Her book, ‘Whose Samosa is it Anyway?’, tracks down our kitchen’s early influencers
When author-journalist Sonal Ved gave us the award-winning prize Lunch three years ago, it was a celebration of regional cuisine with recipes selected by local culinary experts, including wedding caterers. But with Whose is Samosa anyway? it traces the influences behind many of our modern Indian dishes. the vogue india Food Editor begins by describing his coveted lunch box at school – complete with paneer enchiladas and baby corn idlis – and how the “tiffins” of Sindhi, Bohri and Marwari friends were a first learning experience. With this book, she aims to explore “the undercurrents that lay in all those school lunches that set Indian cuisine apart” from others. What are the origins of chutney and samoussa? How the Burmese khow suey land on Marwari wedding menus? These were some of the questions that plagued her as she went about her daily work.
The book explores food references from Indian literature such as the Tales of Jataka. She researched what was served to our royals as well as what the likes of Rabindranath Tagore experimented with in their cooking – Tagore’s jackfruit yogurt fish curry or cauliflower. barfi, for the curious. This comes at a time when discussions of appropriation are front and center, including the never-ending curry debate. “I crave authentic recipes and recipes that push the boundaries of authenticity by experimenting and fusing two cuisines and cultures, both have their place. The need is to credit and respect the source,” adds Ved. About curry, she says, “Whether we accept it or not, Indians have been eating curries for centuries. The point here is that if Indian cuisine ‘is’ curry, it is not ‘only’ curry.” See sidebar on the curry debate. Edited excerpts from the interview:
While the MALPUA stars in many cuisines as in many versions over the centuries, has another dish surprised you by being a common thread among our cuisines?
Chai, for sure. India is now one of the largest tea producers in the world. While a certain type of wild tea plant is said to have existed in the northeastern part of the Indian subcontinent, Burma, Thailand, the Himalayan belt and Tibet, it was the British who were responsible for its domestication and its popularity here. But the tea still hadn’t become the masala Chai as we know it. This version boiled with lots of milk and sugar, the Huda Teddy lipstick shade, only came years later. Drinking tea with sugar was certainly not an Asian habit, and it is not known when the English started drinking their tea sweetened. However, we do know that the British ladies had afternoon tea parties.
After establishing plantations and exporting tea, the British-led tea associations wanted tea to become popular with Indians as well. Fortunately for them, it became an emotion. The promotion of tea began with the setting up of stalls in factories, mines and mills, and workers were allowed to take tea breaks to take the drink. In Indian Railways trains, men were hired and strategically placed at stations with kettles and ‘cut-Chai‘ eyeglasses. the chaiwalas across the land tinkled through the night and the early hours of dawn with the beat ‘chai, chai, chai‘, which probably still rings in your ears today whenever you think of traveling by passenger train.
About the Curry Debate
- In June 2016, I read one of the most interesting researches on the Harappan culinary world. This was in an article published by the BBC on a project undertaken by archaeologists Arunima Kashyap and Steve Weber of Washington State University in Vancouver in 2010, trying to find clues to the first foods of the subcontinent. Indian. The duo carried out a starch analysis of molecules collected from utensils and tools found at the Farmana excavation site, southeast of the largest Harappan city of Rakhigarhi.
- They used this method to determine what the Harappans ate during the peak years of their civilization from 2500 BC to 1800 BC. Starch molecules have been extracted from pots, pans, stone tools, and the tooth enamel of humans and animal fossils, as animals were often fed scraps. Their research pointed to the possibility of eggplant, turmeric, and ginger (perhaps even cloves), and they came up with a rough recipe, titled “proto curry”, or what may have been the very first curry on the subcontinent, more than 4,000 years ago. . And so, whether we accept it or not, Indians have been eating curries for centuries. The point to make here is that while Indian food “is” curry, it’s not “just” curry.
You mention in the book that your diet is very similar to Gandhi’s and the breakfast is similar to that of the early Vedic period (raw honey, nut milk, barley flakes, ashwaganda).
As I wrote my book, from phase to phase, I saw my own food choices change! I started eating barley porridge every morning while writing the Indus chapter [till do sometimes] and I was experimenting a lot with Tangra or Mughalai recipes by going through several cookbooks that featured these recipes.
In your book you explore the connection between Vajrayana Buddhism and meat, as well as Ayurveda and alcohol…how are these findings received today?
These are some things that I have discovered in my research and each discovery has been referenced as to the book or research paper in which it can be found. No data in a book should be taken as the ultimate truth, it’s always the author’s truth or how they view it. Everything must be thought out, constructed and discussed. It would be interesting in my opinion.
Published by Penguin India, Whose is Samosa anyway? is priced at ₹317 on amazon.in