Why "India Outside India"?

Since I came to NYC I have been trying to capture for the benefit of my international friends what is ‘India’ or ‘Indianness’. We have discussed various facets of Indian people, culture, ways of meaning making and what it means to live as an Indian. It was also interesting when my international friends shared what they thought being Indian was/must be like for me. I have been capturing visuals that I thought express non-Indians’ perceptions about India and also the expressions/visuals shared by the Indian community in US that must be shaping this perception. After a year of gathering images and talking in my head about it I thought why not put it all down in a blog.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Reimagining Maharashtrian/Marathi Cuisine

Facebook is inundated with Diwali faral photos and recipes. First it was exciting and now I can't stand it. So when Angat Pangat a facebook group posted its Diwali ank link I was excited. Reading Diwali ank was integral part of my Diwali holidays. I wasn't able to keep it up after moving to NYC.

At first glance, thought this Pravaas: a Degustation by Swapneel Prabhu might be just the antidote I needed. Boy was I right. :) Swapneel has taken the essence of key ingredients of different regional/ethnic Maharashtrian cuisines and presented it in surprising combinations of taste, texture, and presentation.

I was floored going through just the first two courses. The ingredients and the stories Swapneel shared reminded me of my summer and Diwali holidays at my grandparent's place in Khanapur (Close to Belgaum) and one carefree summer spent in Savantvadi at my mavshi's house. I can still remember the first time I saw mori masa (Shark) in the maasali baazar (fish market) and the texture of the flaky flesh in the first bite.

Varanaphala in the main course/pasta course moved me from ecstatic/nostalgic to introspective. Varanphala is a contentioys issue in our house. It is the most favorite comfort food for Parag and his family. Equally revolting for me. Swapneel's take on it captures the essence of varanphal for Parag while giving it that suprising element of filling like a tortellini uplifiting it to something I can enjoy as well.

Many other beautifully conceptualized and plated dishes inspired by Nagapuri, Kolhapuri, and CKP cuisine. I don't know the cuisine or do not feel passionately about these dishes so I better not comment.

Ending with kharavas and kunda crisps was a master stroke.

As I was about to post this comment I started thinking about my latest couple of posts talking about Indian food and cultural appropriation. I was aghast when I found the vanilla flavored ghee; livid when Saheli shared the Samosa Doughpods. So why is Swapneel's "PB & J (Pavta Bharit aani Jondhala) Cornetts" inspired by bhakari, bharit, dahi and lahya were so exciting in spite of being presented in a completely alien way to the traditional items it points to?

Is it because he is Indian/Marathi (or thereabouts) and the doughpod person isn't? How Indian or xyz ethnicity a person needs to be? I think it is more than just being Indian or having some connection to Indian. If that was the only criteria, I would not be so irritated with the Indian fusion at 'India' in Providence while  I still talk about Chauhan Ale House in Nashville as the best Indian food I ever had this side of the world.

Chauhan had dishes that you would never see on any Indian restaurant menu. The most memorable dish they served was fried Calamari, a staple in New England restaurants but not in India. The herbs and spices used for seasoning however captured the essence of the way I cook and the ingredients I use - like the aroma of kadhipatta crisped in the oil for chivada and the crunch of the rice flour+rava coating on a fish fry making you salivate with anticipation of the soft inside. 

Question still remains: Who decides if a reimagined dish captures 'the essence'? I am still muddling through this particular jumble of thoughts/questions. Any help/opinion/comment is appreciated. 

PS: Happy Diwali

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Indian Food gone wrong

Some WTF moments shared by my friends related to my post about flavored 'Ghee butter':

This DoughnutPlant abomination. Doughpods introduced August, 2016 are savory filled yeast doughnuts:

The Ghee butter conversation:
Parag's photo share of Dosha bars at Wholefoods:

Dosha Bars at Wholefoods

Ayurveda, is the new buzzword at its peak. I have seen it used as an alternative nutrition/diet thing that everybody is following which is already disturbing. People study for 4-5 years minimum for a basic Ayurvedic Doctor degree you know and then MD etc after that. They practice with seasoned Vaidya's before they start practicing on their own. So how about don't use the word casually. Knowing your grandma's herbal remedies is not Ayurvaeda either. I diagress. But you can see why my brain has gone haywire:
Dosha® Bar - Cherry Chakra (Balances Vata)
Dosha® Bar - Blueberry Balance (Balances Pitta)
Dosha® Bar - Apple Cran Awakening (Balances Kapha)
People please desist. I am fine with it being a snack bar and consumed as such. Not a 'dosha balancing' bar.
If it was that easy to figure out which dosha was aggrevated and then balance it with a simple snack bar who would need Vaidyas or Doctors.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Cultural misappropriation: Ghee butter, Chai tea,

Ghee butter? Really?
Explaining the absurdity of 'chai tea' was my first pet peeve when I moved to NYC. But this tops it all.

We saw ghee first in the upscale predominantly white farmer's market on Hope street. The vendor selling ghee waxed elloquent about health benefits of ghee and offered it for tasting on a piece of bread. Unusual choice.  I wasn't quite sure what to think about it. Then I saw a shelf full of flavoured glee bottles in Whole Foods and WTF is the only exclamation I could conjure. 

The double name as usual - Naan bread, samosa potstickers, ghee butter ....
No no no! It is not spreadable butter. Ghee is not butter. That is the whole point. There were some 'ghee oils' in that shelf. not sure if I would rather take that than calling it butter.

Ghee has fallen victim to the health craze unfortunately and seems to have captured people's imagination. Himalayan salt, Turmeric, and Vanilla were the offerings when I visited last week - two flavours to bring the healthy Indian to merge with the newly found health food and the vanilla to give some 'I know this' comfort to the regular American I guess.
(I am disturbed by vanilla chai but once again this tops it)
The bottles do not explain the method of preparing it. Is it clarified butter made of cream or butter churned from yogurt? The distinction is very important according to Ayurveda from where I am assuming the whole health food excitement is coming from.   

 Now to the suggestated pairings. I can live with using it to saute, sear, and bake. The vanilla ghee however is sugested to be pairied with coffee. Once again WTF

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Trinis at Patel's

Yesterday I was pleasantly surprised to see my colleague from Brown University in the Patel's store. Since the opening last year we have been regular customers but never imagined meeting anybody I know professionally.

She had three big bags of dried hibiscus flowers. I have never seen dried hibiscus as food ingredient in Indian stores in USA or consumed dried hibiscus except once as part of some exautic tea. My colleague told me that Trinis make a tea with the hibiscus flowers and some spices for Christmas. I wonder if availability at Patel's is because a lot of Trinis and Caribean customers frequent the place or I missed some Indian connection, which is qute possible given the culinary diversity of India.

Monday, September 19, 2016

India via Brazil

Hair color product for women, as seen on Whole Foods shelf :

A google search shows that Surya Brasil is a company from Brazil. It was baffling at first, this journey of henna and the mythological imagery (invoking possibly Vishwamitra and Menaka) ending in US via Brazil. A little digging led me to this:

I was born and raised in Brazil but my heritage is equal parts Italian and Indian and it was my family who showed me how to take care of myself and use the best of what nature provides,” - Wanda Malhotra, one of the founders of Surya Brasil. 

There is of course the usual calling on the Ayurveda.  I am really tired of people name dropping Ayurveda for anything and everything. Ayurveda is a nuanced and well developed medicinal system with its own pharmacopeia. Your grandma's home remedy is not Ayurved. Just like your knowledge of how to use aspirin does not make you a doctor. 

Coming back to the visual itself. I see the sage Vishwamitra and Menaka in the image. Although a lot of hair on the sage, the product is meant for women. (The website has a different product line for men.) May be women who want to seduce unavailable or difficult to get men?

The image reminds me of Raja Ravi Varma's paintings of mythological figures in Marathi or south Indian garb made popular by the lithographic prints to the point where you can find these styles of images on calendars in tea shops and sugarcane juice stalls in Maharashtra. 

I wonder what was the motivation of the company when they used the image and what non-Indians seeing this on the shelf in Whole Foods think of it. Probably invoking the natural, the ancient, and the exotic? 

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Indian Elections

Facebook has been going crazy for a while building up to the Indian elections. I have never seen stronger views for and against and emotions running so high with respect to the political parties. I am happy that my Facebook feed showed views from all sides. That means I don't live in a news bubble.

I was surprised when a friend mentioned that many people from NJ were going home to cast a vote. I was somewhat ambivalent. Mostly being geographically and thus emotionally feeling distant and not able to sift through all that was being said in the media.

The greatest shocker though was the gathering in Times Square to watch the Indian election news as the counting began May 16 morning IST and May 15 night eastern time.

I am not still sure how I feel about the landslide win for BJP with a record break 68+% voter turnout. Mostly because I cannot figure out if the people's mandate was based on their understanding of who will put the country on track or with the understanding of who the country and putting on track is for.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Musicians on the sea from the Indian subcontinent

Another surprising find at the Mystic Seaport Museum: