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Samar Khatiwala wins 2017 Yan-Kit So Award for Food Writers on Asia

25th September 2017

Samar Khatiwala, Professor of Earth Sciences at the University of Oxford, has won the 2017 Yan-Kit So Award for Food Writers on Asia.


Hosted by The Oxford Cultural Collective, the prestigious award recognises an emerging writer who has the ability to enhance our understanding and appreciation of Asian food culture. It honours the legacy of Yan-Kit So, one of the most acclaimed writers on Asian food, whose seminal book, Classical Food of China, introduced a UK audience to regional food cultures of China.

Samar plans to write a Gujarati cookbook. The award of £2500 will part fund a trip to Gujarat in Western India, where he will document historical influences on the indigenous cuisine.  He will visit archives and interview historians in Mumbai, meet farmers and small-scale producers in Maharashtra and engage local chefs to teach him more about distinctive regional dishes.

Growing up in Mumbai, Samar spent a great deal of time in the family kitchen watching his mother and aunts cook together, all of them experts in preparing Gujarati-style food. Later in life, travelling for work and leisure, he realised his native cuisine was not known internationally, despite Gujaratis constituting one third of the global Indian Diaspora. His cookbook will be one of few to bring this distinctive cuisine to a wider audience, celebrating its rich historic and cultural origins and its unique combinations of sweet, sour and savoury flavours.

Samar commented: “I’m absolutely thrilled at being selected for this year’s Yan-Kit So Memorial Award. For ages now I’ve thought about writing a book to share my passion for the Gujarati food I grew up eating. If people knew more about this cuisine they’d be lining up for a bowl of asafoetida-spiked dal much as they do for ramen! This award will give me the opportunity to finally bring my dream to life.”

Distinguished food writer Fuchsia Dunlop summarised the views of the judging panel: “Samar’s writing is strikingly good: he manages to convey knowledge, cultural flavour and humour in a very articulate and engaging manner. I have the impression not only that he will be good at digging out the information he needs (both in libraries and in kitchens), but also at conveying it to a non-Gujarati audience in a very lucid and accessible way. Of all the proposed books, this is the one I would most like to read and cook from myself, because it sounds as though it will offer something new to Western readers, and be interesting, well-researched, fun to read and very distinctive. It also seems to promise a ‘significant contribution’ to understanding of food culture and cuisine, which is, of course, the remit of the award!

Samar received his award at a ceremony on 21st September 2017 an London’s Crowne Plaza Hotel (The City) as part of the Hong Kong Intangible Cultural Heritage Festival. The award was made by Paul Bloomfield, representing the judging panel and Asia House (financial contributor to the award) and Freya Aitken-Turff, member of the award advisory panel and CEO of China Exchange (pictured above).


The Yan-Kit So Award is offered every two years, the next in 2019. The members of the judging panel are:


The Yan-Kit So Award is sustained through philanthropic donations from those with an interest in promoting Asian food culture. To enquire about making a donation, contact Donald Sloan (dsloan@oxfordculturalcollective.com).


All donations are made to Oxford Brookes University, which has charitable status. Follow this link to make a donation.

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