Weingarten’s article was clearly intended to be facetious – after all, it is a humorous column. But humor works best when a joke is based on a truth or a fact. And that’s where he failed dramatically. Because even though no one cares whether they like Indian cuisine or not, his claim that all Indian food is cooked with ‘curry’ shows a fundamental lack of understanding of Indian cuisine in particular, and the concept of spice in general. After all, proclaiming curry to be a spice is like saying a burger is an ingredient. And that’s where I have a bone to pick up with him.
There is no reason why Indian cuisine should be loved by everyone. Personally, I despise paneer (taste of boiled gum), Shutki (dried fish) and ripe kanthal (jackfruit), which smells of corpse. Culinary palates are notoriously subjective, and there is no reason for anyone to love every cuisine.
One of the worst meals I ate was ‘Indian’ food at a restaurant in Brighton. The Bengali shrimp malai curry was sweeter than the kheer. Half of me come from East Bengal, and no self-respecting “Bangaal” uses sugar in anything other than dessert. Speaking of Bengali ingredients, if you travel through Assam, you will find that the spices and ingredients are considerably different there. If you go to Kerala, there isn’t a single spice to be found in common with an eastern state like Bihar.
The problem with Weingarten’s dismay is not that he despises Indian food. If I thought the tripe they serve in New York or Washington masquerading as Indian food was the authentic item, even I would continually regurgitate. Weingarten clearly thinks that his favorite restaurant, Rasika, which serves diluted vindaloo, tandoori tikkas, Gujarati lasagna, and “poppadum” (papad or papadam for people with cultural speech impairments) is representative of the range of the city. Indian cuisine.
I once ate at a fancy Chinese restaurant in Milan and almost got gagged because the chili chicken I ordered was overflowing with the sweet, sickly milk of pineapple cuteness. But I didn’t think Milanese Chinese food was the real McCoy, and I didn’t write a post about it, boldly claiming that the staple ingredient in all Chinese cuisine is pineapple.
Little knowledge, after all, is a dangerous thing. And yes, I hold the Washington Post and the Weingarten to slightly higher research standards than that other foodie and satirist, Paris Hilton. Doesn’t Weingarten really have a single Indian friend or acquaintance – a neighbor, a neighborhood store owner, his banker, his CA, maybe even his editor – who he could talk to, in order to confirm if Indian food use only one spice and check if curry is a spice?
He then made matters worse by posting a Hail Mary tweet, which stated that curries are not a spice but, above all, are mixtures of spices! Oh Gene, stop it now. You kill the rest of us who love satire. Curries are not spice blends, although it’s good to see that he has at least learned that there is more than one spice to flavor ‘Indian’ dishes.
As the Spice Girls once said – while singing no doubt about Indian food – “People of the world, spice up your life, every boy and Pulitzer reporter spice up your life.” While Indian food in the United States can stink, a little knowledge might have made Weingarten’s article seem a little more palatable. Well, he could even have made us laugh.
The writer runs the Delhi-NCR catering service, Food For Thought.