So the other day I was having dinner with family who are over from the US and we’d gone to a generic Delhi Chinese restaurant to satiate their Chinjabi cravings. And as we tucked into the Kung Paos and Hakkas and Manchurians of unknown provenance and the din of conversation dimmed to a lull of chewing and the occasional little sigh so ubiquitous to the Indian dining experience, a casual remark was thrown out, “I miss real, plain food like this.”
And while this was in reference to a bastardized quasi-Chinese meal made to tickle the jaded palate of a Delhi diner, and soused with the devil knows how much soy and ‘chili vinegar’, I knew exactly what they meant. And you know what? I miss “real”, plain food too
Aren’t you all kind of done with fusion follies, super whatevers, and a sundry of other cutting-edge culinary key terms. Look, I get it: the boundaries and borders between cultures and cuisines are being demolished as the internet and social media weaves the world into one common beautiful tapestry of humanity with everyone being the same yet each individual their own unique snowflake. I totally get it.
And culinary experimentation and innovation is literally the butter to my bread as a (sort of) food writer, and in the past, I’ve waxed poetic of the dynamism of the F&B industry and the exciting marriage of techniques, traditions and ingredients from all around the word which are pushing the boundaries of dining out and taking food into the future. And it is great, don’t get me wrong. And fairly obvious.
Thanks to MasterChef Australia and the profligation of the idea of being a foodie is a membership requirement of human society these days, everyone knows their consommé from their Caprese and that it’s Gathzpacho, not Gas-patcho. These little artisanal crumb fried morsels (never nuggets) of food trivia are familiar to anyone and it’s no big deal to come across a Japanese style Surf and Turf (the addition of Wasabi in anything makes it Japanese-style) or a butter chicken stuffed taco. And no matter what your feelings over this continental fusion, or con-fusion if you will, there’s no denying that it was a logical fallout of cultural exchange and that it is here to stay.
I just worry that in the razzle-dazzle of all this new age dining we’ll forget the Frankenstein foods of yesteryear, the queer culinary hybrids that helped break in our palates back in the day and prepare them for the gastronomic extravagances of today.
Foodies and gourmands who wouldn’t be caught dead ordering an American Chop Suey at a multi-cuisine Mughlai Chinese restaurant today forget that once upon a time, for many people it was fascinating dishes like these that were our introduction to the exotic and the new. Never mind that the Indian concoction of noodles, radioactive red sauce and a sunny side-up fried egg has nothing in common with the original American Chop Suey, which was essentially an Italian-American khichdi of leftover pasta, meats and veggies thrown together, but it was once the most exciting dish on the menu, damn it. I’d like to think that more than Matt Preston’s cravat or Gordon Ramsay’s frequent cussing, it was the American Chop Suey or the pizza parantha or the masala macaroni that first opened my eyes to the larger world of food out there. And a lot of you may have had their first acquaintances with Food, as opposed to home food, in similar settings and with similar dishes.
And so, while I’m grateful to live in a world where Sriracha is as common as ketchup and where people know that Chicken Tikka Masala was created by Bangladeshis in Britain and is not an Indian dish (though we take full credit for curry in its every form) and where I can have my cake, and gulab jamun too, I do also still love my Manchurian. You know, the “real”, “simple” food.
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