How to Look at Indian Food
© Copyright 2020 Nitin Dhupar, Ryerson University.
Every Indian knows that cooking with exact measurements is overrated. Cooking with two teaspoons of ground ginger, a tablespoon of curry powder, and exactly a quarter teaspoon of salt is sacrilegious. To limit spice is to limit flavour, and to limit flavour is to limit the gastronomic experience of eating. In such a regard, Indian food is not a cuisine to be undermined by traditional food photography. As majority of its spices are not native to India. Nevertheless, photographs portray the cuisine as in a way that is digestible for the western palate. In doing so, they fail to understand the entirety of its gastronomy by alienating its history.
Chicken, goat, and other vegetable curries are all broad strokes of dishes that can either be Thai, Jamaican or Singaporean. Reason being, the word curry itself is a colonial term meant to encompass any sort of spicy stew. The curry powder that you buy at an Indian store is typically a spice mix similar to Montreal Steak Spice. Instead of black pepper and paprika, you get: turmeric, fenugreek, cinnamon, and a handful of other regional spices. The British, particularly in India, are responsible for what most westerners call curry, which according to my grandfather is shameful. He would say that they would bring spices from other colonies to integrate into the meals prepared for them. In his own words, my grandfather says that curry is an over generalization of various regional cuisines that denigrates Indian food as a whole.
My parents’ generation has stated at one point or another, that the younger generation needs to learn how to make a good curry. They say that we are too caught up in the modern world; insinuating that our generation are lost Indians. In thinking a pot of curry is our culture through and through, they fail to recognize that referring to our food as simply curry is detrimental. And is in fact, a way to denounce our history as Indians, which is why my grandfather is so strict with my cousins and I.
Having grown up in her majesty’s India, at the time of Perdition, my grandfather’s stories are overwhelmingly graphic and very rarely joyous. The latter of which only seem to revolve around food. Hence why he would never let any of his grandkids say the C word, curry; we were not meant to become like our parents. For us, butter chicken is murgh makhani, that chickpea curry is chana masala, and dahl is dahl makhani. For him, it was important that we retained our culture.
Food, not just Indian food, is an amalgamation of history and of cultures. It is a common ground that connects generations, and allows everyone to break bread. To forget such is to omit one’s heritage; consequently, losing any ties to a motherland we live far away from. Regardless, Indian food is beautiful, colourful and audacious. Not only because its colours pop, but because, like its flavours, its history is more complex than what is in frame.
Works Cited List
Hoffaker, Brent. The Surprising Truth About Indian Food. 2019. BBC. http://www.bbc.com/travel/story/20190609-the-surprising-truth-about-indian-food