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Jasmine in Her Hair: Culture and Cuisine from Pakistan

ISBN: 0-9748371-0-5

By HumaSiddiqui

Review by: Vanessa K. Valdés


In this book, Huma Siddiqui shares not only easy-to-follow recipes of traditional meals from Pakistan, but also provides for the reader a glimpse of Pakistani culture. Perhaps equally as important for a Western audience that may be under the impression that women from this part of the world are subject to misogyny and oppression, Siddiqui continually exalts the role women play in this culture. She therefore implicitly and effectively makes her point that women are a vital part of this way of life, especially as keepers of traditions and customs.

She divides the text into six sections, each begun with stories and followed by recipes. In the first, Home Sweet Home, she gives a very brief introduction to the history of Pakistan and the languages spoken in the country, as well as the importance that food plays within the idea of home in this culture. Women are instrumental in creating a vibrant and warm atmosphere for family and friends alike in their homes, and it is the care with which they go about creating this mood that Siddiqui attempts to recreate with her book.

She fills the second section, Day to Day Life, with anecdotes of her childhood and how strong women surrounded her in her youth. She clearly illustrates the bond between women in her discussion of Scarf Sisters, in which close friends exchange scarves as a symbol of their affinity for each other. In the third part, Meatless Days, she tells of her life during the wars Pakistan fought with India in 1965 and again in 1971. During that time, meat was strictly rationed, and so there were two days of every week in which it was not served.

Siddiqui recalls happier times in Celebrations, the fourth part, in which she details religious holidays and the foods served to complement those festivities. She also includes the fine points of a traditional Pakistani wedding, a ten-day event in which the families and friends of the bride and groom are brought together to celebrate the joining of the two families.

Perhaps the most poignant moment in the text is the fifth section, Jasmine in Her Hair, in which the author pays tribute to her mother, a woman who battled the loss of her eyesight beginning in her early thirties and who died at the young age of 52. The author recalls how in her youth, she would gather jasmine from the bushes growing on her property and make garlands to place around her mothers head.

With the final section, New Beginnings, Huma Siddiqui shares the story of her adult life, in a few words recounting how she has lived on four continents, moving from Asia to Africa to Europe to the United States, where she currently makes her life. She also reveals her will to establish roots in this country for herself and her children, all the while reveling in the traditions of her culture.

It is clear that this text is an expression of love on the part of the author, not only for her culture but also for her family. There is little separation between the two, in fact; at the core of the traditions of this country lies the celebration of family. A clear illustration of this is the fact that Siddiquis children write the foreword and the afterword, as well as serve as editors for the book. This is a beautiful book, one filled with vivid photographs illustrating not only the food but also some of the customs about which the author writes. One learns therefore not only about making lamb korma, chicken curry and mango lassis, but also about the role spices play in this life. The book, as well as the author's website (www.whitejasmine.com) gives the readers an indication of the richness of Pakistani culture, as well as allows the North American audience the opportunity to take part in it.

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