First published on 16 Jan 2011. Updated on 7 Apr 2011.
Gifted with both culinary skills and ambition, the Haji family ascend the Mumbai food chain like wildfire – from tiffin-carrier, to roadside shack, to restaurant to nightclub. In the room above his grandfather’s restaurant, Hassan Haji’s life begins, the spicy aroma of fish curry wafting up through the floorboards to his cot. His destiny has already been dished up.
A growing tide of anti-Muslim violence breaks the spell, delivering tragedy to the family and driving them from their home. And so the journey begins. Starting from the mini-Mumbai streets of London’s Southall, the Hajis embark on an exhausting gastronomic tour of Europe.
Papa’s appetite is finally sated in the breathtaking French town of Lumière and he decides it is time to settle. Bring on the sleepy town’s first Indian restaurant, Maison Mumbai, which shakes up the town. With just one hundred feet between it and local offering Le Saule Pleurer, the new addition ruffles rival chef Gertrude Mallory’s feathers, changing Hassan’s life forever.
The smells, sights and streets of Mumbai jostle from the pages with spectacular colour and energy. As the Hajis make for Europe, that magic is not left behind. Morais weaves a wonderfully atmospheric Lumière of markets, mayors and mischief. Food is ever-present, with evocative descriptions of delicious dishes from homely comforts to intricate haute cuisine.
But most important of all are the two characters, Papa and Mallory. Each as delightfully eccentric as the other, Papa’s spit and spirit spurt from the page, while Mallory’s highly strung neuroses inspire cringes and cackles in equal doses. Their butting of heads drives the story forwards and infuses it with a charm that one could easily see translated to the screen.
Surprisingly, it is in picturesque Paris that the story loses its oomph. Hassan finally fulfils his destiny as a top chef in hot pursuit of Michelin stars but loses his way in a maze of meticulously made soups and sauces. Without the larger than life characters of Papa and Mallory, the colour drains a little and the story drifts dejectedly to its conclusion.
But the overall result? A story to be devoured. Bon appétit!