Culinary parochialism

In 2017, there was a heated debate on whether khichdi should become the country’s national dish. While some believed that its simplicity and nutritious qualities were good reasons for its elevation, for others the assumption that the dish is cooked in the same manner everywhere was reason enough to push it to the Number 1 spot. But the latter are wrong: khichdi is as varied as the Indians who relish it. That entrepreneur-guru Baba Ramdev and celebrity chef Sanjeev Kapoor cooked and ladled out 918 kg of a north Indian version was symptomatic of the appreciation for only one kind of khichdi. Indians are known to be patriotic about their food, but how far do they take it? The cliché that you can take an Indian out of India but not India out of an Indian offers an explanation. Indians abroad are generally willing to adapt to foreign-made rules and customs but steadfastly hold on to some parts of their culture — caste, religion and attire, and also kitchen utensils, pickles and spices. Many Indians claim that all they desire is dal-chawal. Though simplicity and humility are ascribed to this preference, is it as simple as that? The desire for ghar ka khana (home-cooked food) or ma ke haathon ka khana (food cooked by one’s mother) shows more of a stubborn reluctance to step away from habit and comfort zone. This is why it is no surprise that tour operators catering to Indians’ desire to travel abroad advertise tours that provide Indian food in foreign lands. Travelling abroad involves skill, for Indians do it without leaving the confines of their customs.

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