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Indian Food: Centuries of Parallel Evolution, Now Converging?

January 13, 2013 2 comments

Indian cuisine has been regional for centuries. But, in the last thirty-five years, Indian food habits have undergone a sea-change.

Image source & courtesy - hindustantimes.com

Image source & courtesy – hindustantimes.com

Something very strange is happening across India.

Indian cuisine has been regional for centuries.

Image source & courtesy - hindustantimes.com

Image source & courtesy – hindustantimes.com

Rajasthan has a dry cuisine that concentrates on preservation. Konkan food is full of greenery, freshness and coconut. Andhra cuisine has an overload of chilly and tamarind. Some brahmin sects in Bengal and Konkan coasts, eat fish.

But for the first time in 5000-years of Indian history, India’s Bombay High Generation (1975-2000) changed that. In the last thirty-five years, Indian food habits have undergone a sea-change.

Image source & courtesy - hindustantimes.com

Image source & courtesy – hindustantimes.com

Dosas and Idlis are now a breakfast staple across India. How much have dosas penetrated? Seen at a corner atta-chakki (a house-hold size grain-flour mill), a Muslim householder, who wanted some dosa-atta to be dry-ground. Clueless on how to make dosa batter, the family had decided to go the dosa way due to children-pressure.

Punjabi paneer items are now lunch and dinner regulars across food tables in India. Modern Punjabi cuisine, perfected in the last 500-years of gurudwara-langar cooking has taken the country by storm.

Banarsi chaat has surely spread across the country. Remember, Banaras is the world’s oldest living city.

In all this, an analysis of the food composition will show a broad focus on two things.

  • One – A good mix of carbohydrates, proteins, fat and fibre.
  • Two – Maximum variety and increasing the number of elements that go into any preparation, which is the bedrock of vegetarian cuisine.
Image source & courtesy - hindustantimes.com

Image source & courtesy – hindustantimes.com

Here is an interesting post by Vir Sanghvi on Banarsi chaat.

I’m finally coming to terms with something I’ve always suspected about myself: my favourite food in the world is chaat. Give me caviar, give me white truffles and give me the greatest hits of Heston Blumenthal and Ferran Adrià, and I’ll probably be diverted for a while. But after a briefflirtation, I will return to my first love: chaat.

One of my friends is a TV big-shot who prides himself on his foodie skills though he has a misplaced admiration for his local Bihari cuisine and little understanding of the complexities of Gujarati food! and even he and his wife were stunned by the quality of the chaat. The secret of good chaat, he said, is that UP has the best chaat in India but that it does not come from Lucknow as is commonly supposed but from Benaras. The thing about the people of Benaras, he added, is that they are naturally shy and reluctant to leave their city and show off their skills to the world.

I phoned Marut and asked him what he thought. He agreed that UP was the centre of the chaat world. But he thought that, within UP, there were many chaat traditions. He gave me the example of what we call paani-puri in Bombay. In Lucknow and Kanpur, they use the term ‘batasha’ or possibly, ‘gol-gappa’. In Benaras, on the other hand, they call it a puchhka and the taste of the paani is subtly different from the Lucknow version.

Marut thinks that there are strong foodie links between Benaras and Calcutta, which is why the term ‘puchhka’ is used in Bengal as well. He reckons that perhaps chaatwallahs from the Benaras region moved to Calcutta and seeded the city’s flourishing chaat scene.
He may be right. The more I thought about it the more chaat seemed to be a UP thing. The Calcutta tradition is essentially a morphing of Benarasi recipes to suit the city’s Bengali and Marwari clientele. This is why Calcutta’s puchhkas are tarter than the Benaras version. In Delhi, on the other hand, the chaatwallahs probably came from Lucknow and Kanpur and gave the city its own gol-gappa, which I regret to say, is easily the least interesting example of the genre.

Neither Marut nor I could work out which part of UP Bombay’s chaatwallahs originally came from. We know for certain that chaat was transported to Bombay by UP Brahmins, most of whom used the surname Sharma. (Take a poll of the chaatwallahs at Chowpatty and Juhu. You will find that most of the long-established ones are still called Sharma.)

It is a tribute to Bombay’s culinary genius that the UP chaat tradition was able to successfully mate with the Gujarati snack/farsan tradition so that a new chaat culture was born. The Gujaratis took the principles of UP chaat (something fried, lots of crispy things for texture, chutneys, dahi, potatoes, etc.) and created new dishes. The most famous of these is bhel puri but there are many others.
The Bombay dahi batata puri has its roots in UP chaat but is very much an individual dish in its own right. Ragda pattice is a Gujarati adaptation of that north Indian standby, tikki with channa. And Marut reckons that Bombay’s pani-puri, which is the local variant of the gol-gappa/puchhka/batasha chaat is probably the best expression of this dish. (I love Bombay but here I disagree with Marut: my money is on the Calcutta  puchhka.)

The more Marut and I talked about it, the more convinced we became that we could trace nearly all genuine chaat dishes to waves of migration from UP. This explains why it is so difficult to find a chaat tradition south of Bombay: the UPites did not venture further down the Peninsula.

It is funny, though, that at a time when every state is doing so much to put its cuisine on the map, UP takes so little credit for being the home of chaat. Kerala may brag about its spices, Goa may trumpet the virtues of vindaloo and so on, but UP seems to have surrendered all claims to chaat, which is now seen as a pan-Indian favourite rather than a regional cuisine.

The public image of the food of UP leads only to the Awadhi haute cuisine of Lucknow and to pots of steaming biryani or animal fat kebabs. I love Lucknawi food as much as the next man but I doubt if it has been as influential or as popular as chaat. And yet, the chaat geniuses of Benaras, Lucknow, Kanpur and other UP towns get almost no recognition at all. Their wonderful tradition is disparaged as being ‘mere street food’.

But India lives and eats on its streets. And that night as I turned away all the fancy food that Marut and the Michelin-starred chefs had cooked and stuck to the Benaras chaat, I pondered the injustice. In America, they celebrate the hamburger and the hotdog; pizza is Italy’s global calling card; and Britain is known for fish and chips. So why, oh why, do we in India not give chaat the respect it deserves? Why is it without honour even in its home state?

I say this not just because chaat is my favourite food. I’m sure that millions of other Indians are also crazy about chaat. So, for once, let’s give haute cuisine a rest and stand up for what we really love: the cuisine of the Indian street.

via Rude Food: the cuisine of the street – Hindustan Times.


Italy bans kebabs and foreign food from cities – Times Online

February 1, 2009 10 comments
Italian food being threatened by Indian food ...

Italian food being threatened by Indian food ...

The drive to make Italians eat Italian … described … as gastronomic racism, began in the town of Lucca this week, where the council banned any new ethnic food outlets from opening within the ancient city walls.

Yesterday it spread to Lombardy and its regional capital, Milan, which is also run by the centre Right. The antiimmigrant Northern League party brought in the restrictions “to protect local specialities from the growing popularity of ethnic cuisines”.

Luca Zaia, the Minister of Agriculture and a member of the Northern League from the Veneto region, applauded the authorities in Lucca and Milan for cracking down on nonItalian food. “We stand for tradition and the safeguarding of our culture,” he said. (via Italy bans kebabs and foreign food from cities – Times Online – ellipsis mine).

Not so long ago …

In 1999, an employee of an auto-components manufacturer, Autolite, was arrested in France for trademarks and copyright infringement – based on a complaint by the car manufacturer PSA Puegeot Citroen. The French police, on similar complaints, arrested two other nationals, a Belgian and a Taiwanese woman also.

The Belgian was of course granted bail – and the Indian and the Taiwanese were denied bail ‘The lawyers representing the Indian businessman offerred to deposit his passport and the sum of 100,000 French Francs claimed by Peugeot in the custody of the court as bailbond, pending the trial of the case on November 12’.

French court procedures took nearly 1 month and the Indian executive was finally granted bail after being in prison for 1 month. After two years of appeals and expensive litigation, the complaint was found to be without any merit – and dismissed.

More recently …

A shipment of medicines destined for Brazil, from India, was detained at Rotterdam. The Dutch Customs used a complaint from a local Dutch company, to detain this shipment, based on local patent laws. After a few months of ‘negotiations’, the shipment was sent back to India.

But …

US, UK, Italy, Spain, et al, think it is OK to send US$ 3 billion (nearly) to Indian NGOs. Foreign funds to Indian NGOs soared – with Pakistan amongst the donors – reported The Times of India. Rs 12,289.63 crore is roughly US$3 billion – based on average dollar value for 2008.

And it is a lot of money.

That is more money than what the US Govt. gave as aid to more than the 100 poorest countries. Till a few years ago, India annual FDI was US$ 4 billion – just a little more than the US$3 billion that India received as ‘charity’ through various NGOs in 2008. The total US Official Development Assistance to the whole of sub-Saharan Africa (more than 40 countries), in 2007, was “US$4.5 billion was contributed bilaterally and an estimated $1.2 billion was contributed through multilateral organizations”.

Where this money going …

Is it going as thinly disguised aid to Naxal affected areas – where some ‘Christian’ missionaries are working to save the tribals? Is it going towards publicity for causes which are thinly disguised trade issues – for instance, child labour (which is, in many cases, a system of apprenticeship for traditional skills).

Or are these NGOs promoting policy frameworks which are distorting India’s s0cial systems? The Population Myth /Problem /Explosion for instance was promoted for the first decade by Ford Foundation, the Carnegie Foundation and USAID. Are they behind the NGOs which are promoting Section 498 laws as a legal solution – a solution that ‘benefits’ about 5000 women and creates about 150,000 women as victims.

These are laws and policies which are undermining the Indian family system. Which country in the world has a stable family structure with such low divorce rates as India?

The Clintons, The Gates, The Turners, et al

The ‘progressive liberal’ establishment in the West is viewed rather benignly in India – and seen as ‘well wishers’ of India. Many such ideas are welcomed in India without analysis. These ideas are viewed positively, as the source of such initiatives is seen as well-intentioned.

A ‘tolerant’ and ‘open’ society like India can be a complacent victim to Trojan horses.

The Church and peadophiles go back a long time

The Church and peadophiles go back a long time

The do-good industry

An Australian do-gooder was arrested for sexually assaulting children of an orphanage in Puri.

Sometime back, two other orphanage administrators, and alleged pedophiles, Duncan Grant and Allan John Waters were convicted (their conviction is now under appeal-review). In a television channel interview, it was alleged that Margaret Thatcher, senile but yet powerful, was behind the legal challenge mounted to acquit these two British peadophiles – oops alleged peadophiles.

Further back, Wilhelm and Lile Marti, a Swiss couple, again in the do-good industry, were granted bail in a paedophilia case. After bail, they promptly fled India.

Do we really need these do-gooders?

Mother Teresa, another do-gooder raised hundreds of crores in the name of Kolkatta’s poor. A few hundreds of the Kolkatta’s poor benefited from that money. But many missionaries rode on the backs of these poor Kolkattans, raising even more money. The PR machine of the Vatican has done a great job on this scam. Even if India can’t take care of its poor, we don’t need these do-gooders!

Away!! Begone!

Should we say, ‘Get thee behind me, Satan!!’

They have problems at home

Spain has 400,000 prostitutes (for a population of 40 million) who ‘attract’ 15,00,000 clients every day. Some state the Spanish social system is in! Britain has 10,000 Muslim prisoners out 16,00,000 British Muslims . Quite a number of prisoners to have! And these very countries had the temerity to ‘donate’ Indian NGOs a humungous US$3 billion (nearly) last year.

May I suggest?

Keep your money and keep your do gooders at home. Your need is greater than ours.

In the West …

Sometime back, Nicholas Sarkozy reminded Manmohan Singh to take care of Christians in Kandhamal. Soon after that, the Pope came out and advised Christians that their faith came first – and their country and society later. What would happen in Ayatollah Ali Khameini told that to Muslims in Britain, France and USA? Pope Benedict has confirmed the true intentions of the missionaries. Let us understand this for what this is – backdoor attempts to subvert Indian cultural fabric. Nothing less.

When Acharya Rajneesh ‘converted’ a few thousand Christians to his brand of beliefs (in Oregon, USA), he was picked up, packed out and sent back to India – on charges of ‘chemical warfare.’

India has 2.5 crore Christians – out of 110 crores. I would like to see how the EU would react if Indian missionaries went about converting 12.5 million Christians to Hinduism – or 7.5 million Christians to Hindus in the US! Russia has long persecuted the Hare Krishna devotees (spontaneous White Hindus converting White Christians).

For a beginning let them stop targetting Roma Gypsies for persecution.

Martin Kippenberger - Crucified Frog

Martin Kippenberger - Crucified Frog

In the meantime …

The Ram Sena is being pilloried for ‘saving Indian culture.’ But, when Italians try and save their food culture from Indians, we will probably smile and get on with life. Nobody sees these efforts “to protect local specialities from the growing popularity of ethnic cuisines” as a threat to individual freedom.

An Italian Opposition leader did point out that “This is blatant discrimination. They are saying French or German cuisine is acceptable but Indian or Arab is not.” Councillor Filippo Candelise explained, “I realise it might give rise to misunderstanding but you have to bear in mind that 8,000 people live within the city walls and there are already five kebab shops”

Some time back, a German artist, Martin Kippenberger’s creation of the crucified frog was moved to a less visible location, displayed at the Museion, the newborn museum of contemporary art in Bolzano, after His Holiness, The Pope decided to condemn this sculpture.

This sculpture,

“Zuerst die Füße” (first the feet), the sculpture dated from 1990, which measures about a meter and represents a crucified frog holding in its right hand a mug of beer and in its left hand an egg. In this work Kippenberger represents a society that appears perfect but is actually hypocritical.”

When the Islamic world protested about Danish-Mohammed cartoons, there was a huge outcry in Western cities about freedom of speech. When the crucified frog is moved to a ‘less visible location’, there is no protest.

Maybe Kippenberger was right after all.

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