New Delhi, Jan 30: Indian food has more to offer than curries and tandoori chicken, said an Australian culinary writer who has broken Western myths and re-introduced culinary secrets from different states in a history-cum-food guide.
Writer, historian and educator, Charmaine O’Brien’s latest offering – “The Penguin Food Guide to India” – features well-researched insights about Indian food and was released here Wednesday.
The 390-page food guide is a comprehensive amalgamation of regional food from all Indian states. Each time, the author has given a brief history of a region and correlated that with the culture and environment, followed by their food consumption habits.
“Westerners have no idea about different kinds of Indian food. There is a rich street food culture in India and it surely has a lot more to offer than hot curries and tandoori chicken, something we (Westerners) are well-acquainted with because of the presence of Indian restaurants in the West,” O’Brien told IANS.
When the author first visited India in 1995, she had assumed her palate would have nothing left to discover in the “land of curry and tandoori chicken”, as she was a regular at Indian restaurants in Australia.
But once she had a taste of street food, she realised there was much to discover.
Hence came two books on Indian cuisines, “Flavours of Delhi: A Food Lover’s Guide”, and “Recipes from an Urban Village”, but it wasn’t enough to cover the large spectrum of Indian offerings.
“It took me four years to complete the book, and it involved a lot of travelling, engagement with people of different communities, getting to know their culture and food habits,” she said.
“This is more meant for a modern traveller who wants to experiment and explore culture of this country, and the best way to do that is eat local food, especially if you get a local to cook for you in their distinctive style,” she added.
Also O’Brian was lucky enough to interact with locals on a personal level and enter their personal space, “kitchen”.
This wasn’t an easy job, according to her. As she pointed out how mammoth research on the history of a region helped her to gain “trust” of the locals.
“The book might have taken four years, but I have been researching and reading ever since I wrote my two books. When I met these people, from the amount of knowledge I had about their food and culture, they were surprised,” she said.
“This helped me to make a way into their kitchen because they knew I wasn’t there for fun, but seriously interested in knowing about food,” she added.
And it does show from the book that it is a repository covering 28 states, and brings out in detail delicacies to a global traveller.
While mentioning cuisines of Jammu and Kashmir, the author has just not mentioned popular dishes like “roganzosh”, “dumaloo” or “yakhni”, but also highlighted local cheese “kalari” native to Jammu region.
Similarly, Uttrakhand people use ground hemp (bhang) seeds in one of their chutneys, and contrary to popular belief ‘bhang’ is an intoxicating substance, but in contrary, its seeds don’t have such an effect.
Tidbits like these are many and plenty in the book.