Priya Basil (Strangers on the 16:02) turns from fiction to personal essays in Be My Guest: Reflections on Food, Community, and the Meaning of Generosity, a slender, thoughtful gem of a collection. Basil's background--of Indian heritage, growing up in Kenya and London, and currently residing in Berlin--makes for a noteworthy amalgamation of cultures and meals.
Food has always played a central role in Basil's life, no matter where she has lived. As she says, "The way we cook for and eat with others is one of the more tangible, quotidian ways of measuring generosity." Her grandmother, and mother, both talented home cooks, have spent decades satisfying their families' appetites with delicacies like kadhi (a creamy curry) and gulab jamuns (deep-fried milk solids). Basil also grew up enjoying free meals at the gurdwara (Sikh temple), which shaped her perception of generosity and ensured that food remains central to her conception of community.
As someone who has lived across nations and cultures, Basil feels strongly about how food can create connections among groups of people. "Recipes are the original open source," and everyone benefits as they are shared and regional favorites shift (such as Chicken Tikka Masala now being a British favorite). As Basil sees it, "A democracy, in essence, should house difference, shelter diversity, [and] welcome novelty." It is everyone's responsibility to welcome newcomers to both their figurative and literal tables, sharing food and community with as many people as possible. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.