The Hundred-Foot Journey and travels in saucy Mexico

Graduating from university, Lucy Neville faces a dilemma: find a job or disappear to Latin America, the exotic land of her childhood dreams? She arrives in Mexico City with little money and only basic Spanish. Her to-do list is simple enough: get a job, find a place to live, then master the language. Lucy promptly finds work as an English teacher and scores a room in a sunny apartment. Her new flatmate, the well-connected Octavio, is unnervingly attractive.

So begins a comic tsunami of challenges as Lucy negotiates Mexico City’s stratified worlds, meeting everyone from street-hawkers to crazy gringos, academics and socialites. She marvels at how cheerfully they cope in a town held together by corruption, where kidnapping is a constant threat and decapitations by narcotics gangs are a staple of the daily news.

As Lucy struggles with her Spanish verbs, the two men she accidentally falls in love with discover each other’s existence. In the midst of the turmoil that follows, her extrovert family arrive for a visit. Oh Mexico! is a classic travel memoir lit up by great warmth, wit and wisdom. With a curious mind and a knowing eye, Lucy’s account of life in the riotous third-world metropolis that is Mexico City is utterly irresistible.

Lucy is also a fine writer and I can’t recommend this book highly enough. Even if the alarming crime rate in parts of Mexico makes you nervous about going there, this entertaining armchair read will pique your interest.

Oh Mexico! Love and adventure on Mexico City by Lucy Neville, published by Arena, an imprint of Allen&Unwin, $A24.99

 

 

It’s been called food porn at its finest. The Hundred-Foot Journey is a charming, funny and compulsively readable novel, a delicious tale of restaurant rivalry, the desperate quest for Michelin Stars and the hundred-foot distance between a new Indian kitchen and a traditional French restaurant in Paris.

Abbas Haji is the proud owner of a modest family restaurant in Mumbai. But when tragedy strikes, Abbas propels his boisterous family into a picaresque journey across Europe, finally settling in the remote French village of Lumiere, where he establishes an Indian restaurant, Maison Mumbai.

Much to the horror of their neighbour, a famous chef named Madame Mallory, the Indian establishment opposite her own begins to garner a following. Little does she know that the young Hassan, son of Abbas, has discovered French cuisine and has vowed to become a great French chef. Hassan is a natural whose talents far outweigh Mme. Mallory, but the tough old Frenchwoman will not brook defeat.

An entertaining culinary war follows, pitting Hassan’s Mumbai-toughened father against the imperious Madame Mallory, leading the young Hassan to greatness and his true destiny.

This vivid novel – about how just a small distance of a hundred feet can represent the gulf between different cultures, different people, their tastes and their destinies – is simply bursting with eccentric characters, delicious flavours and high emotion.

Anthony Bourdain says: “Outstanding! I wished it went on for another three hundred pages.”

Richard C. Morais has been a senior editor at Forbes for over 20 years and was once the magazine’s European bureau chief. He grew up in Europe, was an actor before becoming a journalist, and is well connected in the media and film communities. A longtime friend of the late Ismail Merchant, the venerable producer behind Merchant and Ivory Productions, he and Ismail Merchant used to enjoy lavish meals together and had always dreamed of collaborating on a project that would join their shared love of food with Richard’s desire to write and Ismail’s film experience. The Hundred-Foot Journey is the result of Richard’s promise to write a book about food which Ismail could make into a film.

The Hundred-Foot Journey, by Richard C. Morais, published by Allen&Unwin, $A27.99

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