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Climbing the Mango Trees: A Memoir of a Childhood in India

3.69  ·  Rating details ·  2,127 ratings  ·  325 reviews
The enchanting autobiography of the seven-time James Beard Award-winning cookbook author and acclaimed actress who taught America how to cook Indian food.

Whether climbing the mango trees in her grandparents' orchard in Delhi or picnicking in the Himalayan foothills on meatballs stuffed with raisins and mint, tucked into freshly baked spiced pooris, Madhur Jaffrey's life ha
Paperback, 297 pages
Published October 9th 2007 by Vintage (first published October 6th 2005)
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Average rating 3.69  · 
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Aug 13, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club-books
For fans of Madhur Jaffrey's cookbooks, this memoir will be, well, ... weird. I have been a fan for years, ever since I picked up one of her cookbooks while living in London. She has come to feel very much of a household presence for me, and I have felt intimately acquainted with her for years through cooking and eating her family's recipes. (Which are all DELICIOUS, by the way....) I had seen some excellent reviews of this memoir on amazon, and confidently suggested it to my book club when I sa ...more
Jul 07, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of The Namesake and cookbook/cooking memoirs
Shelves: non-fiction
I really enjoyed this book. The descriptions of the food and spices were so visceral. However, I was left wanting much much more from this so very capable author. Jaffrey can definitely write and write well, though there were moments of frustration when she would gloss over events that she had been hinting at for the last 100 pages. The prime example is her uncle Shibudada (if I remember the name correctly) and the rift that eventually happened between the uncle and his family and Jaffrey's fami ...more
This was an unexpectedly delightful breath of fresh air. Much like my most enjoyed Netflix show of the moment, 'Ugly Delicious', this work takes on my recently developed passion for cooking in a way that actually acknowledges the real world, refusing to confine the spectrum of food to a stance wholly white and wholly male. True, the cooking only really came near the end with Jaffrey's litany of recipes, but there was such a wonderful mingling of history, family meals, and coming of age in the re ...more
Oct 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: all Indians who love food
I devoured this book. This was a nostalgic journey through the privileged India of the early twentieth century. I got so engrossed, it was as if I had metamorphosed into the young girl who ran around orchids and kitchens and large rooms, ever inquisitive and all-absorbing. This book has rich descriptions of the food, heritage, lifestyle and architecture of the older India. One amusing thing is that, so far I was under the impression that Madhur Jaffrey is a famous Indian male chef and I was shoc ...more
Sep 13, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: indian, food
A warm and comforting read . I was reminded of my own ancestral home and the variety of dishes I had in my childhood. Loved the chapter construction (small chapters) and the titles of the chapters..
Aug 03, 2010 rated it it was ok
I like books about food. I like books about India. and I like a good "growing up in ___" story. But this book didn't really any of these things well. There are many ellipses and allusions when it comes to the real drama. They are taken up but then brushed aside with a description of tomato ginger potatoes.
I loved the food description, and even how the culinary tradition of Delhi changed after partition (from dominantly muslim cuisine of the old city to creamy Punjabi). But partition, which she n
Dec 22, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
We all know Madhur Jaffrey can write a mean cookbook and we all know she can act. But did you know she can write beautiful prose too? This memoir of her childhood is richly evocative, sprinkled with memories of family and food and everything in between. And food, oh the food. Do NOT read this book hungry, it will cause you to arrive at your destination and demand to be fed immediately (not that I did that or anything.)
“My grandfather had built his house in what was once a thriving orchard of jujubes, mulberries, tamarinds, and mangoes. His numerous grandchildren, like hungry flocks of birds, attacked the mangoes while they were still green and sour. As grown-ups snored through the hot afternoons in rooms cooled with weeded, sweet-smelling vetiver curtains, the unsupervised children were on every branch of every mango tree, armed with a ground mixture of salt, pepper, red chilies, and roasted cumin.”

Is your m
Jan 22, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I regretted buying this book. The title, cover, and synopsis were all massively deceiving. The story is incoherent and the recipes are so sparse and simple that I felt cheated even though I bought it on sale. The writer could not stop droning on about how proud she was of the particular 'caste' she belongs to. A system that no-one should ever be allowed to talk about with such disturbing relish. At one point she managed a disparaging remark about Hijabis and that was pretty much all we saw about ...more

Mood: Watercolor-ed memories of a unique childhood in India.

Caveat: Do not expect Madhur Jaffrey to air her family's laundry, things are alluded to but never fully come into light. Some readers are going to find that puzzling, but honestly considering Madhur provided lovely descriptions of India and her experience of growing up there, I was okay with it. Clearly she wanted to write something but decided not to take the road of airing family grievances.

Read if you want/need: delicious food de
Oct 23, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I liked the idea of this book, a memoir of a childhood in India, but the execution left things to be desired. Ms. Jaffrey grew up in a very wealthy family during the British rule of India and experienced the changeover to Indian self-rule. But many important things were glossed over and instead the focus was an artistic version of her wonderful childhood. It was interesting, but not important. The thing that does stand out in the book is the authors descriptions of food. I really don't have much ...more
Jan 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
I got this as a gift and turned my nose up at it, until one day had absolutely nothing else... So it was a desperation read for me. Within a few pages I realized what a fool I had been! It's a marvelous book with family lore, regional history and women's history all wrapped up in a tasty feast. ...more
Jun 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Beautiful story of an abnormal childhood in India. Jaffrey's variety of influences is unique and the way she expresses these influences through taste is truly engaging. I learned a lot about foods, history, and Indian culture. ...more
Sep 21, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
A fascinating memoir which also serves as a social history of upper-middle class family life during mid century India. The descriptions of food made me hungry!
Rachel C.
A lovely memoir from Madhur Jaffrey, groundbreaking food writer and actress. As expected, the culinary details were vivid and mouthwatering.
Dec 29, 2021 rated it really liked it
This was a great memoir although i would have loved for it to continue! I felt like i every got to really know who she becomes. Either way my grocery list has gotten so long just to try the recipes! Yum!
Nov 13, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very interesting and gastronomically satisfying food memoir.
Sep 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I dare u to read this book without the desire for Indian food. I didn’t know about this authority on Indian food prior to reading this book but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I learned about history(and religions)of India, Madhur’s large extended family and food. There is a large recipe section and I look forward to attempting some of these recipes.
Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all)
An enjoyable read with some mouth-watering family recipes (or near equivalents) at the back. I only knew Jaffrey from her cooking programmes of the 1980s on the BBC--and her publishers' penchant for re-issuing the same collection of recipes over and over at ten-year intervals, under different titles and with slight differences in illustrations and front matter.

The child of privileged parents of the administrative caste in Delhi, Jaffrey takes us into their world of family compounds, shared meal
Rachel Brown
Jul 26, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir, india, food
A food-centric memoir of growing up in a huge Indian family in and around Delhi. Jaffrey became a teenager when India got its independence - a time of joy and horror, as the country gained its freedom and then tore itself apart in the violence that came with Partition.

But Jaffrey's childhood was more happy than not, despite the presence of a low-key but appalling family rift caused by an uncle's emotional abuse of his own children and favoritism of some of his nieces and nephews. There's not a l
Jul 13, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned-to-read
What on earth... so many favorable reviews. I had to give it one star because there wasn't a BARF option. I'm quite mature and eloquent, I know - no need to respond.

This book as concept sounds great - portrait of an extended family living on one compound under a patriarch, during partition and told from the p.o.v. of a foodie (as I understand it, Jaffrey is the Martha Stewart of Indian cookbooks). So far, I'm totally on board.

And then I have to read the words as Jaffrey has assembled them and go
Dec 26, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: food, india
Madhur Jaffrey's clear, delicious, and reliable recipes are much loved at our house. The memoir also reflects her talent for clear and evocative writing. Jaffrey vividly conveys pleasures of taste and color. The memoir was frustratingly choppy though. Even the frequently evoked themes of learning and taste didn't quite manage to hold to together fascinating but disparate themes. The chapters usually fell into short chunks that often skimmed across topics that deserved more thorough development. ...more
For Madhur Jaffrey cooking fans, this is an interesting read, the story of her early life in India. The descriptions of food are especially good, of course, as well as the look at daily life in a well-to-do family. There are some tempting family recipes included.

Small sections of the book are quite chatty and read nicely, but the book doesn't hang together. It feels like scraps of writing hastily thrown together. An editor to help with the structure and a proofreader to help with typos and gram
Jul 07, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
After coming to the near-end of chapter seven and still not finding the story compelling, I have decided to stop climbing the mango trees. I rarely stop reading a book with the intention of never picking it up again but I don't think I will continue this one. If you have read it and think I should keep going, let me know!

It was interesting to read about the lives of wealthy Indians, as so many stories focus on the tragic poor of that nation. The family was sweet and the food references were fun.
Jan 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: india, memoir, foodie-fun
An entertaining glimpse into Brahmin Indian life with, as expected, a dominant interplay of food. What a period to have grown up in India - the time of Partition - and what a lifestyle - picnics of 50 caravanning with servants to the hill country; extensive, planned gardens with flowers, fruits and vegetables galore; private performances of music, dance and theater... And as expected, the traditional, multi-generation, extended-family living virtually together with the resulting joys and complex ...more
Madhur Jaffrey wrote a thoroughly enjoyable memoir of a privileged childhood in 1930's and 40's India. Along with that she provided a brief but concise history of the partition of India that I was only vaguely familiar with and appreciated for her insight. As an added bonus, Ms Jaffrey has included many recipes for dishes she not only grew up eating, but that symbolize authentic Indian cuisine. ...more
Evelyn Puerto
Jun 28, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
Written by a food writer, Climbing the Mango Trees paints a vivid picture of growing up in India. I could almost smell the food cooking. Unlike many other memoirs, there doesn’t seem to be an overall theme. Rather, the book just covers the author’s memories. However, the vivid writing brought back my own memories of India and gave a wonderful look at everyday life.
Mar 05, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
after 30 pages already in love with this memoir. the author is a well known food and cookbook writer. she shares a unique childhood of life in Delhi and the memories that food can evoke. stunning, beautifully written, and i must go out now for some indian food...
This is an interesting description of a wealthy upbringing in India and of the experience of partition for a child. There are many references to food and recipes at the end. I missed any mention of India's poor.
Dec 13, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A perfect gem of a book; a small, glittering evocation of India by way of the memories of food, flavor and fragrance. Gorgeous!
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Madhur Jaffrey CBE is an Indian-born actress, food and travel writer, and television personality. She is recognized for bringing Indian cuisine to the western hemisphere with her debut cookbook, An Invitation to Indian Cooking, which was inducted into the James Beard Foundation’s Cookbook Hall of Fame in 2006.

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