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The Piglet2016 / Final Round, 2016

Made in India vs. The Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook

Made in India

Meera Sodha

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The Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook

Jessamyn Waldman Rodriguez and Julia Turshen

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Judged by: Andrew Zimmern

A three-time James Beard Award-winning TV personality, chef, writer, and teacher, Andrew Zimmern is regarded as one of the most versatile and knowledgeable personalities in the food world. He’s the creator, executive producer, and host of the Bizarre Foods franchise on Travel Channel, and has explored cultures in more than 150 countries. In his rare downtime, he relaxes at home in Minneapolis with his wife, son, and two uneaten pets.

The Judgment

And then there were two. These two cookbooks couldn’t be more different if we tried to make this bracketology cookbook adventure into a movie thriller.

First up, Made in India, is a charmer—a patchwork of easy-to-make, thoughtful, intelligent recipes filled with personality; I wanted to cook out of it the moment I got it in my anxious hands. 

Its author, Meera Sodha, has a fascinating family story: An Indian family journeys to Africa to find a better life—Kenya first, then later, Uganda. Their togetherness, and their lives, revolve around food: Family servants cooked up perfect expressions of the food they’d left behind—a precious and privileged set-up, perhaps, but something out of a Somerset Maugham story. Later, in 1972, Idi Amin tells all the foreigners to leave the country, giving them just a few months before systematic executions begin; so Sodha’s family leaves for England with nothing but one suitcase and £50. Leaving most of their money and possessions behind meant that Sodha’s mom had to start cooking—so when Meera was born, food had become an even more precious element of family culture. It’s those recipes that are here, in Made in India, along with many others she developed and collected. You can see why she’s a firm believer that the best Indian food is eaten at home, not in restaurants. 

And the recipes are extraordinary. Curries, chutneys, chaat, and more—plus soups and desserts—are all here, structured clearly and in an ideal progression for the home cook. I cooked the Fish in a Cilantro, Coconut, and Mint Parcel the first night, and found that Sodha’s simple approach belied the complex and explosive nature of her food's flavors. Her dishes aren’t fussy—but they taste like they are. They’re perfect as they are, unadorned, much like her writing. Reading this book, I came away feeling like she and I need to hang the next time I’m in London.  

Before Made in India, I thought it an impossibility for a first-time cookbook author to write in such a personal, attractive voice while simultaneously presenting a banquet of delicious recipes that work. It’s a superb book, divided into sensible chapters based around the way a family really eats and cooks, and I can see why it’s so popular with everyone who has the chance to spend some time with it. (Piglet exhibits A, B, and C.) When you get your hands on this book—which you should—don’t miss making her Lamb Raan alongside the Lamb Biryani—amazing food. And my kid loves the Mango, Lime, and Passion-Fruit Jello recipe. Bravo, Sodha. 

On the other side of the court stands the book I disliked the moment I saw it. As in: Ugh, not another bread book from an amazing bakery filled with foods I have to wait forever to eat because, well, it’s bread and baking and I suck at it, so I’ll have to wait to visit and get the real thing. And all those books are daunting and intimidating anyway—everyone buys them only to not end up cooking out of them... except for the one guy who starts making bread every weekend and his family loves him for it and it becomes his yoga and I fucking hate that guy because: I’m not him.

This bread book is different. 

It has a way of motivating every bread and baking novice, myself included—every aspirant, every wanna-be gluten king—to start tossing the flour right away. I have never related to a bread and baking book the way I connected with this one. It has a baguette recipe, yes, but also everything you need to make a bánh mì. Masa recipes for tamales and tacos? Yep, plus some amazing salsa and bean recipes to go with them. There are bialys, multigrain loaves, and technical dissertations on shaping risen doughs—they all exist side-by-side in a magical baking ecosystem. And my favorite section, on filled breads like nut rolls, pastellitos, kreplach, knishes, and even Albanian cheese triangles, rocked my world. It’s a collection that strikes a rare balance between inspiring a novice baker to get started, while still impressing those who are more experienced.  

The Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook has an amazing story, too: Hot Bread Kitchen is the bakery that employs immigrant and low-income minority women and teaches, coaches, and mentors them to succeed in the food world, either in management-track roles or by starting their own ventures. In exchange, these women (the vast majority of whom come from countries where girls grow up learning to cook) give their cultural expertise on baking. They pass on the tips that have been passed down to them over many generations. It’s thousands of years of cultural experience distilled into an amazing collection of bread recipes. Or no, meals. Or one better, even beyond that: This book is a collection of kitchen wisdom shot through a social justice prism.

Now all of that would be moot if the food sucked. It doesn’t. The baking is perfectly documented and endlessly approachable—even my nan-e barberi turned out beautifully. And I’ve always wanted to make it. My bialys were the hit of the party when I served them, and the kreplach I turned out made my grandmother proud. 

To put it simply: These two books blew my mind. They’re both beautifully designed, and the recipes are flawless, both representative of the intersection of food and culture in two very distinct and important ways. One is a personal journey. The other, a global exercise in collective wisdom. 

For the record, I wish I could pick two winners. But, for me, The Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook wins by a nose. In a world that always separates us by our differences—our skin color, our sexuality, our spiritual belief system, and our culture—this book celebrates them, puts them on a plate, together, and allows us to eat our way to a better future. Or at the very least, a better kitchen.  

And the winner is…

The Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook

The Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook

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Do you Agree? (36 comments)

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8 months ago Lisa Walker

Thank you, for this wonderful review. A perfect ending.

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8 months ago d wright downs

I learned to break bread and bake bread when I was very young---about 10 or younger. It was part of the family admire well made bread. Even my brothers made bread. So, bread books have a special meaning to me. This is one that is full of delightful entries.

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9 months ago Transcendancing

This was the most delightful review to read and one of my favourite write ups! Bravo Andrew Zimmern!

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9 months ago Ewan

Thats good because I ordered this last week on the basis of a previous review. Luckily my bookshop in Australia had the Food Lab on the shelf, so I'll be working from that while awaiting the bread book.

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9 months ago Miachel Breton

Yes, yes, yes!

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9 months ago Juliebell

Wonderful review and a great closing paragraph. Both books are on my wish list.

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9 months ago plevee

I'd like to see a do-over with The food Lab vs Hot Food Kitchen.

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9 months ago Tashipluto

Like so many others, these were the two books I was thinking of buying as I read through the contest. Can't wait to get them and start cooking. Thanks, Piglet!

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9 months ago Radish

Thanks for Andrew's review. Thanks for the contest. Can not wait for it next year. I particularly liked the reviewers who loved cookbooks and stuck with their cookbooks. As I write I am letting my sandwich bread from Hot Breads rise. This woman gives just the right information for me in this book. Too much in bread baking information, can make you crazy leaving you with more questions. Just stick with Jessamyn. Yes, I am going to try tortillas.

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9 months ago witloof

Wait, the Piglet is over? Nooooooo!

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9 months ago Loves Food Loves to Eat

Andrew Zimmern slays. Such a good review!

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9 months ago Isabelle Johnson

This tournament is so inspiring, broadening, and fun. Special request to Kenzi: I hope Burnt Toast will have some post-Piglet judge interviews?

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9 months ago Lynn Ristau

I ended up buying both these cookbooks due to the previous reviews, can't wait to make things from them! This was a great review and both books are winners.

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9 months ago Bridget

I think it's amazing that in the age of "protein is king" a book full of recipes using carbs won the Piglet!! See, carbs are not the death knell of humans. Carbs are beautiful!! Carbs have been feeding us for thousands of years. (But make sure to serve them with vegetables. What can I say, I'm a mom, I feel the need to make sure people eat vegetables!)

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9 months ago Krista L.

I'll be buying both of these books simply because of this here tourney. Thanks, Food52 + all the judges and community judges!

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9 months ago Wendy S

What a lovely review, and a gentle reminder from Mr. Zimmern that we are all one when we sit down to eat.

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9 months ago Cary

Well, dang! I had a hold of my resolve not to buy more cookbooks until this! I just ordered them both (and Bird in the Hand for good measure) (what!)...
wonderful reading, thank you!

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9 months ago Alexandra Holbrook

Congratulations to both books! Have both, LOVE both! And thank you to Food52 and all the judges (and Community judges) for another wonderful Piglet season!
Favorite Judge/Review: MICHAEL TWITTY! Come back again and again!
Least Favorite Moment: Email this morning at 10:30 AM from "Hot Bread Kitchen" announcing it won the Piglet. What? No spoiler alert in email?!
It was like paying $5K for Super Bowl tickets only to have someone tell me the winner in advance. :(
Already can't wait for next year's Piglet!

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9 months ago cookbookchick

These are the two books I actually purchased along the 2016 Piglet path. As Mr. Z. Says, they are both winners. Another fine, fun and literate run for the little pink piggy!

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9 months ago Fresh Tomatoes

Holy wow that was a great review! So well put, a celebration of differences. I love and cherish that in my friends. Well...... I guess I'm going to have to buy Hot Bread Kitchen. :) I already love Made In India. Oh Piglet people, how you make my cookbook library grow. xo