An exploration of how and why food matters in the culture and literature of the South Asian diaspora

Culinary Fictions

Food in South Asian Diasporic Culture

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Anita Mannur

A title in the American Literatures Initiative.

"Mannur skillfully deploys nuanced readings of culinary cultural strategies embedded in and performed by a wide range of South Asian diasporic texts. While numerous fields including queer, feminist, critical race, and diasporic studies will be enriched by this astute book, with her attention to the cultural politics of consumption, production, and difference, Mannur’s greatest impact will be on Asian American Studies and its commitment to re-imaginings of race, gender, and citizenship."
—Jigna Desai, University of Minnesota, and author of Beyond Bollywood

For South Asians, food regularly plays a role in how issues of race, class, gender, ethnicity, and national identity are imagined as well as how notions of belonging are affirmed or resisted. Culinary Fictions provides food for thought as it considers the metaphors literature, film, and TV shows use to describe Indians abroad. When an immigrant mother in Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake combines Rice Krispies, Planters peanuts, onions, salt, lemon juice, and green chili peppers to create a dish similar to one found on Calcutta sidewalks, it evokes not only the character’s Americanization, but also her nostalgia for India.

Food, Anita Mannur writes, is a central part of the cultural imagination of diasporic populations, and Culinary Fictions maps how it figures in various expressive forms. Mannur examines the cultural production from the Anglo-American reaches of the South Asian diaspora. Using texts from novels—Chitra Divakaruni’s Mistress of Spices and Shani Mootoo’s Cereus Blooms at Night—and cookbooks such as Madhur Jaffrey’s Invitation to Indian Cooking and Padma Lakshmi’s Easy Exotic, she illustrates how national identities are consolidated in culinary terms.



Read the Introduction (pdf).



"Culinary Fictions is a thoroughly satisfying read. Mannur's methodologically innovative study of literary articulations of food is on one level a welcome corrective to the critical silence surrounding food in literary studies. At the same time, it goes far beyond merely addressing a gap in scholarship. It elegantly shows how food operates metaphorically, economically, and politically, to define, enable, express, confine and, yes, nourish, the diasporic imagination. In so doing, Mannur leads us to recognizing the impoverished state of a critical literary discourse that neglects attending to so central an aspect of life, literature, and politics."
Kandice Chuh, University of Maryland, and author of Imagine Otherwise: on Asian Americanist Critique

"Mannur weaves her nuanced readings together to create a layered understanding of the idiom and material of food in diasporic contexts. Culinary Fictions is shot through with the ambivalence that began it, but what emerges by the end is a palpable sense of what is gained by addressing foodways—the classed and gendered paradoxes and limitations of multiculturalism."
American Literature

"[Mannur] offer[s] provocative readings of South Asian culinary fictions in diasporic contexts. Her resonant and timely work raises issues about the strategic uses of food as a means to understand how culinary practices function in literary contexts and popular visual media. The breadth of her goals transgresses continents, genres, and generations, underscoring the heterogeneity of South Asian diasporas as well as the expansive epistemology of this food discourse, all of which Mannur manages with adroit precision.....Culinary Fictions attains depth and expansiveness in the investigation of her subject matters."


  Also available in e-book



Introduction: Food Matters

PART I: Nostalgia, Domesticity, and Gender
1. Culinary Nostalgia: Authenticity, Nationalism, and Diaspora
2. Feeding Desire: Food, Domesticity, and Challenges to Heteropatriarchy

PART II: Palatable Multiculturalisms and Class Critique
3. Sugar and Spice: Sweetening the Taste of Alterity
4. Red Hot Chili Peppers: Visualizing Class Critique and Female Labor

PART 3: Theorizing Fusion in America/b>
5. Eating America: Culture, Race, and Food in the Social Imaginary of the Second Generation
6. Easy Exoticism: Culinary Performances of Indianness

Conclusion: Room for More: Multiculturalism’s Culinary Legacies


About the Author(s)

Anita Mannur is Assistant Professor of English and Asian/Asian American Studies at Miami University of Ohio.

Subject Categories

Asian American Studies
Asian Studies
Literature and Drama



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