarrassing, sometimes she's being difficult, but always love and home win out.
Jun 25, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed the author's development of memory: every experience, every memory, was centered around food and the place it had in her daily life, within the family structure, etc.
I instantly related to all of the food-centered stories, and felt the same connection to indian food with my grandmother that the author associates with her own mother. this book helped me to develop some of my own writing for my memoir/thesis... and the entire book is mouth-watering. :)
Feb 18, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Monsoon Diary is a delightful memoir of the author, Shoba, growing up in South India and eventually moving to the States. Each chapter a recipe because she talks about the foods she has loved. I read the book very slowly to enjoy each chapter. The only problem was, it made me really hungry by the end of the chapter! I am going to save some of the recipes in the book for future culinary experiments.
Jan 18, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this book! Yes, there are many memoirs out there, particularly about growing up in India. However, the author's experiences are very interesting. And her food descriptions are unsurpassed. I would use this book as a food guidebook when next visiting India over a traditional guidebook. I loved the descriptions of what is eaten in which parts of India, for what occasion and even how to make it myself at home.
Apr 29, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: people, india
The beginning of the book focuses a lot on the author's memories of food from her childhood in India. After awhile I got bored with all the food descriptions. The second half of the book focuses more on her life. I doubt I will make any of the recipes because I can't find most of the ingredients.
Not only is the recipes in this book beyond delicious, but the stories of the authoress' childhood onto her adulthood an intriging glimps into the life of modern East Indian women that can stand on its own, without the food.
Food is the best insight into a culture, because it is the one thing we can all relate to.
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