Published: 14th July 2021
Here's why this book on the spice markets of Mattancherry will improve your child's appreciation of food
We speak to Sruthi Vijayan, author of the children’s picture book A Little Spice is Extra Nice, about what inspired her to write about the spice markets of Mattancherry
In 2008, Sruthi Vijayan visited Mattancherry in Kerala and fell in love with the place. Boasting a rich history, Mattancherry is famous for its spice markets and has been the hub of Kerala's spice trade since ancient times. When the debut author decided to write a book for children centred around food and history, she chose Mattancherry as her setting. Together with her college friend Sanjana Ranjit, who brilliantly illustrated the book, Sruthi wrote A Little Spice is Extra Nice: Annie Goes to Mattancherry.
Published in March this year by Talking Cub, an imprint of Speaking Tiger, the book follows Annie and her grandfather's adventure in Mattancherry. While cooking at home, Annie and her grandfather run out of spices. They visit the markets of Mattancherry, where Annie learns about different spices, where they come from and how they're made. What follows is a journey of discovery and a rich insight into cooking and the process of how spices come to our kitchen. Sruthi, who says she wanted to write something that can help children appreciate where food comes from, says, “There is a lack of children’s literature in English that caters to something we closely identify with. While there are books with a generalised idea of ‘Indianness’, there is seldom a regional touch to it. Sanjana and I wanted to be very rooted in a particular place.” She adds, “We also thought that there weren’t many books about food and cooking when we were growing up. When we decided to write about spices, we knew that we had to set it in Mattancherry.”
Sanjana Ranjit and Sruthi Vijayan
A lot of the book encompasses information that Sruthi didn’t have as a child. “As a kid, I didn’t know how spices were made and the effort it takes to bring it from the ground to our table. We thought it was important to introduce children to this world. In the story, Annie visits spice warehouses and shops and is fascinated to learn about spices,” says Sruthi. This has been vividly illustrated by Sanjana, who has managed to capture the essence of living like a local in Kochi. Sruthi and Sanjana met while studying Visual Communication at MOP Vaishnav College for Women. Sruthi says, “Sanjana and I had wanted to collaborate on a project for a long time. During the lockdown last year, when the book was written and illustrated, we finally found the time. A chunk of the book was written and illustrated with both of us in different parts of the world.” Prior to writing her first children’s book, Sruthi has been a travel writer and still works as a photographer. “Ours was a collaborative effort right from the beginning, unlike how a lot of books are illustrated after the manuscript is completed,” she adds.
To ensure that the book doesn’t have any patriarchal elements, Sruthi decided to put Annie’s grandfather in the kitchen. “We wanted to put a male character in the kitchen. This part was inspired by Sanjana’s own experience of seeing her own grandfather cooking for the family. We wanted to normalise having both genders in the kitchen,” explains Sruthi.