Monday, March 16, 2009

Of cuisine, climate and ketchup

One man’s bread is another man’s poison. So the saying goes. Here are some random thoughts on the subject.

I suppose cuisines develop and stabilize due to several factors. It could be said that recipes were originally created with grains and vegetables that were locally available. Here the climate plays a part. In South India, only certain things grow. There is not much of seasonal variation.

It is different in the North. For instance, in Delhi the spread on the table varies according to the seasonal availability of vegetables. Maiji, says in her interesting post 'ENGLISH' VEGETABLES (tomatoes, cabbage, cauliflower etc.) were rarely used in South Indian households. In the first half of the 20th century, who would have thought of carrots in sambar?

One of the reasons for the absence of ‘English’ vegetables in the common cuisine then was non-availability. Those days they were cultivated in the cooler climates, such as that of the Nilgiri Hills. Once they became easily obtainable, people introduced them in their daily meals.

Cuisines are dynamic. People are always experimenting for improved or tastier dishes without flouting accepted parameters. Some succeed, but their creations are more often than not used for special occasions. The regular meals usually contain conventional food.

Sometimes we accept imported food ideas. The hamburger is an example of this. It was introduced in the United States of America in the 1880s. Made from beef, they became very popular in a short time. Another well-liked short meal in America is the hotdog, made with sausages.

But among the two, it was the hamburger that conquered India, particularly the younger generation. The reason is the adaptability of the product. It can be made with any meat (with chicken or mutton for those who shun beef) or with vegetables. Hotdogs probably didn’t catch on in India because sausages can’t be made with vegetables.

Talking about adaptability, first we had the simple pancake dosa. Then came the masala dosa filled with potatoes and onions, and sometimes even carrot pieces. Indian Coffee House’s masala dosas have even beetroot. This was followed by cheese dosa, keema dosa, and so on. The Pai brothers of Cochin, I believe, offer about 50 different types of dosas. In Chennai I came across tomato uthappam which resembles a pizza.

Pizza too is a foreign conquest of India. Once a trend is set, there is no stopping it. Even vada pav, which is so popular in Mumbai, has a foreign element. The bread part is certainly post-Portuguese.

Adaptation is fine as long as it blends. But sometimes one comes across atrocities. The other day we bought a parcel of samosas from a famous Chennai eatery. On opening the packet we were shocked to find sachets of tomato sauce instead of the conventional chutney.

Perhaps some people like the combination. I don’t. May be tomorrow it would be idli with tomato ketchup. Who knows?

Also see:

Nostalgia: The romance of India/Indian Coffee House

Britain strikes back at the Empire


Anonymous said...

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Happy Kitten said...

It is the younger generation that loves the sauce... nd your blog reminded me that even we have succumbed to it due to our son!

Maiji said...

I really appreciate your comments on my latest. I was glad to see your name after a long pause. Thanks. Thanks you also for mentioning my post 'English Vegetables' in yours.
I do remember that garlic was a taboo in any orthodox kitchen. Garlic was used in our kitchen only when my grandmother prepared the 'lehiyam' for us girls to take after childbirth.


Samosa and sauce in lieu of mint chutney was a staple in our college canteen in Delhi. And I am afraid I used to simply love it.

Tastes do differ!

Meera's World said...

some combinations till you try,you never feel it can be good.until i tried,rice,pazham and panjasara,in one of the weddings in tvla,15-20 yrs back,i never thought that would taste good.but after that,i loved it.also,a little keralamixture with rice would taste really really good.idly and ketchup,that would be something very interesting:)

Unknown said...

quanton, thank you.

Unknown said...

Happy Kitten, you are right. We used to watch our children consume tons of tomato sauce. The grandchildren are even more addicted to it.

Unknown said...

Raji, apparently you are not the only one who loves samosa and tomato sauce. To each one his/her own taste.

Unknown said...

Maiji, I must thank you for taking the trouble of posting a comment on my blog. I am honoured.

Unknown said...

Meerasworld, you are right; one should try before passing judgment on a food item.
You are also right about 'mixture' with rice. "Muruk' too goes well with rice. You should also try flattened 'channa' that is available in most major shops that stock Indian food items.

Sumati Dhabalia said...

I was amazed to see that a branded company is selling Imli Chatni sauce for bhelpuri...and it actually tasted very good :)

Meera's World said...

flattened channa?is there a malayalam name for it?i dont understand most of the north indian names for groceries:),even though i understand hindi movies.!