Con-Fusion Cuisine?

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 –

Chinese

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!

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 Manchurian. Brought to you by – the Indian imagination.

Italian

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!

Pan-Asian

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.

 Middle-Eastern

Shawarma rolls.

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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!

 

The Organic Fetish

To varying degrees, most urban dwellers living in the 21st century are familiar with some form of “organic branding” doing the rounds. Well, when the air you breathe is toxic, we’ll buy any promise of a healthier lifestyle.. even if the price is hard to digest! We all know those classic signs of organic packaging.. made with paper and concealed in hues of earthy greens and browns. Long before you dare to flip the packet, you know you would be paying a premium- six times over its inorganic equivalent.

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Let’s question the what, why, how, when etc. etc. of organic food. It is essentially about eliminating synthetic chemicals.. right from offensive-sounding pesticides used to grow fruits and vegetables to the hormones and antibiotics that are force fed to poultry and livestock. Consuming organic food is about damage control.. restoring something natural in our otherwise unnatural lifestyle – fast food, fast cars, substance abuse, fast-paced careers – it won’t come as a surprise to me if we turn out to be genetically modified organisms ourselves!

So now that we have established that in order to maintain some balance in the chemical soup that we humans are, we need to consume produce that does not amplify the toxins within us. With this as the premise, let us explore further, because, with an increase in awareness, comes an exponential increase in confusion. Earlier, you were considered health conscious if you avoided saturated fats. Now, sulphurless sugar, fish that has just the right amount of omega-3 acids and organic milk are just some of the basic considerations one needs to keep in mind. Oh man, how far have we come from the days when corfe_2oca-cola was advertised as a brain tonic!

I can’t tell whether the organic mania is here to stick or not but like any trend it’s quite clear that the population will always be divided into three portions – the ones that give a damn, ones that create an opportunity from those that do give a damn and the ones that watch on with great amusement at every passing trend.