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Wednesday, September 29, 2004| Updated at 16:21 hrs IST
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Bye-bye, American PiAdd to Clippings
RESHMI R DASGUPTA

TIMES NEWS NETWORK
[ THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 16, 2004 12:32:03 AM ]
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 other.

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.

When 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.

If we 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!

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