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An empire called Tarla Dalal

interview Cookbook writer Tarla Dala on her past, present and future



She has to be the most self-effacing wonder woman ever. India’s best selling cookery author for over 2 decades. She’s sold more than 3 million copies of her books, totally. She runs the largest Indian food web site, and also has a bi-mont hly magazine called Cooking & More. And she has a cookery show that is broadcast all over South East Asia, India, the Gulf, the United Kingdom and United States of America. Yet, Tarla Dalal still seems mildly surprised by all the a ttention she garners.

Learning to cook

“I was engaged to a man in the U.S.,” she starts, pausing for thought. “This was 50 years ago.” She adds, “He used to write to me saying he wanted to eat this and that; all complicated things I had never heard of. He was at the Michigan University, studying Chemical Engineering. I was 20 years old and could cook only DBRS.” DBRS? “Dal Bhat Roti Sabzi,” she smiles. “To please her husband, a young woman will learn to cook the food he wants.”

And that was how India’s best-known author got started. She went on to take cooking classes, and eventually wrote her first book, The Pleasures of Vegetarian Cooking. Published in 1974, this was an instant success with Indian housewives and went on to become a classic in cookery books, selling a record 1,50,000 copies. At that time, however, Tarla wasn’t thinking about an empire. “After the first book I told myself… that’s more than enough. I can’t write more than one book. Never in my life did I think I would end up writing so many.” Even now, she isn’t too sure of exactly how many books she’s written. “I think it has reached a good number,” she says, quite seriously. A grand total of 100 books, to be precise, translated into various languages including Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi, Bengali, Dutch and even Russian.

While she speaks, a steady stream of people interrupt asking for autographs. One woman brings a book that’s practically yellowed with age. “It’s an old one, isn’t it?” asks Tarla, as she neatly signs on the front page. “Oh, I’ve had it for a long time. I never lend it to anyone,” says the woman. She must be hearing this a lot. “Lots and lots of people,” she laughs. And not just women. “Men who say, ‘My wife is away and I have learnt to cook because of you.’ There are also men who come and say, ‘I am a happy person. My wife goes into the kitchen now.’ But inspiring young girls to cook is my biggest satisfaction.” “Cooking is like a science now,” states Tarla. She has now moved on from merely teaching people how to cook. “Now our focus is on health. Women’s health in particular. What to cook for diabetics, pregnant women,” she says.

New recipes

Her new ‘Total Health Series’ features cookbooks with both recipes and information on everything from ‘Toddler food’ to ‘Cooking with 1 Teaspoon of Oil.’

When she got the Padma Shri this year, she found it difficult to believe.

I was surprised,” she says shaking her head incredulously, “It gave me great happiness. Nobody has been given a Padma Shri for cooking before!”

Tarla Dalal was in Chennai to attend a felicitation function for Cooking With Pedatha, which was awarded the ‘Best Vegetarian Cookbook in the World’ at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards for 2006, held in Beijing last mo nth. Created by Jigyasa Giri and Pratibha Jain, the book was also a finalist in the ‘Best Cookbook in the World’ category.


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