At once a traveler’s tale, a memoir, and a mouthwatering cookbook, Biting through the Skin offers a first-generation immigrant’s perspective on growing up in America’s heartland. Author Nina Mukerjee Furstenau’s parents brought her from Bengal in northern India to the small town of Pittsburg, Kansas, in 1964, decades before you could find long-grain rice or plain yogurt in American grocery stores. Embracing American culture, the Mukerjee family ate hamburgers and softserve ice cream, took a visiting guru out on the lake in their motorboat, and joined the Shriners. Her parents transferred the cultural, spiritual, and family values they had brought with them to their children only behind the closed doors of their home, through the rituals of cooking, serving, and eating Bengali food and making a proper cup of tea.

As a girl and a young woman, Nina traveled to her ancestral India as well as to college and to Peace Corps service in Tunisia. Through her journeys and her marriage to an American man whose grandparents hailed from Germany and Sweden, she learned that her family was not alone in being a small pocket of culture sheltered from the larger world. Biting through the Skin shows how we maintain our differences as well as how we come together through what and how we cook and eat. In mourning the partial loss of her heritage, the author finds that, ultimately, heritage always finds other ways of coming to meet us. In effect, it can be reduced to a 4 x 6-inch recipe card, something that can fit into a shirt pocket. It’s on just such tiny details of life that belonging rests.

In this book, the author shares her shirt-pocket recipes and a great deal more, inviting readers to join her on her journey toward herself and toward a vital sense of food as culture and the mortar of community.

"It should be noted that the recipe for the keema... had me combing the county for cardamom pods."—New York Times Book Review
Biting through the Skin is a delicious book in all ways—rich, evocative, lyrical prose that exactly suits the savory and sweet story of examining identity through the lens of food. 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 of navigating a dual self that in Furstenau’s rendering is both comfortingly familiar, yet startlingly fresh. Biting through the Skin is wonderfully captivating.”—Maureen Stanton, author, Killer Stuff and Tons of Money
“In this story of assimilation, Nina Mukerjee Furstenau embraces the culinary thread that weaves one culture into another, transcending both geography and time. Her recipes are a testimonial to the fact that your heritage never deserts you. Be sure your household is stocked with curry ingredients before embarking on this journey; a serious craving awaits you.”—Patricia Erd, spice merchant and owner, The Spice House, est. 1957
"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
"Lush and lyrical, Nina Mukerjee Furstenau’s memoir, Biting Through the Skin: An Indian Kitchen in America’s Heartland, blends food and childhood, 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."—Star Tribune

2014 M.F.K. Fisher Grand Prize for Excellence in Culinary Writing

First Pick Kansas Notable Book of 2014

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Publication Details

Publication Date
188 pages
Trim size
6 x 9 inches
6 illustrations