“Provence to Pondicherry: Recipes from France and Faraway.” By Tessa Kiros. Quadrille. $35.

One of the best things about travel is discovering an unfamiliar culture through its food. Even better is being able to track the lineage of a dish and how it was influenced by ingredients, flavors and techniques through a global exchange that existed long before modern globalization.

Provence to Pondicherry, by Tessa Kiros, focuses on some of those global connections, specifically by examining the export of French cuisine to its colonial empire, and the French reception of spices and flavors from overseas.

Kiros is herself a product of global influences. She was born in London to a Finnish mother and Greek-Cypriot father and grew up in South Africa; at 18, she left home to work in restaurants in London, Sydney and Athens. Travel and culture are common thread through her 10 cookbooks, and her newest is no different. In “Provence to Pondicherry,” Kiros hops around the globe, following French culinary and cultural influence on its former colonies and overseas possessions and collecting local recipes.

This gorgeous volume begins in Provence, a region in the south of France, before drifting to the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, to Vietnam and the Indian city of Pondicherry, then to Reunion, a volcanic island in the Indian Ocean east of Madagascar, and finally back to Normandy, on France’s northern coast. The Atlantic and Mediterranean “provided continental France with access to travel the world,” Kiros says in her introduction. “I had listened to stories about fascinating faraway places, where French governors had been deposited and where fragrant fruits and wonderful people mingled with the scents of cinnamon and ginger.”

Needless to say, Kiros shies away from the dark side of colonial rule, the injustice of conquering vast parts of the globe, the extraction of natural resources or the repression and violence used against independence movements to maintain French control.

Perhaps a cookbook isn’t the place to explore the totality of France’s colonial history, and Kiros keeps her focus on the food, with mouthwatering results. With so many of the countries in the book tied to the ocean, seafood features prominently. Every country has some preparation of moules, or mussels. In Provence, served with a dab of pistou, a garlic-basic puree; or with cider in Normandy; breadfruit fries in Guadeloupe; masala sauce in India; and lemongrass, chili, lime and coconut in Vietnam. France’s culinary influence is immediately apparent in other areas, like a Creole ratatouille, with pumpkin and squash; banh mi, Vietnamese sandwiches on a baguette; or pan-roasted duck with vanilla from Reunion. Desserts also have a distinct French flair, but Kiros includes many local recipes without an immediate and obvious relationship to the former colonial power.

I really enjoyed Kiros’ approach, and it was a pleasure to leaf through a wonderfully designed and presented book popping with style and color. Despite its wealth of recipes, I found the omission of some former French possessions curious. There is no reference to Africa, although France controlled a sprawling sub-Saharan empire and ruled North African states. A common treat in Senegal, for example, is a fried spring roll called a nem, brought to the country by Senegalese soldiers sent overseas to fight Vietnamese rebels. France’s relationship to Algeria and Lebanon is also unexplored, and what of Quebec or Saint Pierre and Miquelon, the tiny French islands off the coast of Newfoundland? Tackling France’s full imprint on the world might take another book – or even two.

Griping aside, I was pleased with the sausages from Reunion I selected to cook. That’s not least because I’d never eaten food from the island and, truth be told, had to look it up on a map. The preparation was very simple, just boiling, then browning ordinary store-bought sausages, then cooking tomato rougail, a word referring to multiple kinds of sauce and relish. The result was comforting and delicious, a bit like ratatouille but with hints of ginger and spice. If I made it again, I would boost the dish’s heat by adding more chillies and ginger.

Catherine’s Rougail Saucisses is reminiscent of ratatouille, but spicier.


From “Provence to Pondicherry: Recipes from France and Faraway” by Tessa Kiros.

Serves 4

8 large pork sausages

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 red onions, coarsely chopped

11/2-inch piece of peeled ginger root

2 or more small, hot green chillies, roughly chopped

11/4 pounds ripe tomatoes, chopped into chunks

5 or 6 thyme sprigs

3 small sweet green peppers, deseeded and cut into chunks

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

A handful of onion, garlic, or chive flowers, to serve

Prick each sausage in a few places. Bring a pan of water to a boil, add the sausages and simmer for about 10 minutes. Drain. Heat the oil in a large non-stick frying pan that has a lid. Fry the sausages until golden on all sides, adding the onions halfway through, to one side of the pan. Remove the sausages to a plate (if there is no space in the pan, add the onions once the sausages have been removed.)

With a mortar and pestle, pound the ginger and chillies to a pulp with a little coarse salt. When the onions are golden, add the pounded ginger mix to the pan and stir through. Add the tomatoes with a little salt and pepper (your sausages may already be well-seasoned, so not too much). Add the thyme, cover and simmer for 12-15 minutes, until the tomatoes have broken down into a chunky sauce.

Return the browned sausages to the pan and add the green peppers, stirring through. Cover and simmer for another 5 minutes or so, adding just a little water to the pan if it seems dry. Remove from the heat and leave, covered, for about 10 minutes before serving, scattered with the flowers.

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