We think a lot about food when we order it from a menu, but the form and authenticity of our favourite dishes and cuisines rarely occur to us.
This article sews the Indian mentality and palate to make you start wondering about it.
“Desi” is this magical keyword which instantly makes anything Indian. And although it’s the quality which dramatically destroys the native uniqueness of foreign things, it somehow almost always captures the Indian mind. From Shudh Desi Romance to Desi Ghee, the concept of having an Indian version of an entity turns out to be its USP.
The sector that benefits the most from this, mind you – not Bollywood, is the “khaane ka shetr”. Since “achha khaana” and “khaane peene wale log” are go-to topics for heated discussions and debates from offices to parties, it is naturally the food that we Indians want the desi or Indian versions of.
Most of us come from the middle-class families that run the burgeoning cities of India. Naturally, we have grown up eating with our families in not-so-fancy restaurants and from even “thelas”; before the Pizza huts, McDonalds and the Taco Bells at least.
Did the noodles or kebabs from those humble sources suddenly bring to your mind the pungent, red streets of China or the saffron-scented heat from the middle-east? The stereotypes you know from movies, travel and food channels, and even Masterchef?
No. They simply remind you of India. There are and will always remain, certain cuisines, the Indian versions of which only, are palatable to us. Here they are:
The Chilli-Chicken and Manchurians topped off with our beloved Szechuan sauce are mostly all Indian. Since the traditional Chinese cooking has a lot to do with a variety of meats, that average Indian doesn’t consume and vegetables that don’t grow well under our sun, we Indians have morphed Chinese food over the centuries to use chicken, baby corn and capsicum in all dishes. And our obsession with this is the reason why Ranveer Singh is paid by Ching’s to dance to “ching’s Chinese, desi Chinese” (haha)
Ask a kid what he/she would love to eat for lunch in school or for snacks in the evening, and an immediate answer is “pasta”. Ask a teenager what food he/she would want in a party, and the answer is “pizza”. While pure Italian cooking is subtle with spices and all about olives, sun-dried tomatoes and an array of fine cheeses, menus in leading pizza chains over India often show “tandoori chicken/paneer pizza”. How tandoor fused with Italian or Mediterranean food, I will never understand. Neither will I understand this…………..
Penne arabiatta or lasagne is not one bit as tasty to us as macaroni with turmeric in it or Maggi pazzta’s masala variant…
What I do understand is that vegetables we are familiar with (carrots and peas) and a spice level we are used to is very important in a foreign cuisine.
3. Middle Eastern
The fact that tandoori kebabs popped up in your mind first is proof that this cuisine too is available to us only in a modified version. We like seeing orange kebabs, don’t we? The subtler dishes like pita bread, hummus and the beautiful baklawa rarely make it to our mind. The fancy rotisserie and the shawarma is the only part of this cuisine which is popular, considering them being unaltered.
We’d still like a part of these cuisines if they came to us on a plate in their natural form.
There are cuisines that Indians, in general, can’t digest without major modifications, like:
Quiche? Rare to medium meat? Snails?
Only the French desserts and the forever-tasty croissants are welcome.
Rice without gravy? Raw fish and meat? Chopsticks??
Bottomline is – “Mera Bharat mahaan”, not because our versions always taste better (it’s a sensitive and subjective matter), but because we are very creative with food. Our love for food and inertia for adapting have led to so many tasty and absurd variations.
Give us a cuisine, and we turn it into food that 1.3 billion people love.
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