How invaders and travelers shaped Indian cuisine

Our breakfast arrived amid the clicking of backhoes, a particularly noisy pile driver, and Sunday morning traffic fairing and horn to reach God knows where – a boiling fried potato pancake wedged between a Soft bun cut in half, topped with garlic chutney and a green chilli pepper.

In other words, a vada pav, the suitably diverse culinary symbol of a city built by a myriad of races and communities. The vada pav inspires poets, songwriters and copywriters (“In a world full of expensive dates, when he asked Italian or Thai, she winked: vada pav and Chai“Or” a car runs on gasoline, a Mumbaikar runs on gasoline vada pav“), appears in commercials and movies, and IMHO not worth hyperbole.

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I am safely back in rainy Bengaluru, beyond the reach of the potentially outraged people of Mumbai (just as well, given the number of issues that are now the subject of outrage and lynchings).

In fact, we were there, standing in front of Ladu Samrat, an iconic restaurant in central Mumbai that serves one of the best in the city. vada pavers. We were on a walking tour of one of my old haunts, Lalbaug, where I went to the office for a few years. Our guide, an enthusiastic lawyer named Siddhartha, waved the vada pav.

“When you think about it,” he said, “this vada pav is so symbolic of Mumbai, but every ingredient is foreign. I hadn’t looked at it that way. The pav is almost entirely the pao of the Portuguese, who also brought potatoes and chili to subcontinent shores in the Middle Ages. Garlic probably came in earlier eras, from the Babylonian and Assyrian empires of Central Asia and Iran.

The reason why I take this long-term view of vada pav today, it is to remind the Indians that our culture owes its richness and its intrinsic character, as the party in power, travelers and invaders would like to underline. The golden age of ancient India that many of us radicalized by WhatsApp believe and believe is once again at hand, is just proof of a moldy intellect that I find easier to grasp. discern than ever. As the writer Paul Theroux wrote, it is only with age that one acquires the gift of evaluating decadence.

A clear sign of this decadence is the carte blanche given in parts of northern India to self-defense groups attempting to impose mythical vegetarianism during the Navratras, nine days which celebrate the victory of good over evil, in part of a larger effort to deny Indians their carnivorous culinary heritage.

The heritage of India has come down to us through travelers and invaders. It defines who we are, how we live and, in the context of this column, what we eat. Lord Ram has traveled, Adi Sankara has traveled, the sages have traveled, and it is no coincidence that the ancient Tamil Sangam literature uses a device called the Aatrupadai, songs in the form of a travelogue, written like a former traveler leading a new one.

This is why the Tamils ​​were the main globalists in India, spreading their influence over the Far East, their cuisine being the most tolerant and diverse in terms of what they eat. This is why the Hindus of the temple city of Madurai flock or do not oppose the brains, kidneys, intestines and any other type of goat offal, available in abundance in the alleys of the holy city. .

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In my own home state of Goa, there is no better culinary satisfaction than in the form of pao pig encounter sorpotel meet fish curry, the fusion of cultures and experiences of travelers and invaders, explaining why there are similarities in the cuisine between Margao and Macau.

In keeping with our gaze to the East, I thought it was appropriate to dabble in tofu — literally, tofu — that would originate in ancient China and travel outward. I knew tofu had been Indianized when a local family provided us with homemade Punjabi dishes from “tofu masala” on their menu. Suspicious at first, we found that like paneer, tofu coped well with spices. I tried my own version recently, merged with another invader, the tomato, another entry in my family’s culinary memory.

For 3-4 people

1 packet of tofu
1 onion, chopped
3 tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 teaspoons of chopped garlic
1 tsp of peppercorns
Half-inch piece of cinnamon
1 teaspoon of garam massala
Half teaspoon of turmeric powder
Half a teaspoon of ground coriander
Half teaspoon ground cumin
Half a teaspoon of red chilli powder
Half teaspoon of crushed anise (saunf)
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tablespoon of chopped fresh mint
Salt to taste

Heat the oil in a wok. Dip the pepper and cinnamon in the oil for 30 seconds. Add the garlic and sauté for a minute. Add the onions and sauté until they begin to brown. Add the tomatoes and sauté for two minutes. Add the saunf, cilantro, cumin, turmeric, garam masala and red pepper powders. Mix well, lower the heat, cover and cook for five minutes. Open, add the tofu and salt and cook for another five minutes. Garnish with fresh mint before serving.

Our Daily Bread is a column on easy and inventive cooking. Samar Halarnkar is the author of The Married Man’s Guide To Creative Cooking — And Other Dubious Adventures. @ samar11

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