As someone who tries out different restaurants and watches MasterChef with great zeal, I consider myself to be quite the food maestro. Alas, like any fantasy, this too crumbles under closer inspection. My extensive culinary skills range from being able to turn on the gas to preparing instant packaged noodles. Ok, so maybe a superficial inspection was enough.
Like most Indians, I was made acutely aware of my rather limited palate on a holiday abroad. I was greatly amused when my parents packed a huge quantity of theplas before we left for Europe. On arriving there, I realised that my taste buds were simply inept at handling food that wasn’t submerged in masalas. Guarded my share of the theplas with a ferocity after that.
People in other parts of the world may well appreciate fresh ingredients and respect the produce but for us Indians, guessing which protein/vegetable is smothered in our alchemy of spices is quite exciting. Here is a list of foreign cuisines that are quite popular with us and how they have been improvised for our palates –
This one’s a favourite! In fact, most of us know what we are going to order even before we set foot in an eatery.. Hot and Sour soup, fried rice with Manchurian gravy and the infamous Hakka noodles. I highly doubt that our version of these dishes bears any semblance to authentic Chinese food. We have a rather vague definition for Chinese cuisine. If at any point during the preparation of food, one or more ingredients came into contact with Soya sauce, either by accident or intentionally, the food is Chinese enough ( Need to copyright this definition :p ). This definition gives us a lot of room to add Indian influence. I think Manchurian deserves a special mention. It is basically an ingredient (chicken/ fish/ cottage cheese/ baby corn/ cauliflower) prepared in a brown gravy made with soya sauce, ketchup, vinegar, corn starch and seasoning. It can be found anywhere from small food carts catering to broke students outside schools and colleges to high end restaurants satiating the deep-pockets. Versatile food for versatile budgets!
Manchurian. Brought to you by – the Indian imagination.
Until recently, knowledge of Italian food was limited to pizzas and pastas in a wide array of sauces.. red and white to be precise. Now, our awareness has increased significantly when it comes to this cuisine. There are the added varieties of pesto sauce and pink sauce. However, I am pretty sure that the invention of pink sauce (a creative 1:1 blend of red and white sauce) finds its origin in India itself. How can I forget about dessert.. Tiramisu! Sponge cake topped with cream and instant coffee powder. It’s pretty evident that we do not like to stray from the original recipes!
Or in other words Thai curry with Jasmine rice. Let’s not faff around when we know that as Indians, those are the first and perhaps only things that come to mind. Thai curry is traditionally a light coconut broth. However, since subtle flavours go undetected by our palate, here in India, it really packs a punch! Yeah, we can make lemongrass pretty boisterous too.
American and Mexican
Actually, these are cuisines where we have not strayed too far from the sidewalk. Exhausted all our imagination with the other ones I guess. The sanctity of the traditional burger has been honoured .. no funky spices have found their way in the slices.. yet! And Mexican food is a quite popular.. rice with beans, potatoes and sour cream. They had us at rice! There are a lot of parallels between American and Indian food.. pancakes to dosas, doughnuts to wadas, ice-creams to kulfis.. maybe going forth, diplomatic relations between the two countries can be built on the strong edifice of food.
I know we have the propensity to take other cuisines and deck them up in local flavours. Any attempts to trace back foreign dishes to their respective nations will be a largely futile attempt. But we promise you that Indianized food will leave your palate wanting more and your common sense telling you no!