Monica Bhide is the author of the new book A Life of Spice: Stories of Food, Culture, and Life. Her other work includes several cookbooks, among them Modern Spice, and a short story collection, The Devil in Us, and her writing has appeared in a variety of publications, including The New York Times and Food & Wine. She is based in the Washington, D.C., area.
Q: How did you select the essays that appear in your new collection?
A: It was reader-driven! Each time I have a new essay published, I get notes from readers asking for more of the same. I looked over all my work for the past 10 years and selected a few essays that I thought would make (I hope) interesting reading. Of course, there are several new essays in the book as well.
Q: You write that you’ve always loved food, and that “even more than cooking, I love to eat.” What are some of your favorite things to eat, and are those things you also like to cook?
A: Yes, indeed... eating is a passion! I adore anything with spices and herbs. My favorite dishes - anything cooked by my parents or baked by my kids! I do adore a good lamb biryani and, of course, Nutella. I enjoy cooking as I view it as a "getting away from it all activity" as opposed to a chore.
I won't lie to you, some days it is impossible to cook and we order take-out. Some days when I am testing new recipes and they are disastrous, the kids make themselves a sandwich!
Q: One of the sections in your book is called “Food and Love.” What do you see as the connection between the two?
A: I strongly believe that food memories are very intimate and can heal or break hearts. If the smell of coffee reminds you of your lover, who makes a cup for you each morning, it is a healing activity... And, yet, if that lover leaves, that same smell now is betrayal!
Q: You write, “The food that I am like is broken wheat. I take on the flavor of wherever I am planted.” How have the various places you’ve lived affected both you and your cooking?
A: I grew up in Bahrain and love incorporating Middle Eastern flavors and spices into my recipes. These days, hummus seems to be omnipresent, but when I was growing up, it was not that well-known.
Of course, my Indian heritage makes me very biased towards spices. And living here in the U.S. has exposed me to so many other cultures and foods. We recently had an Indonesian meal and a Venezuelan meal at a friends home. These are tastes I was not familiar with but soon found myself falling in love with them!
Q: What are you working on now?
A: A novel - a love story with recipes.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. For a previous Q&A with Monica Bhide, please click here.