Like language and religion, taste of food also divides India. It may not sound absurd, if I chime in on a lighter note that meals divide, desserts synergize and only spirits unite. Because, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, North-East to Rajasthan it is the same old story, as Indian taste buds nicely know, how to differ since yore. In fact, the division starts from the time of cooking. Indian meals are cooked in various types of aromatic cooking oils and treated to some of the most pungent and tangy herbs and masalas, the combination of which may change by the number of colonies you may have in your city. So while there may be some affinity for the food-basket by locality, area, region or even a race, in the Indian kitchen. There is nothing too patriotic about the great Indian cuisine on a PAN India basis, as it is too vast to stand as one and united- and this does create a kind of dissonance in the Indian society. Yet, some local Indian dishes, processed food and street food have gone worldwide, and in return some foreign cuisine, fast-food and fusion food have adopted India.
Historically speaking. Indian cuisine has a 5,000-year old history, of various groups and cultures in the subcontinent. Leading to diversity of flavours and regional cuisines found in modern day India. Also, given the range of diversity in soil type, climate and occupations, these cuisines vary significantly from each other and use locally available spices, herbs, vegetables and fruits. Indian food-taste is also heavily influenced by seasonality, religious and cultural choices and traditions.
INDIAN FOOD PYRAMID: LOCAL, REGIONAL AND THE NATIONAL PLATTER
Cuisines seldom have precise geographical divides. Instead they mostly have local and regional lovers for life that provides taste security within the customary food security. For, when a north Indian lands in the heart of South India he might get food blues, as he is insured by the latter but not by the former—taste security. For a delicacy of one, might be the nightmare of another.
Indian food pyramid largely rests on water, cereals, vegetables, fruits, sea-food, milk, curd, meat and poultry. Mother earth offers raw ingredients, after which ethnicity takes over to process to individual tastes and delights.
SOMEONE’S DELICACY COULD BE SOMEONE’S NIGHTMARE
The popular southern delicacy combos of Idli-Vada-Dosa-Uttahapam dipped in tangy Rasam or Sambhar served in Banana leaf with delicious coconut chutney might not gel well with a person from J&K, as all are not, the likes of foodies. The much hyped Butter-Chicken–Naan, Chawal-Chole and Rajma-Chawal combo of north might leave a Tamilian half stuffed, and the sweet Gujarati Thali might find a Bihari running for his salt. Or a Kerala mutton curry cooked in coconut oil might even prompt a Muslim from U.P to give up non-veg altogether. And, last but not the least the taste of a raw fish from Andamans, a delicacy, might leave a fish-veteran from Bengal starved.
Given that, there exists a difference between eating to ones delight than gobble and swallow just to survive. But the art of survival does teach you to create your own short-menu out of the spread.
HOW INDIA UNITES WITH A DIVERSE KITCHEN
Mobility teaches the art of survival, when, one is forced to pick and choose a dish closest to the palate out of the unknown assortment in an alien kitchen. This has led to broad banding of taste through certain likeable dishes. While the base of Indian palate has remained within the confines of Dal-Chawal-Roti-Paratha-Sabzi-Saag-Kadi-Rajma-Chole-Meat-Chicken-Milk-Curd-Yogurt-Street food and Snacks. The variants of these have only created the diversity in the Indian kitchens.
But in this regard a lot of hand holding has been done to broad base the food-taste pyramid of India. Mainly to homogenise the taste buds and to that extent some generic nomenclatures have become almost national food icons. Just to name a few: Tandoori chicken, Butter-chicken, Biryani, Keema, Kebab, Rogan-Josh, Korma, Chole-bature, Matar-Paneer, Poori, Papad, Dhokla, Bisi-bele-bath, Kachori, Samosa,Vada-paav, Batata-vada, the famous Indian Chaat, Pakora, Pooha, Daal-Baati, Gol Gappe and Pani-Puri, and from the Punjabi cuisine Paratha, stuffed Paratha especially in breakfast, Roti-made out of corn flour and Sarson-Da-Saag and Dal-Makhani and from the North-East Fried Rice, Noodles, Chilly chicken, Manchurian, Thupka-noodle soup and momos that have travelled places and become the hallmark and symbol of Indianness. And, not to forget the vast spread of Indian sweets that has always been a great leveler in terms Indian synergy. The South can of course boast of Dosa, Idli, Vada, Sambhar, Rasam and Uthapam.
BUT WHAT UNITES THE FOOD-TASTE BUDS OF CHILDREN AND THE YOUTH OF INDIA?
Beyond the dividing spread of the Indian cuisine lies the unifying umbrella of some of the big food banners of India and abroad that have served the Indian populace for a long period of time now. To be more upright some are even serving the third generation now. Perhaps, they stole the Indian taste buds when they were young- ‘catch them- young’ as they phrased.
Today, Domino’s Pizza India makes and sells four lakh pizzas a day or more than 12 crore pizzas a year and that speaks of the new food craze. Foreign beverages in India are serving the third generation with unified formulation. Indian Chinese largely a fusion cuisine is available across India. Burgers are available at any nook and corner and so are Maggi noodles. Tailor made Momos are even retailed out of handcarts in Delhi. Halidram’s Bhujia Peanuts and Namkeen are available in any market as an evening snack. Potato chips and wafers of MCcain or any other, could be any child’s preference. And why forget the tasty chocolates, yoghurt and morning oats and cornflakes that children prefer over any other Indian breakfast. Not to forget the all-tasty basket of biscuits from Britannia or any other brand with hot tea. Of course one can’t forget Amul and Mother dairy for their Yogurt and milk as an add-on to any Indian breakfast; for there is no North, South, East and West divide about these branded food products as they come with one taste or max a tweaked variant.
And how quietly and neatly they have sneaked into the Indian kitchen space. Easy to make, easy to serve and easy to preserve.
By Kamlesh Tripathi
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