101 Dishes for the Emperor – Soni Zuberi Shah & Fatima Zahra Hassan

101 Dishes for the Emperor

I do love to discover books that are a little bit different and have an awe and wonder feel about them. I’m very grateful for being sent this copy to review of 101 Dishes for the Emperor.

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101 Dishes is not just a book though. The team behind the book have a vision to help support food banks in London and Lancashire to help those in food poverty. Do check out their website for more details.

Traditional Indian Tale

101 Dishes for the Emperor is very much a traditional tale that is set in India. Soni Zuberi Shah explains at the start of the book that the story is a true account of an event that happened a long time ago in her family.

The story is about a young boy called Anwar who invites the Emperor to come and enjoy his Mum’s amazing dal. The Mother, Paro, knows the Emperor will be extremely unhappy as she is unable to make enough food for the Emperor and his caravan of travelling companions. Luckily, with the support of his friends and the wider village community Anwar has a plan.

Mughal Miniature Contemporary Painting

The first thing that strikes you about this book are the exquisite, intricate illustrations. They are very different to lots of the illustrations that are in our home so my daughter was instantly mesmerised by their detail, patterns and colours.

Fatima Zahra Hassan illustrates in a unique style that is based on traditional Mughal miniature painting with a contemporary twist.

There is so much to explore in each image and you could easily base a whole project around just one of the illustrations. At the back of the book their is a page of animal words that encourages you to go back through the book and try and discover the various animals throughout the book. We especially loved the peacocks.

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Calligraphy and Writing

One of the main things my little one enjoyed was the calligraphy lettering on the initial letter on each page. It’s given her a real interest in lettering and reminded me of a book that I read as a child – The Diary of a Victorian Mouse’ that sparked my enthusiasm for lettering that I still have to this day.

Soni has a wonderful writing style and I think the only thing better would be to hear Soni orally retelling her story in person. From reading the book, I feel that Soni is one of those master storytellers. Someone who can weave a spell over you with the power of her words and send you magically off to another land.

101 Dishes for the Emperor

One of our daughter’s favourite foods is a creamy coconut dal. It was lovely for her to see her favourite dish in a book. She wanted to know if it was the same dal she loves that is in the book and Soni explains at the back of the book how dal is made very differently by different people and places.

Funnily enough, the request for tea was dal after reading this book! Dal is my absolute comfort food. My friend’s Mum used to make me a spicy green lentil dal that made me fall in love with dal and I have another gently seasoned dal recipe from a friend that we love too.

Take Away Message

The message to take away from the story is simple yet powerful; that through coming together as communities we can overcome problems and help others through sharing and kindness. A discussion page of questions at the back would be the perfect starting point to help delve into the book further and allow readers to give their opinions.

We truly loved this book and it would make a wonderful primary school text. You can order a limited exhibition copy here or standard copies here.

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