Biting Through the Skin: An Indian Kitchen in America’s Heartland


Biting Through the Skin: An Indian Kitchen in America’s Heartland, University of Iowa Press, September 2013;;

“It should be noted that the recipe for the keema…had me combing the country for cardamom pods.” –New York Times Book Review

“Lush and Lyrical, Nina Mukerjee Furstenau’s memoir, Btiting through the Skin: An Indian Kitchen in America’s Heartland, blends foods and hcildhood, cuisine and family into a story that resonates and lingers like the spices she lovingly describes.” –Kansas City Star

“A beautiful and sensitive memoir–with recipes!–about life in Kansas for a Bengali family.” –Minneapolis Star Tribune

Available from your favorite booksellers:;;

Biting through the Skin: An Indian Kitchen in America’s Heartland was awarded the 2014 Les Dames d’Escoffier International Grand Prize and MFK Fisher Book Award for Excellence in Culinary Writing. The culinary memoir was also chosen as a top pick for Kansas’s Notable Books of 2014.

The M.F.K. Fisher Awards for Excellence in Culinary Writing, presented annually, honor Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher, a widely read and lauded culinary writer. Two food-writing awards plus a grand prize are given to women writers whose published non-fiction works reflect creativity and insight, and illuminate the pivotal roles of food, beverages, and the arts of the table or contribute to our knowledge of those who grow, produce or prepare nourishment.

The Kansas Notable Books List is the annual recognition of 15 outstanding titles by Kansas authors or about Kansas. It is the only honor for Kansas books by Kansans, highlighting a lively contemporary writing community and encouraging readers to enjoy some of the best writing of the authors among us.

Biting Through the Skin centers on the life of an Indian family in pre-long grain rice America. In 1960s Kansas, eating was cause for inquiry. All key cultural, spiritual and family values transferred in the Mukerjee family via the rituals around Bengali food preparation. Food was, in fact, the only way these elements of identity were passed down in an area and era where there were no other avenues. Biting Through the Skin shows how we maintain our differences as well as come together, what we learn from eating about ourselves and about others. It examines the idea of belonging and the tiny details of life it rests upon.

The rituals of food preparation, table manners, and tea were the portal to heritage to a young Kansas girl desperate to know the rules of belonging. Readers see how she fares in her hometown in Kansas and in India, in holy temples and during meals where there are no utensils. BTTS is a book of loss that ultimately shows that heritage has other ways of coming to meet us.

Readers are invited into the kitchen and tasty creations are the result. Biting Through the Skinis an engrossing book that transforms flat facts of immigration into a story of what makes identity, and how foods become talismanic creations that keep our past alive.

Biting Through the Skin is a delicious book in all ways–rich, evocative, lyrical prose that exactly suits the savory and sweet story of food as a lens through which to examine identity. Furstenau’s sensibility is wise, witty, and generous, and her story of finding one’s self and family through tastes is inspiring. Biting through the Skin tells a powerful archetypical story of American identity, of being a stranger in a strange land (even in one’s home), and navigating a dual self that in Furstenau’s rendering is both comfortingly familiar, yet startlingly fresh, and wonderfully captivating.”

~Maureen Stanton, author of Killer Stuff and Tons of Money

“Nina Furstenau has written a memoir of longing and belonging, and her search for identity as an Indian American in the rural Midwest is both eminently universal and achingly particular. Biting Through the Skin is tender, funny, wise , and beautiful–a celebration of the language of food and an exploration of the ties that bind.”

~Todd Kliman, author, The Wild Vine: A Forgotten Grape and the Untold Story of American Wine

“Readers who love food, who love reading about cultural identity, will also love this book with its rich evocative details and funny, poignant childhood anecdotes. As the narrator says, “Food holds memory.” …In Biting Through the Skin, these memories also get at underlying issues of economic class…In her home, food was a sumptuous feast, whereas the rest of America referred to those “poor starving children in India” to coax children to eat their peas and drink their milk.

Readers of Jhumpa Lahiri’s beautifully written stories about Desai life and the complicated dance between generations, will warm to the sharp-eyed details and engaging narrative voice in this unusual book—part cultural memoir, part cookbook, part coming of age… Anyone who picks up this charming and very smart book will have trouble putting it down. This is a literary memoir—replete with lyrical language and a fresh voice—first, and a cookbook second.

~Marly Swick, author of Monogamy, The Summer Before the Summer of Love, Paper Wings and Evening News


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