The debate over “authenticity” as far as
cuisines are concerned, is doomed to be a perennial one.
We all know that restaurants rarely stick to the
‘classical’ when it comes to food, yet they rake it in! In
fact, many of the ones I’ve always thought were pretty awful,
continue to prosper. There are, of course, ones which I am
partial to because of habit, never mind whether the joint
passes the litmus test of authenticity....Comfort food knows
no rules after all.
Thanks to the sheer size of India,
though, a lot of cuisines are adapting themselves to our
preferences deliberately. And why not? Through the ages
cuisines have been modifying themselves according to
political, economic and social changes. Even the kingpin of
culinary fanaticism, French cuisine, owes so much to the
marriage of the Florentine noblewoman Catherine de Medici to
France’s King Henry II.
Besides teaching the French
how to eat with forks and introducing delicate sauces as well
as green peas and artichokes to the royal court, her cooks
even brought in puff pastry (millefeuille), which led to the
invention of the croissant.
In India these days, two
cuisines can be said to have become totally desi -- Italian
and Chinese. Why these two in particular, is a mystery. I like
to think it’s because of our similar long historical
legacies...Whatever the reason, we have “apnaoed” them like no
Which explains the mushrooming of Italian and
Chinese eateries. I am indeed bewildered by the variety of
Italian restaurants that seem to be springing up unmindful of
the dangers of saturation. From Italiano and Italic to Azzurro
and Tonino, not to mention “multi-cuisine” outlets that serve
thin crust pizzas and penne arrabbiata amid their kebabs and
kibbehs, Italy is everywhere. It even rules the ruling party
so why not our palates....
Chinese cuisine has been as
prolific, but we somehow never seem to record their growth as
closely as we do Italian. Every residential area has a Chinese
place, usually of dubious authenticity, which does very well
thank you, minus any limelight. Around the corner from my
home, for instance is a place called Ho Lee Chow, whose name
at least tickles the funny bone even if it’s food doesn’t do
the same for the tastebuds.
Of late I noticed that the
Chinese-American fast food chain Mark Pi (which is but 2
restaurants old in India) has come in for a hammering from my
tribe for dishes like Vegetable Manchurian. That dish
incidentally, is as desi an invention as chicken tikka masala
is a British one. And their motivation is the same: local
demand. I’ve come round to a grudging admiration, I have to
say, for all those who are unabashed about their
“adaptations”. That after all has been the mantra of our
civilisation. And the key to its longevity.
democracy is about bowing to the will of the majority, there’s
no shame in contemplating a palak-paneer momo to add to
chicken and veggie ones. Or putting Veg Manchurian on the menu
though the chain’s Chinese-American founder, the eponymous
Mark Pi, was mystified about its provenance.
don’t give our own innovative brethren their due, let us at
least bow to the wisdom of Mark Pi, who readily accepted the
changeover from American-Chinese staples to Indian-Chinese
ones suggested by his Indian franchisees!