In Her Kitchen by Gabriele Galimberti

kitchenIs there anything better than food cooked by your grandma? Not likely, but the dishes you’ll find in this lovely book are not your typical Sunday gravy.

Galimberti shares a story early in the narrative about how his grandmother, who lived her entire life in the same small Italian village, was worried about what he would eat during a two-year assignment traveling the world. He realized then that he had an opportunity to explore the concepts of food and family by seeking out people just like his grandmother and looking for common ground. His journey begins with his grandmother, Marisa Batini of Castiglion Fiorentino Italy, and concludes with his mother, Paola Agnelli, a new grandmother herself. In between are the stories and recipes of women, of grandmothers, the world over.

We meet grandmothers from Brazil, Armenia, Canada, Alaska, Morocco, Albania, Mexico, Colombia, Thailand, Malta, Norway, Bolivia, India, Zambia, Fiji Islands, Japan, Sweden, Haiti, and many others. We meet grandmothers who cook over open fires and high-tech ranges, who have all the amenities of the modern world or no running water or electricity, who buy their food in a supermarket or hunt and kill it in the wild. The common thread that ties all these women together is the reason they cook, and it is always family. Grandmothers who cook for their children and grandchildren, whose task is to nourish the family and make them strong. We learn about favorite recipes that have been handed down in the families for generations, treasured plates and bowls that belonged to long dead grandmothers, food and ritual that has great meaning.

Galimberti’s format here gives great honor to the grandmothers. Lovely, full-page color photos of each grandmother in her kitchen or cooking space, followed by photos of the food and then the recipes makes this an easy, pleasant book to read. What lifts this above an ordinary book are Galimberti’s short essays about each grandmother, her country, her recipes, and her family. We learn about his experiences cooking with these women and how the project changed him and many ways. What comes through so clearly is the love in the households of these women. I have many favorites throughout the book, but one that spoke out loud to me is Natalie Bakradze of Tbilisi, Georgia, whose special recipe is Khinkali (traditional pork & beef dumplings). Her photo shows an ordinary woman wearing a mischievous, somewhat self-conscious smile, as though she is thinking “why is this boy taking my picture?” Galimberti’s essay about her says “Everybody in the family wears sweaters and scarves that she knitted for them, and everybody – including her daughter-in-law – brags that she is the best cook in town.”

The admiration, respect, and love shown these women is truly touching and heartwarming. They all welcomed Galimberti into their homes and kitchens, cooked with him, and shared their food – all extremely personal actions. He, in turn, has captured the universal essence of family and food in a readable, very accessible book.

Highly recommended.