A friend who lives in the US and grew up in Andhra is a great food-lover. His mother was a very good cook and he grew up eating the large variety of food that makes up coastal Andhra cuisine. As he started travelling the world for work, he explored the local cuisines of all the places he visited. He says that it took him a long time to come to his great realisation about world food but he thinks that, at age 50+, he is on the right track now. He tells the story about travelling to a town in Italy and searching and reaching the restaurant claiming to serve the best pizza in the world. He sat on the table on the street outside the restaurant and had a truly memorable meal. When he asked to compliment the chef, out walked the smiling Oriya chef. 🙂
My friend says that the shock set him thinking about the food that he had tried over the years and he felt that the scales had fallen from his eyes. For example, he realized that the French do not make the best food in the world, they are just very good at loudly marketing whatever unappetizing, bland food they eat (My friend’s opinion not mine). He says that, for the first time in his life, he was able to dispassionately evaluate the Andhra cuisine he grew up with. With its vast storehouse of curries, podis, chutneys, pickles, sweets etc. he is now convinced that it is the BEST cuisine in the world. 🙂
I will add a personal story here before I lay out the point I want to make with this post. When the Covid lock-downs started, I was caught alone at home in Bangalore for five months. My wife had gone to visit some relatives and was unable to get back home till the lock-downs lifted. Now, my job in the kitchen till then had been mostly limited to cutting vegetables and I had to quickly learn to extrapolate that to cooked food. The photos of the alu paratha, poori, masala dosa etc. I made look good and I was accused by many friends of making the photos in Photoshop and not the food on the gas stove. When the five months were up and I again started eating good food made by my wife, I realised something. There are what appears to be hundreds of tiny bottles in our kitchen and most of them have contents that I cannot identify. When I was taking the nice-looking photos of the food I was cooking, I was using the contents of only four or five of the tiny bottles. The realisation I had was about the vast storehouse of knowledge hidden inside the heads of people who make Indian food.
The process of education and socialization we go through draws our attention away from the richness of life that we become part of just by being born in this country. I talked about food above. How many other vast and valuable storehouses of knowledge we still have access to have we learned to under-evaluate? I can think of our languages, our literature, our worldviews, our sciences, our customs, our handloom and other arts and crafts, our festivals, our calendars…
I think it is time to evaluate our rich heritage and stand tall again. What do you think?