Journal article Open Access

Food, Memory and Everyday Transnationalism in Chitrita Banerji's Culinary Memoirs

Sarkar, Sucharita

Steven Vertovec suggests that the “dimensions of everyday transnationalism” are located in a range of
social practices and institutions that links immigrants to their homeland (61). Homeland food is a marker
of transnational identity as well as a vehicle for transcultural memory: the preparing and consuming and
circulating of such food are significant social practices through which multiple dimensions of everyday
nationalism emerge. The increase of transnational and transcultural flows has also witnessed a
complementary increase in online and offline mobilisations of homeland recipes—and the stories
embedded in and around them—through food-blogs and culinary memoirs-cum-cookbooks. This paper
proposes to explore the manifestations and mobilizations of transnational memories, identities and
everyday practices through food in the culinary memoirs of the Bengali-American writer Chitrita Banerji,
focusing on three of her works: The Hour of the Goddess (2001); Bengali Cooking: Seasons and Festivals
(2007); and Eating India: Exploring a Nation’s Cuisine (2007). Consciously writing for a transcontinental,
multicultural readership, Banerji engages with Indian—and especially Bengali—food in a deeply personal
way. Yet, as she writes in her website, food is her “primary medium” for narrating stories of her
homeland, “a story of arrivals, encounters and assimilations — a process during which natives and
outsiders shaped each other’s lives in and out of the home” (http://www.chitritabanerji.com/food/). This
complex and enmeshed memorialization of the personal and the cultural in her culinary memoirs allows
Banerji to reclaim personal and cultural homeland stories and histories and also, through the sharing of
recipes, to expand and provide a toolkit for socializing similarly-situated immigrants. Reading food through
the lens of everyday transnationalism, this paper hopes to investigate how Chitrita Banerji’s writings
negotiate the shifting and layered meanings of the personal, the local and the global.

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