Memories In A Meal: How The Idea Of India Is Captured In A Platter

Memories In A Meal: How The Idea Of India Is Captured In A Platter

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So, let me get this straight! I am a hopeless, shameless foodie. Whether it be in the middle of a work day, or during odd hours of the night, I make sure to sneakily enter the kitchen and whip up something (usually delicious) for myself. It can be anything – ranging from the dosa to pasta or even a cake!
In my Indo-Bangladeshi household, ‘food’ has a nostalgic value to it since it’s an amalgamation of cuisines from both sides of the border. A closer inspection of my daily platter might tell you the story of how far back the idea of ‘food’ as a generational souvenir has sustained through ages in India. It has borne the imprint of generations of history, lifestyle, customs, communal strife, trades, cultural exchanges, climatic variations, and many such ethnographic and geographical influences. In fact, there have been so many variables in India’s history that the only way one can make sense of all of it is by tracing a comprehensive history of its food. However, since recipes are always ever-changing and ever-evolving, the idea of India too seems to be slipping away into oblivion on occasions, as it gets created and re-created in newer ways.

At a time when the idea of India is being challenged, when every anti-incumbent stance is seen as a breach of loyalty towards our country, we felt it was important to remind people that we, as a nation, are beyond those trivialities.

For a pure-bred Calcuttan like me, street food like Pani Puri, Momos, or Mughlai parathas, and kebabs are delicacies I have known and savoured forever. But to tell you a secret that you probably already know, none of these derives their origin from Kolkata! According to food historian Pushpesh Pant, the Pani Puri originated in North India around 100-125 years ago, where a certain someone, while making a raj kachori, accidentally discovered the Pani Puri!

Other than that, you’d often hear in the grapevine the mythological origins of the Pani Puri – that I’ll leave you to find out for yourself!

Did you know that the Kolkata Biryani was actually Mughal ruler Nawab Wajid Ali Shah’s accidental invention?

If you were wondering if I am biased about the Kolkata Biryani and a little too fixated on my own city, you are probably right! Kolkata Biryani is indeed the best. However, if you think otherwise, I bet you to read this guide to all the different kinds of Biryanis you’d find in India, and find out for yourself. Thank me later!

Before you feel that you now know all kinds of Biryani that you’d ever find in South Asia, let me tell you that such an assumption is not even remotely true.
Indian cuisine has been influenced by a wide range of factors including the climate in different parts of the country, the spices that people in a particular area are most familiar with, their trade relations with other countries, the types of crops grown in their vicinity as well as the lifestyle choices of different communities. So, it is highly improbable that you’ll find too many similarities between a particular dish and a similar variant of it from another state, albeit with one from a different country.

I still remember the agonising grimace on the face of one of my uncles who had recently been on a trip to China and was left devastated (yes, you heard me right!) after trying out a Chinese dish in one of Beijing’s most famous restaurants. As someone so used to Indian Chinese, his taste buds had flinched back in protest at the unfamiliar taste of authentic Chinese food.

The Portuguese and British colonisers also brought with them the many tastes and palates of the continent and introduced new cooking techniques and the use of New World vegetables like potatoes, tomatoes, squash, and chilli in Indian cuisine. The cuisine of Goa, which was an erstwhile Portuguese colony, has incorporated many Continental flavours in its recipes.

Now, every Indian meal is incomplete without the very-much-looked-forward-to dessert! For everyone with a sweet tooth, there are the quintessential Indian desserts that I bet you like more than your Baked Alaska! Here’s a short history of India’s oldest sweet to remind you of how far back we go!

If there’s one sure shot way of tying together a country otherwise amazingly diverse in every aspect, it’s the love for food. The country’s kitchen has accommodated all and sundry, from the invaders who stayed back to the refugees and immigrants who consider it their home today. In doing so, in all respects, Indian food has buttressed the Nehruvian vision of ‘unity in diversity’, lending more traction to the idea that we all need each other to survive.

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