Why Indian Food Is Like One Million Mutinies

One of my initial assumptions was that it was possible to find an ingredient, dish or cooking style among all Indians. But I discovered that even khichdi, which is present in a wide variety of Indian cuisines, is cooked in a variety of ways, both simple and complicated by different groups. Khichri Dawud Khani (of Rampuri cuisine) uses meat and eggs and spinach while Khichri-i Gujarati uses garlic, onion and cinnamon along with other spices but no meat. Khichdi comes from the Sanskrit word khicca, a dish of rice and lentils. KT Achaya says that the ancient texts mention this as krusaranna, which is a dish that includes rice, yogurt and sesame seeds. Jahangir was so in love with an incredibly spicy khichdi recipe (enriched with raisins and pistachios) that he named it 'lazeezan' (which translates as "delicious").

Pluralism and hybridity are fundamental to Indian cuisine, which is why the food choices mirror VS Naipaul's description of the country as "a million mutinies'.

Another assumption was that our bodies are able to take in all kinds of diets and foods. But, I discovered that there is a strong connection between what we consume and what our forefathers consumed. I tested my own food habits and discovered that eating foods that my parents would have consumed and following the rhythm of their meals helped reduce my cholesterol. Science has shown that genes are a key factor in the way our bodies absorb nutrients. This is quite surprising given the fact that Indians have not changed their genetic makeup since the Bronze Age.

Why did you decide to write an "food biography" of India?

I didn't intend to write a food biographical of India. This was an experiment. I wanted to look into issues related to food, without being constrained by the limitations of a particular discipline. My mind was free and ask whatever questions it wanted to. Then, I took a look at the research in other disciplines. I began thinking of Indian Cuisine as a mosaic, where groups, regions, and religion played a significant contribution.

What were the most frequently asked questions as you wrote the various sections?

My method was to start with a question such as "Does food have any significance to religion?" Does it follow the same way that Muslims and Hindus take towards food? This led me to the theories of doshas (Ayurveda) and humours (Greco-Arabic). I looked into the historical, anthropological, and political works to get answers or clarifications. The concept of the concept of equilibrium in a dish and the balance it creates in the person who eats it, was mentioned repeatedly.

A food-related book should include a section on poison. It's an interesting element.

While food can provide life however, it can also be fatal. I love reading crime novels in which Indian food, murder and poison have enjoyed an extended and productive association, especially in books written by Agatha Christie, who was an expert on poisons as well as plants. When I was researching the reasons why this was the case, someone mentioned to me about the novel by John Lancaster, The Debt to Pleasure (1996). It is a delightful and diabolically insecure narrator an epicure, who thinks about recipes for the season, dishes from Normandy, explores the difference between the two types of murderers, and is adept at choosing the best mushrooms for some unmentionable activities.

What food books do you consult for guidance?

I love food memoirs, and I love re-reading some of my favorite books including (Pellegrino), Artusi and Bill Buford. My go-to recipe books include the Moti Mahal Cook Book (2009, by Monish Gujral) and recipes written by Doreen Hassan Balbir Singh, Rukmini Srinivas and Meenakshi Ammal, for Indian food. Marcella Hazan is my Italian consultant. Najmieh Batmanglij is the Persian chef. Delia Smith is the global chef.

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