Singh: Chef (2008)

I wanted to like Jaspreet Singh’s Chef, but failed. I know a little bit of Kashmir and wanted to know more. I was disappointed, because in the name of style the content was disguised so well that it disappeared. That’s sad, because the author clearly did his research and familiar with the region’s geography, history and social setup. I wish he could have transferred some of that to his readers. It might have been my fault, as there were lots of details, that maybe possible to put together for a deeper understanding, but I had no mental energies to invest the work needed to do so. I wanted to be educated while entertained, instead of making me work. Educators know this problem as today’s students often feel the same way and the teachers/professors have to provide entertainment if they want the kids to learn. But I was just reading a novel; I didn’t want to work too hard for getting the most out of it. That’s karma for you: you get what you give.

Enough ramblings, back to the novel. So my picture of Kashmir didn’t get as rich as I hoped for. The same applies to food, which is a central ingredient of this book. My familiarity with Indian food only comes through my visit to Indian restaurants. I know a few of the terms and tastes. This book contains many more terms, technologies and concepts of Indian food preparation, but lacks the descriptions that could help the uninitiated to appreciate the nuances. I understand that describing the taste and fragrance of food is difficult: how can a reader who never tasted curry feel it based on only reading about it? But Singh didn’t even try to help us. He was too entangled in weaving the web of the memories of his characters.

Unfortunately I was similarly dissatisfied what the book had to say about religion. In college I took a course in Sikhism, another one in Islam; not to mention that I participated in lots of multifaith circles with Muslim friends. Thus I am somewhat familiar with the basics of these traditions. Just reading this book I would be so confused about them right now. It is far from clear; the references to various religious customs and tenets are there but disjointed from each other, not creating a coherent view.

Reflecting on my own reactions I realize that the problem might be that I am not in the target audience. I am sure the book makes more sense and is more enjoyable for people in India or for those who do not seek to learn about the region from this tome. If you only read it for the drama, you may enjoy it.

You can read the summary of the book’s plot many places online, so I will not repeat that. If you can’t find one, let me recommend Manjyout Kaur’s review at

The book @

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