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Review By Pallavi Bhattacharya

‘There is no sincerer love than the love of food’: ‘We live to eat’
Rating: *****

Sangria - a recipe for love
By Manuela Requena
Published by Undercover Utopia
162 pages (in beautiful art paper with lots of color pics)
Rs. 375
Publisher: Undercover Utopia

When you hear of someone being visually challenged or hearing impaired, you may instantly feel empathy for the person for not being able to enjoy the beautiful sights and sounds of the world. However if you are told that a person isn’t able to taste or smell, you may be deluded to think that it’s not that serious a medical condition. The truth is that every human being needs to use all five sense organs optimally to savour god’s gifted life.

After losing her ability to taste and smell at age eighteen, Rose, (the protagonist of Manuela Requena’s novella Sangria) has lost her zeal for life which has made her withdraw into a shell. At 33, Rose lives alone in her house in Queensland Australia, with her blue Russian feline companion Poppy. Sipping red wine and nibbling dark chocolate all alone in her private Jacuzzi gives her little joy. Chocolate and red wine can’t tantalize her taste buds at all. She’s been using the same perfume for 15 years as she can’t try out any new perfume as she’s clueless about the scent.

Rose has to trust her pet cat to ascertain if any dish is edible. If her cat rejects it, she knows the food is to be thrown away. She is often unaware when the food she cooks gets burnt. Her inability to smell has in turn taken away her sense of taste making cooking very difficult for her.

A glossy bright yellow flyer tucked in the local newspaper magically changes Rose’s life leading her to a mystical store in the local market selling an alluring assortment of condiments, flowers, herbs, fresh fruits and vegetables. At the stall an old man strums a Spanish guitar and wind chimes resonate, adding a sweet melodious touch to the surreal ambiance. Isabel, a gypsy woman dressed in a long flowing dress and ornate jewellery, sells Rose magical herbs to cook up delicious Spanish meals which are supposed to magically transform her life. Though Isabel’s bazaar seems to be taken right out from a fairy tale book, Sangria doesn’t really fall into the fairy tale genre. It is in fact the first cookery book written in fiction form

Besides Rose being unable to taste or smell; family, friends and love are three major aspects where her life draws a blank. If you want to know if Isabel’s recipes will help Rose to transform her empty life, buy a copy of Sangria, which will surely be worth your money.

The book cover has the photograph of an exotic pomegranate cut into half indeed resembling a red Valentine’s Day heart. The book says about the pomegranate, ‘The legends and myths on this fruit are many. I believe that this fruit is from the Goddess herself and some say it brings abundance, fertility and marriage.”

The first 95 pages of Sangria, is pure fiction. As playwright George Bernard Shaw had said, ‘There is no sincerer love than the love of food,’ you will get to know how crucial ‘the love of food’ may be to bring love and happiness into Rose’s life as you read her story.

To critically evaluate the book on a spiritual level, it connects the reader to the Goddess of Nature; and the divinity, magic and optimism residing inside oneself. It has recipes not just for your stomach. The fictional section of the book in fact concludes with a recipe for the heart and soul made with the sweetest ingredients of faith, hope, gratitude and passion.

The 96th to the 145th pages are a collection of Spanish recipes that the protagonist Rose had prepared. The author Manuela Requena, is a chef of Spanish descent living in Australia. Her book includes dishes from the Andalucia region of Spain which is the homeland of various distinct cuisines influenced by diverse cultures.

The first and foremost recipe in the book is Sangria- a red wine punch typical of Spain. All the captivatingly illustrated 25 delicious Spanish recipes mentioned in the book are very easy to make. There are both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes- appetizers, salads, main course, beverages and desserts. The base of all the dishes is olive oil. This cookery book will be an egg lover’s delight- it has recipes of stuffed eggs, eggplant coated with eggs, tortilla with eggs, orange liquor with eggs and egg based desserts. However if you are a pure vegetarian, rest assured that there are some dishes without eggs too. Once you make the fresh home-made mayonnaise described in the book, you may never again want to try the mayonnaise on the supermarket shelves.

The author gives a personal touch to each and every recipe. The fact Manuela had lost her sense of smell and taste for 18 months – makes the story and the recipes – both come alive. Though many of the recipes are very traditional Spanish recipes, the author adds her crucial innovative tips to each and every recipe. She also adds a note on the fond memories that revolve around her family over each wonderful dish that they have shared together. For instance the cooler drink Gazpacho starts with the note, ‘What does one have on a hot summer’s day when you feel like something savoury? I used to go camping in Valencia in the summer time with my grandparents when I was a young girl. I remember consuming copious amounts of Gazpacho all throughout the day with my family and as soon as I taste it, I am taken back to the Mediterranean coast of Spain, in the summer time with my family’.

If you want to pick up a cookery book with a difference or a love story with a difference, either way I would recommend Sangria any day. Eat, drink and be merry!

Media Coverage

Time Out Bangalore,July10,2009

FEMINA, June3, 2009

Hindustan Times, May31, 2009

Business Standard Delhi, May 27,2009

DNA Bangalore May 24, 2009

DNA1 April 11, 2009

DNA April 11, 2009

Hindu Metro Plus,April 30, 2009

Gurgaon Explorer,April 19, 2009

Amar Ujala, 2009

The Practice, Asian Age Edition, New Delhi, April 14, 2009

Express Buzz, April 15, 2009

Financial Express, April 10, 2009

Indian Express, April 09, 2009

MidDay, April 08, 2009

The Hindu, April 07 ,Bangalore,2009

Vijaya Karnataka, April 07 2009,Bangalore

Deccan Chronicle, April 05 2009,Banglore

The Practice, Hindu addition, Banglore, 2009

Bangalore Mirror, April 04, 2009

Deccan Herald, April 04, 2009

Hindu, April 04, 2009

Mid Day Bangalore, April 03, 2009

Deccan Chronicle, Bangalore, April 3, 2009